066: The Pursuit of Perfection | Tanya Dalton Skip to the content
April 17, 2018   |   Episode #:

066: The Pursuit of Perfection

In This Episode:

We’re starting season 6 off by discussing one of our biggest stumbling blocks that can get in the way of living a productive, happy life: Perfectionism. I’ll share the two types of perfectionists with you and how perfectionism is a learned habit… which is good news because that means we can unlearn it! Discover the 5 things you can start doing right now so you change your perfectionist mindset for good.

Show Transcript:

The Big Idea

We need to acknowledge that perfect doesn’t exist.

Questions I Answer

  • How can I stop being a perfectionist?
  • Why do I struggle with perfectionism?
  • Why is perfectionism a bad thing?
  • What tips do you have to stop being a perfectionist?

Actions to Take

  • Take the first step in changing your mindset: Stop identifying yourself as a perfectionist.
  • To help shift your mindset, list out 3 things each day that you’ve done right. It will begin to quiet the negative thought process you have.

Key Topics in the Show

  • Why seeking perfection is keeping you from the life you want

  • Find out which of the two types of perfectionists you may be

  • Realize how perfectionism is a learned habit (and how to unlearn it!)

  • Understand how the words you use to define yourself can affect your daily life

  • Learn 5 steps to transform your perfectionism stumbling block into a starting block

Resources and Links

  • 5 Tips on How To Stop Being a Perfectionist:
    • Change your relationship with your goals. Let go of fear, understand that you can be positive and excited about each positive step and outcome as your work toward your goal.
    • Give yourself containers. Set a time limit on how long a task should take you. Consider setting it for HALF the time and assess how that works for you.
    • Focus on the learning when failures happen. Stop beating yourself up and look at what good has come out of it.
    • Compare yourself to yourself. Don’t look at others or social media.
    • Look at the big picture. Make time to look at your life as a whole, including your personal health and relationships
  • Related Episodes:
Show Transcript

Welcome to Productivity Paradox from inkWELL Press, a podcast focused on  finding success and happiness through the power of productivity. Each season, Tanya  focuses on specific strategies to help you discover your own priorities and purpose.  Season six is all about turning your stumbling blocks into starting blocks. You can also  join Tanya for more interaction and support in her free Facebook group at  inkWELLPress.com/group. And now here’s your host, Tanya Dalton. 

Hello, hello, everyone. Welcome to Productivity Paradox. I’m your host, Tanya  Dalton, owner of inkWELL Press, and this is episode 66. Today’s episode is brought to  you by inkWELL Press and their launch of the academic planners. I’ll be sharing a  little bit more about that later on in the episode. 

 But first, let’s talk about the fact that today is the first day of season six, and as  you know, each season I like to talk about one topic all season long, and each episode  builds as we learn about this topic. This season is all about taking our stumbling  blocks and turning them into starting blocks. I’d like for you to look at the things that  really hold you back and see how we can flip it on its head and how we can begin to  use those as springboards to move us forward. 

 To celebrate this new season, I’m actually going to be having a giveaway, and  I’ll be sharing a little bit more about that giveaway at the end of the show. But I  wanted to kick off this season with a big one. I wanted to talk about something that  so many of you have shared with me is a big stumbling block, and that is  perfectionism. Let’s start by talking about what perfectionism really is. Too often we  throw that word around, being perfect or striving for perfectionism, and often it’s  because our work and our environment pushes us to this notion of good  perfectionism, which is an oxymoron, and it’s often confused with desiring  achievement or striving for excellence or even setting high personal standards. Those  are all different from perfectionism. 

 But I want you to think about the standard job interview question where they  say, “Tell me something about a weakness,” and you toss out, “Oh, I’m a  perfectionist,” because it sounds good. It makes us sound like we’re always striving  for the best at work, right? But truthfully, though, when perfectionists find success at  work, it’s in spite of their perfectionism, not because of it. We know perfectionists set  impossibly high standards for their performance, and when they don’t reach those  standards, they relentlessly criticize themselves for failing. Perfectionism is rooted in  the fear of failure and worrying about making mistakes. This means perfectionists are  motivated by a strong sense of duty and obligation rather than enthusiasm or a  healthy challenge. They’re preoccupied with the possibility that others might  disapprove of them and their actions. Some might even describe this as working  scared. 

 Because of this, perfectionism can be closely related to depression and low  self-esteem. We always strive to do our best, but we also need to acknowledge that  perfect doesn’t exist, and generally you’ll find that there are two types of  

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perfectionists. One, the type that starts buy sets impossibly high standards. They set  a goal, and they work excessively hard, but because the goal was so ridiculously high  in the first place, they find they’re always failing. They set themselves up for failure.  And two, the type that never even starts. Doubt sets in immediately, because they  think they can’t ever do it, and so they simply don’t start in the first place. They’re  waiting for the right moment, never wanting to make mistakes, and yet they always  seem to need more time. 

 When you spend so much time constantly worrying about making mistakes,  you start to doubt yourself and become paralyzed by indecision, plagued with the  fear that every decision is a possible mistake. And yes, perfectionists do get  outcomes, but when and at what cost? You see, perfectionism is just a mask that  procrastination wears. So the problems start piling up, and we start to feel helpless,  which causes learned helplessness, something we’ve talked about back in episodes  45 and 52. As a quick reminder, learned helplessness means we begin to believe we  don’t have any choice in the matter, that this is just how work happens, and we  cannot control these perfectionist tendencies. 

 But there is a choice, there is a link that can be made between perfectionism  and the needed adjustments for success. This is called learned resourcefulness.  Learned resourcefulness is basically mindfulness and having a strong locus of control,  or in other words, owning our choices. Researcher Michael Rosenbaum, who coined  this term, says that learned resourcefulness is a collection of learned behaviors,  behaviors like controlling your emotional and cognitive responses when you’re  stressed or using problem-solving skills, behaviors that help you invest in your future  self. 

 So this means finding harmony between perfectionism and a tendency to  procrastinate by relying on systems to get things done and using problem-solving  skills when life gets stressful. Many experts believe that most people are not truly  born perfectionists. In many cases they’re trained that way through the messages  from family or school or society. If that’s true, perfectionism is a learned habit, which  means that it can become an unlearned habit as well, especially if you start working  on it. 

 We’ve talked about habits in the past on this show, so I don’t want to go too  far down in that rabbit hole, but what’s exciting in my opinion is that we don’t have to  feel stuck as a perfectionist. We can shift our mindset and move ourselves to a more  realistic way of thinking and looking at ourselves, which means we can overcome this  stumbling block. But how do we do that? Well, we have to start by changing your  perfectionist mindset. The main problem with perfectionism is not being able to  differentiate what tasks actually need the most work and which ones don’t. Instead,  perfectionists spend the majority of their time on the tasks that really don’t require  the extra care. They just feel that need to keep tweaking and fixing, you know, making  it perfect. 

 What happens, though, is that creates an overhanging sense of overwhelm  from not having enough time in the day, since they’re spending a disproportionate  amount of time on the minutiae or the unimportant rather than spending their time  on what’s truly important. Spending an hour choosing just the right font for a  

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presentation, or working and reworking the copy, or keeping your home so  immaculately clean and ultra-organized, it’s no longer a home, it’s more of a catalog  shoot, not a place where we can relax and feel good about ourselves. 

 Well, since perfectionism is more of a mindset and a way of thinking than a  personality trait, we need to start recognizing when we’re in that head space, and  then we can redirect. We need to change the way we’re thinking. We need to unlearn  our perfectionist habits, but it takes some focused energy, so we can begin by stop  identifying yourself as a perfectionist. Instead, say, “I have some perfectionist  tendencies” or “I often act in perfectionist ways.” I know it’s just semantics, but the  language we use to describe ourselves can have an impact on how we actually  behave. Saying that you tend to have perfectionist tendency gives you permission to  change, rather than solidifying perfectionism as part of your identity. 

 For myself, I generally tell people that I’m a recovering perfectionist, because  it’s something I really do struggle with. I feel like I’m doing much better with my  mindset, but I’m addicted. I’m addicted to the overachieving and the high bar-setting.  Saying I’m recovering to me reminds me that I’m not a perfectionist, but I need to be  mindful not to slip into my old habits. Not that it doesn’t happen from time to time. It  does, but because I acknowledge it, when I find myself in a funk, I’m usually able to  pinpoint it back to my perfectionism, and then I can redirect. It gives me the  permission I need to be able to redirect the way I’m thinking. 

 You see, once you’ve shifted to thinking of perfectionism as something you do  rather than something you are, it’s easier to see your choices. We need to recognize  that being obsessed with making one thing perfect only makes you imperfect at so  many other things. It impedes your overall success. It’s that whole idea you’ve heard  me talk about before. Every time you say yes, you’re saying no to something else,  right? It’s the same thing here. Remember, the one that never starts won’t get the  task done at all, and the one that sets impossible standards spends too long trying to  achieve those standards, which means it often doesn’t get done on time. 

 We like to default to perfectionism, because it’s an easy way to make sense of  the workings of the world. It’s all black and white, and usually not our fault, but we  can change this and take action, so we don’t get bogged down into that  perfectionism. I’ve got five things you can start doing now to turn this stumbling  block into a starting block, and I want to talk about that after we take a quick break  from our sponsor. 

 This month, inkWELL Press launches our new line of 2018-2019 academic  planners in our hardcover and our popular coil-free design. These 12-month planners  run July 2018 through June 2019, and they feature the same goal-setting features,  same thick paper and high-end materials as our regular year planners. Academic year  planners are perfect for students, teachers, and parents, or anyone who plans their  year around the school calendar. Just head to inkWELLPress.com for details and  place your order so you can be prepared well before the school year starts. 

 Okay, let’s talk about five things that you can do to turn this stumbling block  into a starting block. How can we take action against perfectionism? Well, the first  thing you can do is change your relationship with your goals. Perfectionists often feel  

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weighted down by their goals because of a sense of fear that you may not succeed or  reach your high standards. We need to let go of that fear and understand the positive  outcomes of your goals, so you can be motivated by that instead. Find a sense of  excitement and joy as you work towards completing them. Remember, goals aren’t  meant to be unbreakable absolutes. They’re meant to be adjustable guides towards  your mission and your vision, both of which do change over time. 

 Perfectionists often make their goals into a representation of their worth and  then, of course, they beat themselves up when they don’t achieve them. This causes  some perfectionists to decide goal-setting just isn’t for them, and they just stop  altogether, while others fall into a depression where over and over again they beat  themselves up for not reaching goals that were not attainable in the first place. Treat  goals as guides on your path to self-improvement rather than as absolutes. Not  achieving goals doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. You’re more than your goals and  achievement as a whole person. Continue to set big goals, and keep the big picture in  mind. Achieving a particular goal isn’t as important as the progress you make towards  the goal, so really rethinking the way you relate to your goals. 

 The second thing you can do is give yourself containers. Set a time budget,  and by that I mean set a time limit on how long tasks should take you. Since  perfectionism causes you to work until a task is perfect, it’s important to set some  boundaries. Estimate how long you think a task should take, and set a timer for  yourself to work on and complete that part of the task. Consider even setting it for  half of the time estimate, and work against that time limit. Because often time  perfectionists work without any time constraints, it gives them all that time they need  to tweak and re-tweak and re-fix and do all those things, but setting a container gives  you those boundaries. 

 Perfectionists tend to not understand the amount of inherent value of a task,  and they believe that all tasks are equal, but it’s not true. All tasks don’t require the  same amount of effort and time. Think about the priority levels we’ve talked about in  the past of immediate, important, and insignificant. It’s really a matter of separating  the important from the merely urgent, and we talked about this back in episode 62,  that many people are prioritizing the wrong things. So to figure out which category a  task belongs in, ask yourself, how important is this really? If I spend a good portion of  my time at high levels of work on this task, will I get a return on my investment? How  much time do I really have to spend on this? It’s about being realistic and brutally  honest with yourself. Really start to look at what you’re working on, give yourself  some boundaries, and separate what is important from what is not. 

 The third thing you can do is when failures happen, focus on the learning.  Instead of beating yourself up, you really need to see what are the things that came  out of this? What are the good things that came out of the failure? You have to  understand that without failure you wouldn’t be as successful as you are. Instead of  ruminating on long-past mistakes, think about how you’ve learned from them. Give  yourself grace too. Are these things really failures, or are you setting the bar so high  it’s unachievable? 

 John Lennon once said he was dissatisfied with every record The Beatles ever  made, and he says, “There ain’t one of them I wouldn’t remake, including all the  

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Beatles records and all my individual ones.” That feeling can take a life of its own, and  many famous musicians have expressed similar sentiments, including Lady Gaga and  Michael Jackson. When you’re working with a constant sense of dissatisfaction and  unhappiness with your work, that’s exhausting and defeating. We need to enjoy our  progress, enjoy the victories, the mistakes, and the failures. Take time to celebrate.  This shift in thinking can cause perpetual gratefulness for all of your life experiences  and encourages you to strive for progress rather than striving for perfection and  focusing on what you lack. If John Lennon feels that way about what he’s  accomplished, it’s understandable why so many of us feel that way too, right? 

 The fourth thing you can do is compare yourself to yourself. Stop comparing  yourself to other people around you, or social media. Track your improvement in  different areas, and begin to see how far you’ve come. It’s important to regularly look  back at what you’ve overcome and appreciate everything you’ve accomplished rather  than looking at what everybody else is doing. Focus on and take action on what you  think is the right thing. Too often we’re perfectionistic because people around us, the  media and society, they begin to influence how we think and feel, and you can start  to lessen this influence by doing what you think is right as much as possible. This  makes others’ expectations have less and less power over you, and it allows you to  take charge more in your life. 

 You can also lessen this influence by cultivating your environment. Try to  recognize and reduce sources that trigger your perfectionism. What websites or TV  shows, what podcasts, magazines and books, do you spend a lot of time with? If any  of them have unrealistic or negative views on you or life or cause them in yourself,  choose instead to spend your time on sources that lift you up and support you. And  in that same vein, try to recognize who in your life might be influencing you. Spend  more of your time with people who are also trying to improve themselves, or they’re  living in a positive, relaxed life. We’re going to be exploring this topic later on in this  season as well, this comparison of ourselves to others, so that’s going to be coming  up in just a few weeks. 

 The fifth thing that you can do is you can look at the big picture. Figure out the  things that are necessary to achieve your big picture goals and focus on those action  items, not the small details that won’t really add up in the long run. Make time to  focus on your life as a whole, including your personal health and relationships. You  have to stop thinking of yourself just in work mode. There are so many different  aspects to us, we need to make sure you’re looking at your big picture, your life as a  whole. 

 What can really help with this too is listing out and thinking about three things  you’ve done right every day. It’s the idea of the daily download you’ve heard me talk  about before. What this does is it shifts the focus from the things you aren’t doing  well, which perfectionists like to sit and focus on for a long time, and what it does is it  allows you to look at the three things you’ve done right within this goal. What have  you done right today or in your life? When you focus on those and you do that  repeatedly over time, you can begin to quiet some of that negative self-talk that you  have. It will become a natural thought process to recognize your own strengths. So I  would encourage you to make this a part of your daily download. That works for me. 

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 What I think is important to know about perfectionism is it’s easy to criticize  yourself when things go wrong, or to sacrifice your health because you value your  work, or blame yourself for others’ mistakes. Instead, we need to use mindfulness to  recognize that type of self-talk and turn it around. Next time you criticize yourself,  switch instead to some positive self-talk. For example, instead of “I’m a lousy person,”  switch to “I’m a good person who’s trying to do his or her best.” And instead of “I’m  not good enough,” switch to “I have my own unique talents, and I’m improving every  day.” It really is a matter of how you talk to yourself. We have to stop blaming  ourselves when things don’t go our way, and instead recognizing that you’ve done  your best. 

 This again is breaking that idea of everything being black or white, the all-or nothing mentality. You’ll recognize that while things didn’t go your way, you still did  your best. Both things are true, not one or the other. There’s a lot of gray in our lives.  We don’t really realize that. We’re often looking at the black and the white. So I want  to encourage you to really focus on taking action. Figure out what the smallest  possible action is that you can do, and start. Too often perfectionism turns into  procrastination and waiting for that perfect moment, which never comes. 

 Let’s start turning perfectionism from a stumbling block into a starting block,  something that can really spring us forward into action. So I want to encourage you  to just start. I’ll be continuing talking about our stumbling blocks all season long, and  next week we will be tackling imposter syndrome, which is another stumbling block I  hear from a lot of you. So look for that episode next week. 

 In the meantime, I am having a giveaway to celebrate the beginning of season  six, because I am so excited about this new season, I wanted to do a little giveaway to  make it a little more fun. So if you’ll head over to my personal Instagram feed,  @TanyaDalton_official, I have all the information on how to join the giveaway there.  Don’t forget too that I have a mini-episode that will be launching on Friday, where we  continue to explore this topic of perfectionism. All right, until next time, have a  beautiful and productive week. 

Thanks for listening to Productivity Paradox from inkWELL Press. To join  Tanya’s free group, simply go to inkWELLPress.com/group.