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De-Construct This: All-or-Nothing Thinking

February 6, 2013

[Part of my mission here at Life De-Constructed is to break down the shit that gets in the way of living huge in our life. The “De-Construct This” posts are where I give insight and strategies for doing just that—usually inspired from the everyday, real-life happenings of yours truly.]

Archery Target  Confessions of a Perfectionist

One of the things I struggle with—on pretty-much a daily basis—is perfectionism. I try to hide it, and generally I don’t impose it on other people, but the fact is: I am a bona-fide, real-deal, capital-P Perfectionist.

You see, I fully recognize, embrace, and love to bask in the vibrant color that makes up this world (it’s actually Technicolor, not shades of gray by-the-way)—and yet my default programming often flips to the black and white channels. Especially when we are talking about the expectations I put on myself in the pursuit of goals, objectives, and life ambitions. For me, it turns into either all or nothing.

Merriam-Webster defines perfectionism as:

“a disposition to regard anything short of perfection as unacceptable; especially: the setting of unrealistically demanding goals accompanied by a disposition to regard failure to achieve them as unacceptable”

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

New exercise program? I’ll map it out for the coming weeks and months, write it on my calendar, and then when I miss a day…or 5…I beat myself up for not doing exactly what I planned. New plan for eating more healthfully? Same deal. If I don’t follow the program exactly, then for sure I have failed. Not completing my Big Rocks (i.e. the things on my priority list) for the day or week? Ad-libbing my budget for the month? Not getting up at 5:00 a.m. every day so I have extra time to write and meditate? Uh-huh. Check, check, and check.

I know to many of you this line of thinking sounds completely ridiculous—and, the thought of being able to be perfect at any of that stuff all the time IS absurd. I know this, and yet these are the headlines running on the thought-ticker in the mind of a perfectionist.

My new target: 60% of the time

In The Empire Strikes Back, Yoda famously says, “Do or do not. There is no try.” I wholeheartedly believe in this wisdom—because it’s true, you’re either doing something that you set out to do or you’re not. However, for a perfectionist, this is also a trapdoor leading right into black-and-white thinking. Here’s what is important to remember:

Nobody said “doing it” means all or nothing.

My brain likes to add the word perfectly to Yoda’s sentence: Do it perfectly or you’re not doing it at all. It tries to tell me that if I am doing something, then I am doing it 100% of the time, exactly how I am supposed to, and precisely according to plan—anything less is unacceptable or wrong.

This, of course, is a bunch of crap.

“Doing it” simply means you’re in intentional action toward your goal or objective, as opposed to still sitting there thinking about it, contemplating it, preparing for it, and planning the perfect execution. It’s keeping your eye on what you’re really trying to achieve while being fully aware of the choices you are making, or not making, to get you to where you want to be. Ultimately, “doing it” is achieving what you set out to do, but it is NOT having the expectation that the path to get there is pristine and unblemished.

Here’s a radical idea: Instead of shooting for 100% perfection in the journey and action steps to achieving an ambition, shoot for being flawless in your execution 60% of the time instead. That’s right, I said 60% of the time. Why 60%? Truthfully, the answer is a bit Goldilocks and the 3 Bears: 80-100% of the time is too much in the “perfection” zone; 75% is probably doable over time; 50% doesn’t feel like trying hard enough; and 60% feels right. To me, it’s a good representation of more than half and less than perfect.

Obviously, it’s not a magic or statistically significant number, and maybe your Goldilocks number is more like 51% or 78.2%. The point is to ensure you have plenty of space for being a flawed human being—one who encounters obstacles and has periodic run-ins with setbacks, lapses, and failures in the normal course of trying to achieve something that is important in your life.

Let me be clear, I’m not saying that aiming for 100% achievement of your goals is not something to strive for or want. I’m saying that putting so much pressure on yourself to be perfect at the execution can lead to paralysis—or giving up altogether. Rather than getting into action at all, you do nothing. And then you really ARE doing nothing.

By the way, I also encourage you to try this in other areas of your life, not just in the goal-setting context. I’ll bet you will amaze yourself with what opens up for you when you give yourself permission to allow imperfection to be a part of your life.

I’d love to know what you think. Leave your comments below.

Photo credit: Ivan McClellan

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