The only thing that separates any one of us from excellence is fear. The opposite of fear is faith. I am careful not to confuse excellence with perfection. Excellence is something I can reach for perfection is God’s business. – Michael J. Fox, from the book, Lucky Man.
Perfectionism is a hard thing for a lot of people. And it’s really surprising to because you will not believe how many people are actually perfectionist out there who don’t appear to be perfectionist. And that’s what we’re going to talk about today. The book by Jon Acuff called Finish: Give Yourself the Gift of Done. Jon Acuff writes a lot of really great books. But this one tries to tackle some main issues about why people can’t get to their end goals or their end projects. What’s really stopping them? And the first one that he calls out is perfectionism. He said, perfectionism isn’t the only roadblock to finishing. We also made things difficult by creating overly ambitious goals. And suggest that when we are making goals in the first place, to remember, goals are a marathon; they take a long time. They’re not a sprint. And so, you’re more likely to get to your goal if you have a longer time to work towards it and if you can continually build up. It’s bringing that idea of small steps towards our main goal. Again, having that pacing, that gets us to the end of the goals. When we think about trying to get to goals, and I think it’s an all sorts of different things, ‘I want to get a new job by this’ or ‘I want to lose 100 pounds by then’ we come up with these goals that are steep and hard to reach. You may never reach them. And scientists talk about this as Excessively Optimistic Thinking, we tend to think that we can achieve these giant goals in a very short period of time. When you look at statistics, according to the book, 92% of us fail to achieve our goals.
He talks about two psychologists, Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, they found that people bias towards optimism, and consistently underestimate how long something will take to complete. We go on one side by thinking we can get this done in a short amount of time, which makes us do two things. It gives us a deadline that we cannot meet. But it also makes us have this very ambitious goal we can do and becomes frustrating, and we become frustrated in the goal. And so, the first thing that he suggests, whenever you’re trying to come up with a goal for you to live your life, cut it in half. If you don’t have the ability to cut it in half, then double the amount of time it will take because the worst thing that will happen is you’ll finish earlier. And we talked a little bit about that when we talked about taking small steps, that it is better and better for our brains if we finish something early, or we overachieve and finish more of it, than if we constantly set ourselves up to fail. So that’s what john is really talking about, trying to cut those goals down so that we can have wins along the way and actually attain our goal. And so, the next step he talks about is the other reason why we fail at a lot of things that we do is because we believe fundamentally that we must be great at everything. Step he talks about taking is just admitting that we cannot be great at everything. But there are some things that other people are great at. And they get praised for that maybe it’s not the thing we’re great at. when it comes down to it. You have to realize what things are so important that you need to be great at, and what things you don’t. And I’ll just give you a funny example of it. I was running behind one week and this is taped right in the middle of the pandemic. I brought my laundry up, and it was late, and I really needed to get to bed. I had important training in the morning. But I really wanted to put my laundry away and hang it up, so it wasn’t all wrinkled in the morning. And then I realized, I’m not going to see another person for a month. Who cares if I’m wrinkled! And suddenly when you start realizing there are things that you can let go. There are things you don’t have to do right at this moment or be particularly great at them. Again, most jobs require you to have some minimal form of time management skills or have some ability to write but not everybody has to be great at everything. And so, I’d say take a look at some of the things that you’re okay with not being perfect at. That you’re okay to let other people be perfect at those things. He talks about it as being Strategic Incompetence and admit that you don’t have the time to do everything. And you don’t have the time to be perfect at everything. Give those things a minimum amount of effort because this gives us more time to be great at the things we need to be great at. Some things are just good enough.
He also talks about having a project parking lot. My friend, and I always have this joke about how whenever we’re cleaning something, we always end up in the basement. So you’re cleaning out a closet that’s just been annoying you for really long, you’re going through all these clothes and getting rid of you know, some of the clothes you don’t want and suddenly you find this box and it has to go in the basement. Suddenly you’re in the basement and you don’t know where you’re going to put this box. And so, you start cleaning the basement. Stop doing that and instead have a project parking lot. So, whenever you get sent to the basement, whatever project it is, and whatever the basement is that you write that down, and you do later. You don’t have to engulf the entire planet into your projects. So again, having a project parking lot, where you can just set this thing aside and say I’m not going to think about the basement right now. I’m going to work on that some other time.
His next point is that sometimes when we think about the word goal, it sounds painful. It means discipline and accountability, and it makes us unhappy. And the thing of it is, is if you have unhappy goals, or goals that make you dread them, you will be less likely to achieve them. And if you can actually turn your goals into something enjoyable, you will have a better chance of actually achieving them. It is always more fun when you’re successful. And it’s always more fun when your goals are fun. And so, you can’t underestimate at all, how much having fun goals are really important. I think one of the things that my trainer always works with me about is that instead of thinking your goal is doing two minutes of planks or doing this or doing that. Instead, the goals are fun. You know, one really good way of learning how to surf is to be really good at doing planks. That’s a fun way to say, ‘look, if you keep working on this, and you keep working on your core strengths, you will be able to go surfing someday’, or you’ll be able to go on that hike you always dreamed about.’ It’s about changing that goal into saying your goal is two minutes a plank and turning it into your goal is to go to Hawaii and learn how to serve. So much fun, right?
And even points out that sometimes deadlines can be motivating. I know the deadlines always kind of pile up in some people’s brains and stresses them out. But I know a lot of people who go on these fun runs. And the reason they do it is to raise money for the great cause that these fun runs help. But it’s also because it gives them this fun deadline. I want to get better at running, but I’m going to work my way into this fun run. And having these sorts of fun deadlines, not just deadlines, can make things also easier to achieve. He also cautions about making them again, too strict. He wants you to extend your deadlines. He wants to cut your goals in half. And he says “If something is easy, it can’t be worth doing. That is a classic perfectionist rule. If I can’t be successful in x many days, then it’s a failure. And these are things that we have to get away from doing instead of making these deadlines or these rules are these goals into something that is prohibitive, and ominous, and not fun and turning them into a fun thing.”
But he talks about how we sometimes secretly sabotage ourselves like these really harsh questions. Well, if I can’t pay off my bills in two years, then I’m just never going to get done. That’s not a thing. In fact, those are sabotaging your goals by having these rules that don’t make any sense that are made up and they’re not real. And so sometimes you might say why don’t have time for this. If I’m going to do this right, then I’m going to make it perfect. I can’t go to the gym every day, then this is not worth it. It’s one of those things that this negative self-talk that you tell yourself is just going to harm you reaching your goals. So, he talks about looking for these hiding places where you have these negative emotions stashed away that are hurting your overall goals. He talks about hiding these negative emotions away so that they spring up at us when we’re at a dark place.
He talks about having these secret rules that he mentioned this in an interview, where he said that there’s these secret rules that we don’t even know we have. And this is what he said “Anytime you’ve seen someone who can’t get out of their own way, and maybe it’s an employee, or somebody you manage and it’s like they’re right there at the finish line, they sink their own ship sabotage themselves.” A lot of us bring secret agreements and secret rules into the work we do in the middle of our bad times. But also, just as we’re about to get to the finish line. What this said to me, and I didn’t realize this for a long number of years is I struggled at times to get projects finished, I was really great at jumping out and getting a head start and doing this project. But somewhere almost like 70% of the way out, I would stall on the project. I wouldn’t know what to do. I get confused about it. I couldn’t understand why I was doing that. And what made me realize what I was doing is that I was creating some sort of perfectionist rule. If you finish a project, and it’s not as perfect as you thought it was. And maybe the people around you don’t appreciate it the way that you hoped that they would that’s on you. But if you never finish that project, if you find some stalling point, and find that it’s not worth doing, they can’t criticize your project, because you never finished it. And this sort of attack on your project from inside your brain is a way of preserving a perfectionism that exists somewhere deep inside, that maybe you didn’t even realize you had. If you would have asked me if I am a perfectionist? I say ‘No, I am not a perfectionist.’ I know people who are I’m not one of them. But then when I started to analyze about why I sabotage some of the very things I want to get done, it’s because I realize that I think it will never be good enough. There is a little perfection is living inside of me who’s trying to kill things off. And once you know that’s there, you will help to avoid that problem. So, one trick he talks about perfectionism is this, what if scenario, and he talks about it like, well, what if I write a book and nobody likes it? What if I write a book, and nobody wants to publish it? And you start doing these “What Ifs”, and that’s what I’m talking about. This project that is getting killed off by this. “What if”. What if I finished this project for my boss, and they hate it? What if I finished this project that I think will get me a promotion, and I don’t get it? And then you stop doing the project because it’s easier to live with the failure of never completing it than it is to live with the failure of the “What ifs”.
He talks about, the best way to get over this type of perfectionism that is lying deep inside of you is through data. He brings up this example of this person who wanted to stop working so much at night and spending more time with their kids. Every time they would actually crack open their laptop and start working at home, ‘I’m a failure’. ‘I’m not doing this right’ ‘It’s not working well for me’. Once they started keeping track, they realized that they were able to increase the time with their child a lot. And these times when you’re working at home, we’re actually just a few short hours here and there. And so, while it’s not perfect, it’s pretty darn good. And so, data sometimes can help drive you out of that process. I know when I was struggling to lose weight, and I’m working out and doing all this exercises. I’m lifting weights, but the scale wasn’t reflecting it. You know, what was? The weightlifting! My ability to be able to lift heavy things in my house and clean my house without just getting tired was a success. There were other measures out there, like the size of the clothes I was wearing, that suddenly were able to break through. What I thought was a giant failure because one statistic was not reflective of it, but these other statistics were. Perfectionism can sometimes be defeated, just by keeping track.
The end of the book talks about just having some real honesty with yourself. If you can’t tackle why you’re not able to finish some of the projects you want to finish, then you might not really get to it. So, you have to be brutally honest about really what’s going on with you. You can have self-pity, and you can feel bad about not getting your goals and you can feel bad about certain things. But once you start digging in, just like I did when I realized I was not finishing projects, because I was afraid to finish projects. And I could really dig into what was I actually afraid of. And I had this fantastic boss at the time, where I admitted to him, I said, you know, sometimes I get involved in these projects, and I stall because I don’t know how to get this to be fantastic. Bring it up to the next level. It’s just easier for me to stop than it is to finish. And the fantastic thing he said to me was just come to me. We’ll work on that together. But if you don’t ever dig out exactly what’s going wrong with you, you can ever get to that point where maybe someone else can help you or that you can fix the problem that’s going on. When you think about criticism or you think about this lack of perfection you’re going to have in your project, that internal joy and satisfaction that you get will be so much better than maybe even the reviews will be he gets through those answers and finding those internal joys and satisfaction will help carry you through. And then getting to the real reason why you’re not finishing will help you break through those barriers and maybe, like my boss, get you some help
- Get away from perfection. Stop this, everything must be perfect, I must be perfect at everything and find the things that you must be very good at and get rid of those things. Or at least bring them down and saying, you know what, it’s okay, if I’m not perfect, or not very good at these other things,
- Cut your goals in half or give yourself twice the amount of time to get them done.
- Motivate yourself to have fun Make the goals fun. Make the end results fun and try to make the deadlines fun.
- Remove any sorts of self-made nasty talk out of your head. And these destructive rules that you’ve made for yourself and secret and use data to help prove these ideas wrong. That you’re not failing and that you are actually doing this. Overcome these obstacles, these hidden rules through data, and then finish strong. Because when you finish strong and you crush a goal, that’s really hard for you to do. It’s going to be so encouraging to you. It’ll be enlightening to you; you will have so much self-satisfaction from just doing it. But not only that, it will make everything you do from that point on easier.
Look for a few ways in your life that you are demanding perfection from yourself and figure out how you can decide it’s okay to be imperfect, or potentially drop it all together. Try to get rid of some of this excess baggage in your life and become perfect at the things that matter and imperfect and almost everything else.
Now it’s time for our fun advice of the week. This comes from the movie Only Time from 2013.
“We’re all traveling through time together every day of our lives. All we can do is do our best to relish this remarkable ride.”