Do you tend to imagine the best case scenario of who you can be? Do you picture having the ideal engaging conversation with a friend or on a date, being the perfect, considerate and understanding parent? What about successfully completing a project or improving your interactions with a boss or colleague at work? Perhaps you imagine going to the gym everyday and working out easily and effortlessly?
But then there are those times when reality doesn’t match up to the scenario in your mind. You might have even judged yourself for not being able to manifest the perfection you had imagined. You might even start feeling angry at yourself for not being perfect. I can relate.
I used to lie in bed after the alarm went off in the morning and play through my day and my future, thinking of all the things I wanted to do, imagining my perfect life. Only it never really worked out the way I imagined.
I didn’t have the relationship of my dreams, I didn’t have a job I felt passionate about, and I’d put on weight because I wasn’t looking after my health either. I wasn’t even great at more simple things, like when I talked to people I felt shy and wouldn’t know what to say. I’d imagine in advance the conversations I’d have, the things I could say to sound funny and interesting but the other person never said what I had previously imagined and I felt like I was left stumbling over each word, nervous and shy. I’d walk away from a night out feeling less than great, like I didn’t know what I was doing. I would ask myself why everyone else could do it perfectly and I always seemed to be making mistakes.
Perfectionism was affecting my time!
There’s a side of perfectionism that eats away at your time. I’d start a project and spend all my time researching every detail, making sure I thought of everything I needed to make it perfect. Then when I started, and it was nothing like I imagined, I’d get fed up and stop and jump to the next project or distraction. I’d go around in circles doing the same thing with different projects, planning the perfect holiday, the perfect dinner party, the perfect career.
Looking back, I wasted so much time planning but not doing anything, that I missed out on a lot. I missed out on meeting awesome people on dates because I wanted to have the perfect clothes, be the perfect weight and have the perfect conversation. I wouldn’t go up to talk to people or apply for jobs I’d love to have because I would overthink it and miss out on the opportunity.
My health was not great because instead of going to the gym and facing the imperfection of not knowing how to use the machines, asking for help and admitting that I wasn’t at the weight I wanted to be, I would stay at home and eat comforting foods that had the opposite effect on my health.
I even had a list (a very long list) of the perfect, ideal partner, down to their job, income, hair colour, what he would wear, all the attributes to make a perfect relationship, how he would get along with all my friends and family, and the list went on. Everyone I went on a date with could never live up to the picture I had created of the perfect partner. It took me a long time before I realised that my expectations were unrealistic.
How many times have you heard, “Nobody’s Perfect?”
Maybe you’ve even said it to someone?
At work have you ever noticed yourself, or a colleague, spending so much time on all the little details of a project, only for those details to not really matter much in the end, or for the project not to go ahead? There are people who keep working until every detail is in place and, depending on the industry you’re in, it can be a problem, because instead of focussing on working with others and moving forward they can get stuck in the tiniest of details and waste time. I’m not saying to rush through or that the details don’t matter, they do. I’m saying that there is a balance between focussing on the details and taking action all the way through to completing a project.
All it takes is 3 seconds…
Often when I would go out, I’d stand out of the way of other people and think of the perfect conversation and wait for the perfect time to walk up and say hello to someone. I’d think and think and think and think! I would overthink the interactions to the point of ridiculousness so that by the end of the night it was more likely that I hadn’t spoken to anyone and went home disappointed.
I’d heard about the 3 second rule, do you know it? It’s when you’re about to do something, and instead of letting your thinking get in the way, you implement it in 3 seconds. For example, let’s say you want to meet people for networking, or to ask someone out on a date. Perhaps in the past you would see someone you wanted to approach, but then you backed out. The 3 second rule goes that when you first see someone you feel you might have something in common with, you approach them within 3 seconds. It means you don’t have time to think of any objections that stop yourself from taking the opportunity.
So I started applying that rule. When I went to a party or social gathering, I would talk to the first person I saw. I just said hi and started a conversation, which prevented me from having a moment to sit back and start overthinking. To begin with, it was uncomfortable and I stumbled over what to say. It definitely wasn’t perfect. I was doing ‘something’ though, and that was the important thing!
The importance of a single focus
In work the same thing can happen, getting stuck thinking of what to do next, getting overwhelmed with all the details and not knowing where to start. Rather than jumping from one thing to the next or putting it off completely, go for a walk, get some fresh air, get a glass of water and take a moment. Taking a few deep breaths can also help. When you come back, think about what is necessary to get to the very next step closer to completing your task. Not all the details, just the next most important step. It’s so much easier to focus on one thing at a time. You’ll soon notice that the more you’re able to focus on completing just that one thing, the very next step in front of you, the easier it will become to get it done! Before you know it, the whole project will be completed, simply by focusing on one step at a time.
The goal is to keep it simple, not to get stuck trying to make it perfect. It’s easy to focus on the biggest keys to completing the project, and ticking them off one by one. When you do single focus, you may notice that there are some details that would be ideal but not really necessary. Knowing this can really make a massive difference in how great you will feel about the end result, and help you to better focus your attention and time.
It may take a few attempts for you to let go of that need for perfection but it’s going to be worth it. Striving for perfection can put pressure on you and you might find the work does not even get done or the deadline might get missed, just because of fussing over the littlest details. When you’re managing your time better by focusing on one thing, that means you’ll have more time and energy to put into other areas of your life that are important too.
Rethink, Rephrase, Re-apply, Redo
There is a time to check things, to rethink things, to rephrase, to re-apply and redo. This is usually done after you are finished with the task.
Remember, no one is telling you to be perfect except yourself. If you are struggling with this, you could read over the things I’ve listed above that helped me move past perfectionism, and then give them a go yourself. I’ve mentioned the 3 second rule and importance of focusing on one important thing at a time. It could help you get out of that “perfection” state and just finish the task at hand.
I used to beat myself up for not being perfect but as soon as I started noticing that I was doing the best I could and focussing on what I could improve the next time, I took control back and realised I could keep moving forward. Getting better each time. Remember the first time you do something you’ll be ok. The next time you will be better. And the next time after that you will be even better still.
When you’re reflecting on a task you’ve completed, or a date or conversation you’ve had, when you’re reflecting on anything, think about what would you do differently next time. How could you improve, next time, and then just keep going. The more that you can repeat the steps above, and keep improving each time, even in the smallest of ways, the easier it will become over time.