The Perfectly Paralyzing Power of Perfection

You have started writing that book, blog, or letter a hundred times. You have postponed an important conversation you wanted to have with your boss, coworker, spouse, or friend because the right words just wouldn't come to mind. The exercise routine and scheduled time for yourself has gone the way of the dinosaur since you couldn't give it all the time you thought it needed. I could continue, but you get the picture. The fear of being less than perfect with something is killing your creativity, and maybe even your productivity.

Think about how we love to tell stories of inventors like Edison or Da Vinci who failed numerous times before getting it right. We tell our children that we can't expect to be perfect with something the first time. We would see it as totally ridiculous if someone who had never played football expected to start as the quarterback for an NFL team. Yet we create these ridiculous expectations for ourself.

"There's too much at stake not to get it right!" you scream at me. I agree. But if we are ever to get it right, we first have to start. Aristotle is quoted as saying, "The beginning is the most important part of any work." Seems like an insanely oversimplifed quote, but isn't it true? If we don't start, we can never expect perfection-or even mediocrity.

If delusions of instant perfection are paralyzing your ability to get the right things done, here are a few suggestions:

  • Keep an informal tally of all the times a thought about the unstarted task makes its way into your brain. Your desire for perfection on another task may actually be inhibiting the quality of the work you ARE doing.
  • Find an emotional motivation to get started. Connect your unwillingness to work on something to disappointing someone you respect or care about.
  • Start small with a limited and defined amount of time. You may be paralyzed because you know you won't have time to do the entire project perfectly. Use the time you DO have to do some part of the task well. It might be creating an outline, getting the supplies, or talking with someone to get some ideas.
  • Ask yourself why you have such a desire for perfection on this task. Is it the unrealistic expectations of someone else or simply an excuse not to work on something you know you should be doing?
  • Visualize how the completed task would improve your physical, mental, or emotional well being. How refreshing would it be to not to be reminded every day that you have "that" to work on?

World War II General George Patton was quoted as saying, "Never let the best be the enemy of the good." Sure, our days don't need to be filled with shoddy, second-rate work, but for many of the tasks we obsess about doing perfectly, we just need to get started, and get them DONE!