Break Free from Perfection with Precision
There was a time when I thought being a perfectionist was a good thing. I thought it meant I cared about getting things done right. But what I found was that I wasn’t getting much done because I rarely got to the point where I thought something was done right.
Perfectionism held me back for years. Sometimes it still does. There were things that I wanted to do and never even got out of the gate on because I was comparing my abilities to people who had been doing what I wanted to do for years. I thought that the only way I could participate was to come in at that advanced level right from the start.
I used to want to be a novelist. I wrote poetry and tried to write a couple short stories. I had countless notebooks filled with unfinished stories. I’d come up with a ton of ridiculous reasons why my story was crap and should go into the trash unfinished. Here are a few...
No one is going to care about this story.
I don’t even like it any more.
I got a new idea. I should write about that instead.
I just read this other person’s story and mind sounds really horrible now so why keep going?
And then I’d come up with a ton of distractions that kept me from doing what I really needed to be doing.
I need a new pen
My journal is boring and uninspiring
Maybe I should get a better desk
Maybe a more comfortable chair
The list goes on.
My complete focus on an advanced level outcome ruined my ability to grow. What I really needed to do was sit down and complete those crappy stories instead of hanging on to my crappy excuses. I gave no value to my fledgling attempts. All I saw was a bunch of terrible first drafts. I suppose it’s because didn’t see where there was anything to be gained from trying and failing. I just wanted to magically win.
I’ve watched people do the same thing with their pursuit of health that I did with my novelist aspirations.
They try a diet that doesn't work and decide they can never lose weight.
They join a gym and feel intimidated and decide they can’t work out.
Or they can only do a short period of time on the treadmill before becoming out of breath and decide it’s too late for them to get healthy.
I experienced many of those same fears about my health. But when faced with the choice of finding a way to get fit to get my blood pressure under control or taking years off my life, I stopped worrying about perfection and starting focusing on precision.
Here’s what I mean by that…
Perfections vs Precision
Perfection requires that you always get it exactly right, even if it’s your first attempt.
If you find yourself stalling or quitting because you don’t feel like what you’re doing is coming out exactly right, then you’re falling into perfectionism. I had to come to the realization that nothing I do will be exactly right and that nothing anyone does is exactly right.
That second part is a major thing today! We see all these images of people online (especially in social media) that appear to have their lives perfected. And it’s not just celebrities anymore, it’s your neighbors, relatives, and friends too! When it was just celebrities on TV looking happy and fabulous all the time, it was easier not to hold yourself to some unrealistic status. But now that Everyone is Insta -Fabulous, Facebook Fly, and a Snapchat Superstar, it’s much easier to believe that you just aren’t perfect enough.
Perfection leaves you in that maze of always looking to others as your measuring stick instead of measuring yourself by your own efforts or lack thereof. You keep running into dead ends, because in the maze of perfection there’s no way out.
Precision is about being intentional in your pursuit of continuous improvement. Here’s how you apply it to whatever goal you are pursuing.
Keep making attempts noting what works and what doesn’t.
Use your findings to improve your next attempt.
Keep doing this until your efforts become more effective in getting you to your preferred outcome.
That’s what I did and continue to do with my pursuit of wellness. I tried different workouts until I found one that I fell in love with it. I tried diets (and hated them all) until I found a way to eat that is healthier and doesn’t make me feel deprived.
At first, the process seeming daunting and often frustrating. But then I realized that my need for perfection was costing me much more that my trial and error approach. Perfection caused me to lose progression and damage my self esteem because I stayed at a point of failure. Pursing precision made it possible for me to continuously improve and grow by helping me narrow my focus.
Practice Choosing Precision Over Perfection
Here are some examples on how to switch into precision mode.
Your friend posts pictures of herself lifting weights every day for 45 minutes. You feel should start working out too and want to get to her level, but you haven’t worked out in a few years. Look at the following options. Which one is precision and which is perfection?
Go to the gym for 45 minutes a day for a week and attempt to do her workout then quit because you’re struggling terribly and you hate every minute of it.
Workout at home for 15 to 20 minutes a day trying a basic version of one or two of her strength training moves. Do this until you are confident in your proficiency and are either strong enough to try a progression of the move or to add another move to your practice.
Your friend post pictures of her lunch today and it’s a colorful melody of lean protein, fruits, and veggies and a tall glass of alkaline water. She proceeds to post more pics of what’s in her fridge and her pantry and it looks like the aisle of Whole Foods™. You want to start eating well and drinking more water too, but it’s going to be way too expensive to completely change all the food you have in your house. Look at the following options. Which one is precision and which is perfection?
Study the pictures of her pantry and fridge, then pull out your credit card, go to the grocery store and try to recreate what you saw. You can worry about the bill and how you’re going to incorporate this stuff into your meals later. Post pics when you are done.
Choose one thing that she does that you’d like to try and incorporate that into your next grocery shopping trip. Use it to replace a less healthy option you currently have. Start with something simple like maybe trying alkaline water or replacing whole milk with 2% or 1%. Replace one item a week with a healthier choice and gradually learn to blend these into your meal prep each week.
If you chose 2 for the questions above, then you’re making precise choices that will lead you to success instead of perfectionist choices that will lead you to disappointment.
Getting to any destination in life requires a journey. The perfect ending you may think you see was built on both success and failure. So allow yourself room for imperfection. Those flaws often lead you down the path to a win by helping you to become more precise in your actions.