This may seem like odd advice from someone who is always advocating improvement, but trying to be perfect is actually a great way to avoid improvement. How many things do you avoid doing because you are worried you won’t be good at them? Do you feel a lot of guilt whenever you make a mistake? The surest way to procrastinate is to expect perfect results.
Instead, allow yourself to be imperfect. Only by making mistakes and learning from them can we improve. A perfectionist mindset will just make you feel overly guilty when you do make a mistake. The key is to learn from your mistakes and to move past them. As long as you have a plan of action to avoid doing the mistake again, you shouldn’t feel guilty for making the mistake. That guilt can only lower your self-confidence and remove your motivation to keep going.
I’ve seen this in some people who start diets. These people do fine until they encounter an unexpected temptation and they give in. Unfortunately, few people actually take this as a learning opportunity. Instead, when most people do this they feel incredibly guilty for breaking their diet and then blame the failure on their lack of willpower. They then resolve to do better next time.
It is easy to blame a lack of willpower, but this doesn’t really solve their problem. If you didn’t have enough willpower to avoid temptation in the first place, how is remaking a resolution going to move you past it? We need to spend a lot more time exploring our mistakes and failures so that we can really learn from them.
Maybe you broke your diet because your diet itself is poorly constructed. Some diets are designed so poorly that they can’t possibly hope to sustain you for an extended time. In that case, maybe you need to reconsider your diet. Does the diet seem like it was designed to be healthy, or just to make you lose weight?
Maybe the problem was that you didn’t have a way of handling the situation. Perhaps it was someone’s birthday at your office and you felt obliged to have some cake. If you felt really tempted in this case, maybe you need to develop a strategy so you can reduce the temptation in these situations.
Maybe the problem is deeper. Maybe you associate a lot of pain with the foods that will make you healthy and you feel in your gut that potato chips and chocolate cake equal pleasure. With these kind of associations in your mind, it will be impossible to sustain a diet over a long period.
It is all too easy to shortcut this process of learning from your mistakes. Unfortunately, if we don’t really look at the root causes of our mistakes, we are doomed to repeat them until we do. So when you do make a mistake, really take the time to explore what caused the mistake, and most importantly, how you can prevent it in the future.
Expecting perfection of yourself is an easy way to avoid looking at the message that comes from your mistakes. Because, if you are perfect, then the mistake was outside of your control. If the mistake was outside of your control then you can’t possibly learn anything from it. This may seem like obviously flawed logic, but this is the kind of subconscious internal dialog some people have. Because they don’t want to feel the guilt for knowing they made a mistake they absolve themselves of responsibility.
But the key isn’t to absolve yourself, or feel overly guilty. Once you recognize you have made a mistake, just accept it, try to learn the lesson and understand that is a mistake you won’t remake in the future. Too much guilt will only keep you focused on the problem, not the solution. Too little guilt may make you ignore the problem entirely.
A need to be perfect doesn’t only change how you accept the past, but how you approach things in the future. I’m sure there are a lot of things you aren’t good at right now that you might like to be. However, as long as you believe that you have to do things perfectly or great to start, then you won’t even start.
In these areas a compulsion to be perfect can make it very hard to try something new. But, why do you have to be good at something to start? Why can’t you be horrible?
When you are trying something new, aiming for a certain level of quality is the best way to avoid doing something at all. Instead, just make your aim to try it, rather than do well. Free yourself from the expectation that being perfect has over you. Try new things out expecting to be horrible. Usually it takes a lot of pressure off and is a lot more fun.
You might be wondering where this fits in with setting an unbreakable standard? Doesn’t setting an unbreakable standard, imply being perfect?
The difference there is subtle but important. An unbreakable standard means you will always do your best. You will still end up making mistakes, and when this happens you need to evaluate your mistakes and come up with a strategy to avoid them in the future. You need to set an unbreakable standard for yourself to prevent you from justifying mistakes or excuses you are about to make. However, once you have made a mistake, you need to accept it and learn from it.
Trying to be perfect or feeling you need to be perfect, is often why we fail to learn from the mistakes we make. Accepting that we are imperfect allows us to really look at mistakes we have made and get a lot more insight into why we made the mistake.
If you’ve been feeling guilty about a mistake you have made, then it is time to forgive yourself and really explore why you made the mistake in the first place. With a new solution to avoid the mistake the next time around you can now avoid that mistake in the future.
Allow yourself to be imperfect.