A young woman looking in the mirror illustrates how to stop trying to be perfect

Why should you stop trying to be perfect? How does perfectionism knock you off your road to success?

It’s easy to get mired on the road to success if you expect your achievements to live up to your dreams in every perfect detail. Perfectionists, especially in creative fields, often feel stymied when their work doesn’t live up to their very high personal standards.

Learn how Adam Alter frames the escape from the perfectionism trap in three different ways.

Anti-Perfectionism Tactic #1: Lower Your Standards

Alter argues that one way to stop trying to be perfect is to lower your standards. To a perfectionist, this might feel like betraying your ideals, but Alter says you should view it as playing with new ideas. For instance, a songwriter trained in complex music theory might, when their ideas run dry, fool around with simple rhythms and clichéd chord progressions until something workable clicks. Doing this doesn’t lower the value of your efforts; rather, it gives you the freedom to explore. While toying around with “substandard” progress, you might stumble on an insight you’d never have arrived at when holding all your work to a higher bar.

(Shortform note: While Alter’s advice to lower your standards may be an effective tool for freeing your imagination, not everyone recommends it as a long-term strategy. In The 10X Rule, Grant Cardone argues the exact opposite—that the major reason for people’s failure to achieve is that they don’t set their goals high enough. Cardone believes that goals need to be outsized so that they can inspire you while holding your attention. For this to work, he also recommends aligning your goals with your overall sense of purpose in life. Cardone says that these factors—scope and purpose—work together to carry you through any slowdowns in your progress.)

Anti-Perfectionism Tactic #2: Quantity Over Quality

Another way to leverage imperfection in any kind of creative project, whether writing ad copy or painting landscapes, is to try to produce as much work as possible without getting hung up on how good it is. This “shotgun approach” to creativity is sure to result in lots of ideas that’ll end up on the garbage heap, but it also increases the likelihood that something truly dazzling will emerge. Alter also points out that increasing your output results in lots and lots of practice—which means that good ideas and well-crafted work will start to flow more naturally.

(Shortform note: Alter’s suggestion to value “quantity, not quality” is the unofficial motto of National Novel Writing Month, an annual challenge during the month of November to encourage aspiring authors to write—and finish—a short novel in only 30 days. To accomplish this, writers are encouraged to put whatever words come to mind on the page without going back to make edits or corrections. Mistakes are not only valued but encouraged as a means to keep creativity flowing. Over 400,000 authors participate each year, and though some of their work has gone on to be published, the goal is no more than to complete a preliminary draft of a book.)

Anti-Perfectionism Tactic #3: Aim for “Good” Instead of “Great”

In the end, the key to escaping the perfectionism trap is to know the difference between “perfect” and “good.” Alter writes that in psychology, these two modes of thinking are known as satisficing—settling for “good enough”—and maximizing—seeking the best possible outcome. Though maximizing holds itself to a higher ideal, it’s restrictive, limiting, and correlated with a host of negative mental states, including overall unhappiness. On the other hand, a satisficing mindset offers the freedom and flexibility to let go of dead ends, chalk up failures to learning, and move on when reality doesn’t live up to an imagined ideal.

(Shortform note: Alter isn’t alone in giving maximizing a bad rap. In The Paradox of Choice, Barry Schwartz writes that maximizers feel more regret for their decisions, even those that lead to better outcomes. The difference lies in how those outcomes are measured. Maximizers rely on objective standards, such as higher pay or greater recognition, whereas satisficers focus on the subjective experience of making decisions with less effort and more enjoyment. Studies have backed this up by showing that maximizers graduating from college earn more than their satisficing classmates but end up feeling more dissatisfied with their careers.)

Stop Trying to Be Perfect: 3 Ways to Keep Your Ideals in Check

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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