Overcoming perfectionism is something that many entrepreneurs struggle with. For our Tribe Online Business Book Club earlier this month, we read Finish by Jon Acuff. Claire selected this book for us to read because she knows just how much perfectionism prevents us from making progress in our business and reaching our goals.
For most of my life, I have seen my perfectionism as a gift that has helped me to excel and to be successful. But I am now learning that this isn’t the case and overcoming perfectionism has been one of my goals for the past year.
Because I found this book so helpful, I thought I would pull out some of the advice that Jon shares that has already been really useful to me in overcoming perfectionism.
1. Cut Your Goal in Half
According to Jon, one of the main lies that perfectionism tells us is that our goals should be bigger and that we should achieve it perfectly. However, foolishly optimistic goals often lead to failure. Think how many times you have decided to lose weight and have set yourself a really ambitious goal like losing 2 stone in 3 months so you can get beach-ready or look good at that wedding you have been invited to.
What he suggests instead is to cut our goals in half. By cutting our goals in half they become more attainable and we will be more motivated to work on them. One stone seems much more achievable in three months as that is just over a pound a week.
He also says that if you cannot cut the goal in half, consider extending the timeline. So if two stone is what you want or need to lose, for example, try giving yourself six months instead of three. This takes the pressure off and makes you much more likely to achieve your goal.
2. Choose What to Bomb
Another lie of perfectionism, according to Jon, is that we can do it all. But in reality, we really can’t. In order to dedicate time to our goals, we need to create that time by taking it from something else. Jon suggests that we identify the things that we can’t get done and decide to bomb them.
Not being able to do everything makes us feel like a failure. Choosing what to give up in advance removes the sting of shame. So if you are working towards a business goal, it may be that you don’t have time for housework. So make peace with that fact and either outsource it to a cleaner, or decide to be okay with the fact that your house isn’t sparkly clean right now.
3. Make it Fun
Have you noticed that society teaches us that anything worth doing must be a miserable struggle? We are bombarded with messages from highly successful people that the way to achieve similar success is through flogging yourself and making all sorts of sacrifices.
This, says Jon, is another lie of perfectionism. It tells us that having fun whilst achieving a goal doesn’t count. But in reality, you’ll be more likely to achieve a goal that is fun. If you want to run a marathon, for example, you’re less likely to stick to the training if it is a miserable experience. So you have to find a way to make it fun so you look forward to doing it.
4. Leave Your Hiding Places
Hiding places are one of the main tactics of perfectionism, says Jon. They provide safe spaces where we can hide from our fear of messing up. These unproductive traps are all the tasks you do instead of working on your goal. They help you feel productive but in reality, they don’t take you any closer to achieving your goal.
For me, this is email. I spend a ridiculous amount of time on my emails, which often brings me no closer to any of my big goals. Reading and reply to all my emails makes me feel productive and busy, but that time could be much better spent elsewhere.
5. Beware Noble Obstacles
Perfectionism tells us that we can’t move forward with our goals until we do something else. It introduces lots of conditions that have to be fulfilled before we can even start working towards our goals. A noble obstacle is a virtuous-sounding reason for not working towards your goal.
Take writing a book for example. Perfectionism might tell you that you can’t start writing your book until you have found an agent or a publisher. But this isn’t even remotely true. The only thing you need to start writing a book, is an idea and a means to record it. You can start today.
Jon explains that perfectionism makes things harder and more complicated. People who achieve their goals instead ask how things could be simpler and easier.
6. Get Rid of Secret Rules
Secret rules are Jon’s version of limiting beliefs. These are stories that we have told ourselves so often that they become our beliefs. These beliefs tend to have a negative impact on our lives by stopping us from moving forward and growing on a personal and professional level.
We all have these secret rules that make it difficult to finish the tasks that take us towards our goals. To overcome perfectionism, Jon says that we need to identify our limiting beliefs, destroy them and replace them with new beliefs.
7. Learn from Others
Perfectionism tells us we have to pursue our goals alone and paints help as a sign of weakness. Instead, Jon recommends that we find someone who knows what we need to know or has done what we want to do and borrow their knowledge.
Look at what other people are doing, even if they are in different fields to you, and see how you can apply this to your own work or life. You don’t have to have the experience to learn from the experience. Just make sure you aren’t copying anyone as that is not OK!
8. Celebrate Imperfect Progress
“Progress is quiet. It whispers. Perfectionism screams failure and hides progress” says Jon. This is so true. How often do you look at your journey and beat yourself up because you haven’t yet achieved something perfectly the way you imagined it? A lot, right?
And how often do you look at how far you’ve come and take the time to be proud of your progress and how far you have come? I’m guessing not all that often?
And this, says Jon, is why it is useful to review the data. Perfectionism hates data, but data helps us to adjust our plans and to improve and get closer to reaching our goals. Looking at how far we’ve come is such a powerful tool for overcoming perfectionism.
Do you feel like you need some help overcoming perfectionism? Have you tried any of these strategies in your business? And if not, which ones do you think might work for you?
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Stacey Sheppard is the founder of The Tribe, a small community-driven coworking space in Totnes that caters to creative, growth-oriented female entrepreneurs by providing an inspiring working environment designed to foster collaboration, connection and community.