Battling Perfectionism: How To Take Action


What are the thoughts and feelings that keep you from moving forward with your tasks, goals, and dreams?

For me personally, it’s usually one of the following things:

  • feeling overwhelmed (not knowing when/where to start)

  • feeling like I’m not good enough (doubting my skills, plans, or ideas)

  • fear of failure (what if it sucks or doesn’t produce the results I expect it to?)

I’ve struggled with these feelings for a long time. And when I started my own creative business, I began to see just how paralyzing they can be. The crazier thing is that as I tried to make better sense of these feelings in the last couple of years, I came to this realization that everything came back to one very pervasive thing that I’ve struggled with my entire life: perfectionism.

Perfectionism is what told me that the context, quality, and quantity of everything I did had to be perfect in order for me to have done something successfully. At its worst, it discredited my efforts, exaggerated my mistakes, and crushed my self-confidence.

Here’s one of my favorite quotes about perfectionism that sums it up pretty well:

“Perfectionism doesn't believe in practice shots. It doesn't believe in improvement. Perfectionism has never heard that anything worth doing is worth doing badly… Perfectionism measures our beginner's work against the finished work of masters. Perfectionism thrives on comparison and competition. It doesn't know how to say, "Good try," or "Job well done." The critic does not believe in creative glee--or any glee at all, for that matter. No, perfectionism is a serious matter.” - Julia Cameron

Julia Cameron is so right. It is a serious matter when it causes us to doubt, stall, and in the worst case scenario, give up completely in pursuing our dreams and passions.

So, what can we do to counter this?

The answer is pretty simple: take action.

We’ve heard this time and time again, but I’ve experienced it to be the most effective way to get out of these mental blocks. Action begets more action, and that’s where we need to start.

I know - easier said than done. But here are some strategies that have helped me (and I hope will help you) along the way.

1. Simplify your tasks.

This is something that I learned from reading a book called Mini Habits by Stephen Guise.

Instead of giving yourself large tasks that might feel overwhelming, the key is to lower your standards and start with something that is so simple that it’s impossible to “fail”.

For example, if your goal is to lose 10 pounds, your daily task could be to do one push-up every day. Yes, ONE push-up. This is the example that Stephen Guise shares in his book and here’s why it works.

When you lower the bar on your actions, it encourages you to focus on showing up and being consistent instead of focusing on doing something perfectly. The strength and discipline you’ve gained by doing one push-up every day will gradually lead to fuller workouts and eventually get you to that 10 pound goal.

“The key to building powerful confidence is to decide specifically what you can be confident about right now, and build from there.” - Stephen Guise

When it comes to your goals, what is something that you can be confident about starting today? A ten second plank? A five minute sketch? Showing up on Instagram stories every day? Think about a simple task that you can take on today, and just start. I’ve seen that a simple act can lift you out of perfectionist thinking and get the ball rolling.

2. Adapt a binary mindset.

The Binary Mindset is something that Stephen Guise shares in his book, How To Be An Imperfectionist. Here’s how it works:

Imagine your task is to draw a flower. Instead of thinking about all the little details that need to be “right” in order for it to be a “successful” drawing, what if you thought of it in binary terms?

This means there are only two possible outcomes:
(1) if you draw, you succeed
(2) if you don’t draw, you fail

I know this can’t be applied to every single task at hand (because some tasks, by nature, require extra care and precision), but adapting this type of mindset can be really helpful when you’re feeling fearful or stuck about of taking that first step.

Instead of worrying about how well or perfectly something needs to be done, let the pure act of completing a task be your success.

Did I draw that flower today? Yes? Then I succeeded.

3. Enjoy the process.

The perfectionist re-draws the chin line until there is a hole in the paper. The perfectionist rewrites a sentence until it makes no sense. The perfectionist edits a musical passage over and over, losing sight of the whole. For the perfectionist, nothing is ever quite good enough. Obsessed with the idea that something must be perfect, we lose sight of the joy of creation. - Julia Cameron

I know this sounds so cliche, but it’s important, and I wanted to include it here.

Let yourself enjoy the process.

We, as perfectionists, like to suck the joy out of things. Instead of letting ourselves explore, have fun, and be in the moment, we are constantly overthinking and putting a lot of pressure on ourselves to do things “perfectly”.

But you know what? All successful people started with imperfect ideas, imperfect execution, and imperfect results. And that’s just part of the journey.

What if we just allowed ourselves to embrace the imperfectness of the process a little more? It would make everything so much more enjoyable.

By no means am I trying to be an expert in all of this. To be completely honest, the perfectionist in me had a really hard time writing this post. But I wanted to share it anyway, in hopes that it might help someone who might be struggling through the same things.

It may not be perfect, but posting it is my success for the day.

And on that note, let me leave you with a few more gems from Stephen’s book that have helped me to keep going:

  • Care less about results. Care more about putting in the work.

  • Care less about conditions. Care more about what actions you can take right now to move forward.

  • Care less about doing it right. Care more about doing it at all.

Books mentioned in this post:

Mini Habits: Smaller Habits, Bigger Results by Stephen Guise

How To Be An Imperfectionist by Stephen Guise

The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron