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Productivity

Overcome Perfectionism by Developing an Iterative Mindset

Have you ever felt like you can’t do something because you’re not good enough at it? Not finished a project because you weren’t sure if it was done?

If that’s you, you’re definitely not alone.

What we’re likely talking about here is the feeling of perfectionism. Perfectionism is, by definition:

the refusal to accept any standard short of perfection.

I know I want to think of myself as achieving perfection at times, but I always fall short of it. That’s the time when I get frustrated and often quit. It’s not healthy.

You might be thinking to yourself, “Well how in the world does anything good get made then if you don’t obsess over it and shoot for perfection?”

There’s nothing wrong with having an ideal in your head and aiming to achieve it. The world wouldn’t have most of the inventions and creations if we didn’t have individuals aiming for an ideal, a vision if you will.

However, there is a difference between perfectionism and excellence. While perfectionism says nothing but perfect is good enough, excellence says do the best you can with what you have.

Excellence, therefore, requires you to have a realistic viewpoint of yourself, the possible outcomes in front of you, and what you’re capable of in this moment in time.

That last one is the hard one. I know for myself that I like to skip the process and be amazing at something right away. But, as John Maxwell, one of the top authors on leadership said:

“Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly at first.”

Excellence rejects the notion poor means bad, and embraces the process of growth. In other words, the way to overcoming perfectionism is to embrace an iterative mindset.

What is an Iterative Mindset?

To iterate means to perform repeatedly. An iterative mindset is the viewpoint recognizing that repeating a task over and over slowly brings improvement over time.

Think of it this way: you can’t steer a parked car. Driving a vehicle requires movement, and movement is provided by the desire to go somewhere. What having an iterative mindset helps enable is for you to stop thinking about the end destination before you even leave the parking lot, and instead just drive, finding the way as you go.

Developing this mindset is a significant key to hitting your goals in life and developing your productivity systems. Here’s why:

  1. Goals require you to make progress at something you’re likely not great at. Let’s be honest. If you’re not pursuing something that’s not stretching your abilities, you’re probably not going anywhere all that meaningful. It’s safe to stay where you’re comfortable, but we all have areas in our lives where we need to grow. That’s the essential human experience. We never stop growing, but sometimes we need to push ourselves to grow more.
  2. Life is iterative. Just like the earth goes through different seasons at different times of the year, so does life. The systems, goals, and mindsets I have while working a corporate job won’t always apply when I’m self employed. Your systems will need to change to accommodate your life as it changes.
  3. Letting go of perfection and embracing an iterative mindset is less stressful, more fun, and more freeing. It’s easy to make progress when you’re embracing and enjoying the process. That doesn’t mean things won’t be tough, but it does mean you can take challenges in stride because you know how to make adjustments.

Building an Iterative Mindset

If you’re looking to break out of perfectionism and into an iterative mindset, here are three ways you can start today.

  1. Start right where you’re at . It doesn’t matter how good you’re at doing a thing. If you want to do it, embrace your lack of skill and just start doing it. You don’t hit the 10,000 hours needed to become an expert by watching Netflix.
  2. Recognize failures are learning opportunities. Any mistake that doesn’t kill you is an inflection point where you can choose to let it teach you or hurt you. It’s scary to look at your failures, but doing so will teach you more than any book, podcast, or blog post will.
  3. Try to improve one thing every day. Focus on finding an area you can improve by 1%, whether that’s by automating a repetitive task in your workflow, finding the lesson in a project, or doing one small helpful task like making your bed. The little things, including things that feel like they don’t matter, will add up to become massive improvements over the long term.

The truth is productivity systems are only tools you use to help get you to where you want to go. You can only adjust your systems so much to account for detrimental ways you think about your work.

Perfectionism is one of those detrimental thought patterns. As you learn to break out of the pursuit of perfection into the journey of excellence through iteration, I think you’ll find yourself hitting more goals, taking more opportunities, and finding joy in the processes of life.

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