If you had to choose between making progress or going for perfection, which would you choose? Many high achievers would say perfection. After all, their drive to make things the best is part of what allows them to be high achievers in the first place.
I’m going to suggest here that you are more likely to experience wins through progress, not perfection.
Seeking perfection has problems. First, it can lead to dreaded procrastination. In the book The Science of Self-Discipline, author Peter Hollins says “procrastination, one of the most common enemies of self-discipline, may result from a paralyzing pursuit of perfection. When you’re always waiting for the perfect conditions before you start doing things, you will end up wasting time and never performing the actions necessary to accomplish your goals.”
If we agree that procrastination is a byproduct of seeking perfection, then that paralysis will create stress inside us. Under stress, our ability to focus on solutions, tap into creativity and experience a more complete and conscious view of situations diminishes. We also experience fear, negative self-worth, anger and anxiety all because we’re not being perfect.
Progress is the better solution.
WIth progress, we see positive movement. Positive movement toward a goal creates motivation. Think about it like this, if you had a goal of losing 15 pounds and you’ve lost 5, you have a choice on how you view your situation. You could think… “I still have 10 pounds to go” or “I’ve already lost 5 pounds.” As you consider each of those, you’ll feel more motivation realizing the progress with the 5 pounds rather than looking at the 10 pounds to go. Motivation will keep you moving toward your goal.
And, when we take action to move toward what we want, we actually get better in the process. Author James Clear of Atomic Habits shares a story of a photography class from the University of Florida. At the start of the semester, the professor divided the class into two groups, the quality group and the quantity group. The quality group would turn in one photo for the semester and be graded based on quality. The more “perfect” the picture, the higher the grade. Those students spent the semester deep into concepts and theory looking for the perfect pic. The quantity group was graded on the sheer number of photos they turned in. So they spent the semester taking all sorts of photos. Through their photo taking, they got better at taking photos. At the conclusion of the semester, the quantity group had the better photos over the quantity group. It was their progress each photo that actually ended up producing better photos.
Here’s the cool thing… we control our perspective on perfection vs. progress. It’s all in how you think and approach situations. Therefore, it’s easy to shift perspective from a perfectionist to seeking progress.
You can shift your perspective with 4 simple questions that you can ask yourself about a specific scenario:
How will you know when it’s perfect?
And if it’s not perfect, what will really happen?
And if __[your answer to #2] ___ is true, what more do you gain by taking action?
What’s the next best action to take right now?
We no longer need to experience the stress that perfectionism causes. When we look for and seek out progress, we’ll find that our goals are more easily and even more quickly achieved.