Why Perfectionism is Deadly... and an Antidote

14 February, 2021
Self-improvement; Productivity

I've moved from being a perfectionist to anti-perfectionist. This is how I did it.

But wait, isn’t perfectionism a helpful trait?

No. Not at all.

Perfectionism is surrounded by mythology. At the surface level, people equate perfectionism with striving for excellence. But at its core, perfectionism is a defensive move. It is an excuse to postpone meaningful action under the guise that now is not the perfect time. As a result, it helps you avoid the painful feelings of failure, judgment and shame.

If you're a perfectionist, I recommend rereading the above paragraph and thinking about it meaningfully. I wish someone had told me to do that 5 years ago.

I think perfectionistic traits often stem from seeking approval. I grew up being praised for achieving at several things. I had internalised this positive association of success by trying to avoid failure through perfectionism. Perfectionism for me had become about what other people thought - I didn't want to let others down.

But now one might even say that I'm an anti-perfectionist.

I've learnt to make decisions more quickly, under more uncertainty, and finish tasks more efficiently.

So how do this change come about?

The first step was self-awareness.

But more practically, I have tried to follow three principles:

  1. Good enough is perfect – perfection doesn’t exist, so know when what you have is good enough.
  2. Move fast and break things – default to moving fast and failing over seeking perfection.
  3. Make decisions with ~70% knowledge, because if you need to know 100% before you move, you will never be fast enough.

Now, I could go on. I could flesh out all these ideas. But I want to keep this article short. I think you will get more value from rereading what’s here than from a longer article. The three principles I listed are some of the most impactful lessons I have learnt over the past three years.

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