In the Uncommon Freedom Podcast’s 30th episode we explored the idea of starting before you’re ready to combat toxic perfectionism, the comparison trap, and perfection paralysis. Coming from the same people who love the saying, “proper planning prevents poor performance,” this might sound a little backwards, but stick with us! There’s rhyme to this reason and we’re going to share it with you.
What is Toxic Perfectionism?
Research from the American Psychological Association shows that perfectionism has skyrocketed since the 1980s, especially among young people. The research suggests that social media is one of the primary culprits, leading to unrealistic expectations for young people, especially regarding physical appearance, income levels, and even basic life experiences. The key word here is unrealistic, and for people dealing with toxic perfectionism, falling short of these expectations can feel like the end of the world.
The Comparison Trap
In today’s world of social media, we are surrounded by people’s highlight reels. Think about how you choose what to post about, how to post it, and what kind of response you’re looking for. In general, the vast majority of people don’t post about the mundane, messy, or mediocre aspects of life. Instead, we tend to highlight the exciting, meaningful, and beautiful pieces. And guess what? Even if you aren’t a big social media person, this all applies to general conversation as well. The bottom line is that everything we share is carefully curated.
We are huge proponents of hard work, determination, drive, discipline, and an overall dedication to bettering ourselves. Toxic perfectionism is a dangerous trap we can fall into. The very best thing you can do is learn to differentiate between comparative reality and actual reality. Easier said than done. You have to acknowledge that what you’re seeing, reading, and hearing from others tends to be the sunniest version of their lives, highlighting the best of the best. Forgive yourself for the less than perfect aspects of your reality because we guarantee you aren’t alone.
There are a myriad of negative effects stemming from toxic perfectionism, but the one we’re going to focus on today is something called perfection paralysis. The hard truth is that while we feel like delays, avoidance, and procrastination are about our time or lack thereof, they’re more often about our thoughts and emotions surrounding tasks. We could be scared of being judged, anxious about failing, or even fearful of what might happen if we succeed.
Ready, Aim, Fire!
Ready, aim, aim, aim……then what? Yes, you have to aim, but if you want to hit the target, you eventually have to take the shot. You can only adjust your aim so much before firing. By actually taking the shot, you can see how good your aim was and adjust accordingly. Ideally, you take a shot, adjust your aim, take a shot, adjust your aim, and eventually get it right.
The first step is often the hardest, and for many of us that difficulty is exacerbated by the impossibly high standards we’ve set for ourselves. Things rarely go as planned. Investing too much time and energy on perfecting a plan can often have diminishing returns.
Author and success mentor Darren Hardy talks about having missed out on more opportunities by not taking action than by taking the wrong action. That’s a profound concept. Considering this from a physics standpoint, think about pushing a car (or any heavy object). It takes a lot of force to put an object into motion, but much less to keep it moving. It’s also much easier to change the object’s direction if it’s already moving. Even though getting started is tough, pushing through that first step sets you up for easier adjustments as you go.
One of the best examples of starting before you’re completely ready is financial planning. Even if your perfect plan investment is $1,000, there’s no reason not to start now and invest $5 today. Watch how much easier it is to grow that $5 once invested than it was to take that first step.
Improve Through Adjustment
An enormous benefit of starting before you’re ready is that taking action now gives you the chance to observe and monitor your progress. The feedback you receive can be used to adjust and improve your plan to maximize efficiency. This kind of feedback loop is something we talked a lot about with our Interactive Habit Tracker. Tracking habits in areas of your life over time provides insight into how you can adjust to better suit your goals.
When it comes to fear of failure, if you find yourself struggling to take the shot, you can combat the fear by creating margin for yourself in different areas of your life. Giving yourself margin for error in life can lessen the blow when you experience failure. For example, if you have sound investments and a healthy emergency fund, you probably won’t feel as fearful about financial decisions. If you have a strong, healthy relationship with your spouse, you won’t hesitate to have the more difficult conversations because you know your relationship is unwavering. If you have a great support system, you’ll be more likely to put yourself out there and take on challenges because you know that even if you fail, you’ll still be surrounded by people who’ve got your back.
Quitting is Okay
We don’t typically encourage quitting, but sometimes it’s the right thing to do. The important thing is to know what and when to quit it. Quitting is NOT a solution to feeling dissatisfied with your progress or finding out that something is more challenging than you expected. Instead, it’s a logical next step when you realize something is harmful, and quitting would actually be beneficial.
A good way to determine whether it’s time to quit is by considering the sunk cost fallacy. This phenomenon occurs when someone feels reluctant to quit because of how much they’ve already invested. Rather than fixating on an investment which can’t be recovered, consider potential future outcomes and decide whether what you’re doing is beneficial. If it’s not, accept that the time, energy, or money you’ve already put in is gone and that quitting is the best way to avoid further loss.
So much in our world is working against our ability to reach our potential. Toxic perfectionism, the comparison trap, perfection paralysis, and fear of failure are just a few of the culprits, but we hope what we’ve shared here will help you build confidence to overcome these obstacles and get a few steps closer to achieving Uncommon Freedom.
We’ll leave you with this fantastic quote by John Maxwell that reminds us to fail forward:
“Sometimes you WIN and sometimes you LEARN!”
We want to know: have you been putting off any first steps because you feel the plan isn’t quite perfect? Tell us about it in the comments below!