Thoughts

How To Overcome Perfectionism

How To Overcome Perfectionism
Written by Magoz
4 min read 5.2k views 46 comments

I’ve always been into perfectionism and happy to define myself as a perfectionist.

In fact, perfectionism has been my driving force to learn and evolve.

But after all these years becoming more and more obsessed with details, I’ve reached a point where extreme perfectionism has become a burden. It has made me slow, insecure of my own work and afraid to move forward.

Here are some of my thoughts about fighting against perfectionism.

The Fallacy of Perfection

Perfection doesn’t exist. It’s like the horizon line. You move one step forward, and it moves as well. It’s unreachable. You can always find more ways to polish and refine something. The process never ends.

Also, as you move towards perfection, you learn new things and your previous idea of perfection becomes obsolete.

Perfection is a direction, not a destination.

Some Tips to Overcome Perfectionism

  • Apply the 80/20 rule
    Invest 20% of your time and effort on 80% of outcome, not the opposite. After a while, perfectionism is not useful anymore, and pursuing it will be unproductive and detrimental to the project itself.
    This powerful and interesting rule is also known as the Pareto Principle: for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.
  • Be aware of the perfectionism trap
    I have made this mistake numerous times: I get excited about something, I start working on it, investing hours and hours perfecting it, and then realize that I don’t need it. Improving and perfecting can eclipse the real purpose of creating something, so be careful not to lose the point.
  • Don’t allow perfectionism to remove the personality
    Sometimes perfectionism tends to make things cold and impersonal. Your personal characteristics are what makes you, you (even though you may think they are imperfections). Don’t try to get rid of them–they are your strengths.
  • Establish realistic expectations
    It’s easy to dream with the moon and think that’s the only acceptable outcome. Don’t allow perfectionism to set unrealistic expectations–it’s a recipe for failure (or even worse, a recipe for never finishing what you are working on). Instead, try to establish realistic expectations that you can accomplish, while still pushing yourself to excellence.
  • Launch and improve it afterwards
    If the project allows it (a personal digital project, your website, an ebook, etc.), just work on a viable first version (or minimum viable product) and launch it. You can keep improving and updating it.

An Inspiring Example

I don’t remember where I read this story first, but it has been in my mind since then. I read it whenever I feel trapped by perfectionism.

The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups.

All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality.

His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” group: 50 pounds of pots rated an “A”, 40 pounds a “B”, and so on.

Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot — albeit a perfect one — to get an “A”.

Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity.

It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work—and learning from their mistakes — the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.

 — Art & Fear. Ted Orland.

I’ve always preferred quality vs quantity, but I now realize it’s not always the smart choice, especially when it comes to creating or learning.

Conclusions

Perfectionism requires hard work and helps to develop judgment. The right amount of perfectionism makes you better because you constantly question and challenge yourself to improve.

But if you cross the line and become obsessed with perfectionism, you stop producing and you may end up not finishing anything. By focusing on production rather than perfection, you will likely yield better results in the end.

Perfectionism must be understood as a direction, not a destination.

As always, I would love to hear your comments!

Magoz

Nomadic illustrator. Thinker. Seeker.

46 comments

  1. P
    Paola

    Hello Magoz, how are you? I am currently in the middle of a personal project and I am stalling because of perfectionism. Your article has reached me at a perfect moment. Curiously, the way I try to overcome my ‘Perfectionist block’ is to work trying not to pay attention to the result. Once I am loose enough I begin working on my project. It works partly, because every day I have to overcome the block, and I don’t have enough time every time to try to overcome it.
    ¡Besos! Y espero el curso.

    • Hi Paola!
      Thanks for sharing your approach. I suspect most of us get blocked because we focus more on the result than on just starting.

      Hope you overcome that block, good luck, my friend!

      And yes, perfectionism kidnapped my course for a while, but not anymore. Hopefully, it won’t take long until I finally launch it :-)

  2. I couldn’t agree more! However, still not that easy to overcome perfectionism and ones own aspiration. Guess it’s a life long learning process.

  3. Fantástico artículo!

    Seguro que lo has escrito de un tirón : )

    • ¡Gracias Alex!
      Sí jejeje, a pesar de que no pude contenerme y me pasé un buen rato editándolo. Poco a poco. Esto de dejar de prestar tanta atención a los detalles va a ser una carrera de fondo :-)

      • cuando se controla la técnica lo que tiene que preocuparte es brillar, y eso se consigue con espontaneidad y naturalidad, no forzado

        gracias a ti! : )

  4. My perfectionist usually blocks me and I need to repeat myself I’m following a unicorn, so thank you for share your experience. I never read the tale before and it seems so useful to don’t forget the risk of the perfectionism.

  5. M
    Maria

    Hola Magoz,
    Llevo tiempo leyendo tus geniales artículos, pero esta es la primera vez que me atrevo a comentar. Justo lo has publicado cuando he iniciado un reto personal contra mi propio perfeccionismo. Llevo una semana dibujando todos los días en una libreta, sin pensar tanto en el resultado final y con una sola norma: no borrar nada ni arrancar ninguna página (algo que tiendo a hacer cuando dibujo algo no tan perfecto). Aún es pronto para ver los resultados… por ahora me tengo que “morder la lengua” cada vez que pienso en la cantidad de cosas no perfectas que estoy produciendo, jajaja. Pero sé que debo seguir adelante para crecer como artista. Me tranquiliza ver cómo otros creativos también se pueden llegar a encontrar en la misma situación.

    Leeré el libro que mencionas, pues el relato que has compartido me ha parecido muy interesante.

    Un saludo

    • Hola Maria,
      Gracias por animarte a comentar y a compartir tu experiencia.
      Pensar en lo que no hemos hecho por culpa del perfeccionismo es tal vez una de las formas más efectivas de poder “soltarnos” y perder el miedo.

      ¡Ánimo y asuerte con con el reto!

  6. Muy buen artículo. Y excelente recomendación.
    Hay un punto de equilibrio entre la búsqueda de la perfección y el descuido y la regla de Pareto es un buen referente (aunque no debería ser una camisa de fuerza).
    Continúa con estos aportes Magoz, son bien recibidos.

  7. Thanks for this great article! :)

  8. Ha, the topic needs to be reminded every week ;)

  9. Glad to read this article, like all of your inspiring articles! It is true that perfectionism shouldn’t be our destination. Ever since I decided not to be so obsessed with perfection around 3 years ago, my work and personality has moved to a different level!

    Tu labor y aportación en el mundo me fascina a diario! Felices viajes..Gracias Magoz :)

  10. Honestly, you could have ended the article at “Perfection is a direction, not a destination.” I’m glad you didn’t, because it was interesting, but what else does one need to know? Ironically, that sentence sums up the problem and solution perfectly.

    • It was in the original draft, but then I realized I used that sentence at the beginning of the article, when talking about the Perfectionism Fallacy, so I tweaked it a bit:
      Perfectionism must be understood as a direction, not a destination.

  11. Really cool article. Loved the little story to cap it off! I fight with self doubt in my work literally every day! Guess it’s normal haha

    • Thanks for this article man, it really has resonated with me. I’ve always defined myself as a chronic perfectionist, and it really is a pain in the neck, I have to admit that it has killed my happiness in different stages of my life at personal and professional levels, and it’s still doing it. We need to embrace the mistakes even if they’re small and keep going.
      I’ll try to implement your useful tips, thanks again!
      Cheers!

    • Thanks Phil! Yeah, definitely, sometimes is good to know that we are not alone.

  12. Ah sí, la “impecabilidad del Guerrero” como decía Don Juan Matus, hacer las cosas lo mejor que uno pueda sabiendo que nada importa, tan solo el hecho de que vamos a morir. Gran artículo querido Maikel ;)

  13. im a visual communication design student…
    that’s just… so relatable, the ceramic teacher analogy just made me realize…… so far im not producing anything yet my friends have pile of works and didn’t concern about perfection.
    thank you so much!

    • That’s exactly my feeling, Naufal. Perfection is the worst enemy of doing and achieving, and we have to fight against it!

  14. Thats a great example in the story. I always get trapped in the perfectionism cycle, this will steer me to freedom.

  15. S
    Sarah

    Such a great article and a reassuring read! Will be saving it for those moments of crushing perfectionism

  16. So true. I struggled with perfectionism in the past but atm thankfully I’m working through it and focusing on producing.

    Great reminder though and always validating to hear others with the same struggles!

    Thank you

    • Thanks for your comment, Sooz. Do you have some extra tips about how are you doing it? :-)

      • I think this video from Jake Parker actually helped me a lot https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lRtV-ugIT0k and just discussing that with friends, also encouraging each other to finish things instead of obsessing.

        On a practical note I’m a bit fan of the Kanban workflow so I use post it notes on my wall with three columns; “To do”, “Doing” and “Done”. I try to break down tasks as simple as possible to make them seem more friendly and doable. I think having it there visually in front of me helps me stay focused whenever I get a bit lost :)

  17. R
    Rocha

    Great article, I can relate to it a lot. :)

  18. You opened the Pandora’s box. This is a topic that deserves attention. I have felt and I feel trapped by a stupid perfectionism —stupid because it does not lead me to a better place—. Personally, I’ve been learning to embrace imperfections for a few weeks now and to find a more comfortable, natural, simple way of doing. And the sensations are good, although the road will be long :-D

    In the end, as many people are commenting here, the essence is the important thing. Getting lost in details that do not favour it doesn’t seem productive. In this sense, I am the greatest of sinners! It comforts me to know that I am not the only one affected by this.

    Great article, as usual.

    • Totally agree, my friend. Thanks for sharing your points and personal case.
      Knowing that we are not alone is very empowering to change!

  19. By the way, Magoz. I’m not sure the first link in this post is leading to the desired URL… Is it?

  20. Hola Magoz, en esta ocasión no coincidimos ya que a mí me ocurre todo lo contrario. Por temor a perder la frescura inicial a veces no me paro a pulir detalles y el trabajo queda un poco “cojo”. Soy consciente de que hay que caminar hacia la perfección aunque sin pasarse pero a veces la impaciencia me traiciona porque cuando me paro a perfeccionar los detalles que pueden mejorar un trabajo , éste gana enormemente. Espero que encontremos el término medio donde dicen se encuentra la virtud. Un abrazo, Carmen.

  21. I must admit that I am a perfectionist. Not for all things, but some. Some great tips that I will be trying.

  22. I don’t need to overcome perfectionism. I’m imperfect!

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