Maybe my best isn’t as good as someone else’s, but for a lot of people, my best is good enough. ― Lindsey Stirling
We all want to be loved and accepted. That’s why we all take a stab at being perfect in some way, at some time in our lives. It’s normal to want to be perceived as a high achiever in today’s world and it’s reasonable to work hard to make it happen. But when striving for excellence becomes overwhelming and debilitating, as it does for many, the effects can be devastating. For more about the causes of perfectionism, read Perfectionism: Striving to Be Perfect in an Imperfect World.
The Paradox of Perfect
Perfect is everywhere in modern society, or so it appears. Every day, and in every way imaginable, advertisers are telling us that perfect is not only possible, it’s achievable! If it were possible, the subject could have been settled some three thousand years ago with Helen of Troy and the Trojan War. And thus, many great fortunes built on selling the illusion of perfection would never have been realized. The simple truth is that Perfect is not achievable, at least not in the real world.
The Pain of Perfectionism
Perfectionists suffer. Like High Achievers, they make bold plans, but that’s where the similarity ends. Perfectionists refuse to accept any standard short of perfect, so they set impossibly high standards for themselves and sometimes for others as well. They hang on desperately to the belief that perfect can be achieved by performing flawlessly.
Perfectionists are never satisfied and quite often never get started. It’s a self-defeating trait that becomes habitual, producing feelings of inadequacy, stress, anxiety, depression, and other health issues. It can create havoc in their work and personal relationships.
The Beauty in Doing Your Best
According to Aristotle, Excellence is not an act of virtue, but a habit. We are what we repeatedly do. Most people want to be the best they can. The reality is that we are all imperfect and we all make mistakes. We can’t always be the best, but we can always try to do our best, and by doing so we can become better.
Research tells us that when we focus our thoughts on something, we fire neural networks in the brain that become patterns, and the more we focus on those thoughts, the more likely they are to become firm beliefs. Striving to do your best can motivate and inspire you. It can also become a habit.
When you strive to do your best, you look back only when you are done at how you can get a little bit better next time. It’s about continuous improvement as you move forward in life.
5 Tips to Help You Do Your Best
Learning to do your best can be an effective way to help manage perfectionism. Keep in mind that it’s not a convenient excuse for a lazy person.
Before you begin, take a moment to forgive yourself for past mistakes. Acknowledge that you are human and that learning from mistakes is part of how we challenge ourselves to do things differently. It motivates us to become problem-solvers and achievers. Throughout life, learning from mistakes helps us develop wisdom and good judgment. Wise people are teachable which means people of wisdom make mistakes.
1. Set Realistic Goals and Standards:
Make them specific, meaningful, and measurable. Aim high but keep them real. Be clear, because vague goals won’t give you the direction and details necessary to know when you are done and appreciate what you have accomplished.
Start by writing down what you are aiming for and then what is really good enough for you. Think about the Pareto Principle, which states that 80% of the results come from 20% of the effort. Think about what you could do with your time and all you could accomplish if you used the other 80% of it to do something else. Remember, perfectionism is the thief of time. Keep your written goals handy for future reference.
2. Accept imperfection:
Acknowledge that you are human, and you will make some mistakes. Don’t let fear immobilize you— ever. When you have a slip-up, remember that skill development suffers without mistakes to learn from. You need mistakes to grow.
3. Build an Action Plan:
Start from here because now is all you have to work with. There will never be a better place or time and you don’t want to lose precious time. Focus on the steps you will need to take to
achieve your goal. Make a list and keep it close by.
Create a realistic timeline for completion. Set deadlines for completing each step. Keep in mind, you will need some level of stress to keep you stimulated and moving forward.
4. Take Action:
Never stand in place and wait for something to happen. Nothing happens until you begin. Find a pace that keeps you motivated but doesn’t let tasks overwhelm you. Stay focused on the process, not the end result. If you fumble, fumble forward. Check off the steps as you complete them and move closer to your goal. Keep moving forward and stay on schedule.
5. Realize Your Goal:
Be willing to be done—that’s the real goal. It takes courage but try it because you will grow to embrace it. We are products of our past, but we don’t have to be prisoners of it. Completing the steps not only brings real satisfaction, it builds self-confidence and gives a new perspective on things. That why High Achievers always just work to do their best.
Wishing you the best always,
Dr. Dale Simpson (The Every Day Psychologist)
Dale Simpson, PhD, is the father of five children. As a practicing psychologist for more than 37 years, he has counseled children, teens, adults and couples and currently practices in Venice, Florida. Dr. Simpson was a cofounder and publisher of an educational magazine, wrote the Inside the Family column for the magazine, served as a featured speaker at numerous parenting and homeschool conferences, and is the publisher of Learning for Life Press.