Practice To Make Perfect

Do you ever hear yourself saying something like this?

  • Her career is Picture Perfect. I am going to work harder than ever before so that I can achieve the same level of success!
  • You were so great in yoga class, you were in Perfect Form! I doubt I could ever be as good as you.
  • She is Perfection personified when it comes to writing, why can’t I write like that?

Alas, that last one is from me. I have been waiting for the perfect moment on the perfect day to publish my first perfect post. The time has not yet arrived. As soon as I read this article about the mistakes made by famous authors, some of whom have impacted the very foundation the of writing principles I have adopted, I decided I had to take the plunge. I am practicing to make my writing perfect. So read on while I write for you, at times imperfectly.

Practice To Make Perfect

Etymology

I love dissecting words and understanding their origin and evolution. It is interesting to note that the word Perfection is derived from the Latin root “perficio” literally meaning, “to finish”. This word which initially stood for “completion”, has been elevated to its present meaning of flawless execution. Keep that in mind the next time you use that word casually. Perfection really means completeness; the nuance of flawlessness, that is all your own.

Pursuit of perfection

If you are a doctor, engineer, architect or professional who has to operate within set rules and guidelines, I agree that pursuit of perfection is commendable and may even be expected of you. After all, you have immersed yourself in higher education for many years to achieve mastery in your domain. When you exceed expectations in your chosen field, you are given access to resources that only those on the cutting edge receive. You are able to guide or heal more people. Society has built brick walls for a reason; they keep the undeserving ones away. Perfection seems to be justified when you have to scale those brick walls to reach the forefront of your discipline.

The fact remains that the rest of us have no valid reason to allow perfection to permeate our lives. It is noble to seek achievement and set audacious goals. It is praiseworthy to put all your efforts into working towards those goals. What I find incomprehensible is this, why do so many of us take an all or nothing approach? Why do we set such lofty aspirations, that when they are thwarted, we become disappointed? Why do we abruptly disengage and discontinue our efforts, when we face obstacles?

False notion of perfection

You may think that your success hinges on being perfect, but instead you are likely setting yourself up for failure. The need for perfection is causing you to prioritize end state over process, allowing procrastination to take hold.  I have come to believe that the notion of perfection incapacitates our ability to live an authentic life.

If we are to progress towards our purpose, we need to change our perception of perfection.

So what do we do to address this insidious compulsion?  We need to remove perfection out of the realm of precision and define it instead as a practice.

To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.

— Winston Churchill

Viewing our efforts in the context of a practice allows us to stop obsessing over details. Since my goal is to write and publish frequently, let me walk you through the steps I am taking to overcome my perfectionistic tendencies. Follow these time-tested steps to hone your efforts and advance on your goals each day. 

Four steps to beat perfectionism

Establish Routines, Enjoy the Process

I confess I have ambitious goals when it comes to writing. I follow several writers online and offline, and want to achieve a similar measure of success some day. I dream of impacting people’s lives through my writing; my passion is to help build a new generation of eternal readers and confident writers.

Each day that I compare my progress against my goal, I feel disheartened. My ultimate goal seems years away from my attainment! I have a ton of ideas, but it is hard to predict which ones will flourish and which ones may never thrive. But, I am learning to guard myself from analysis paralysis and pushing myself to publish often.

I am able to do so because I have shifted my perception to view writing now as something akin to Yoga. Just as my sole purpose in Yoga is to achieve harmony between body and spirit, the only purpose of writing is to achieve harmony between mind and spirit.

I let myself write what I want to write but I have established routines that I enjoy. I don’t dwell on mastery of the craft, which will come eventually. Instead, I am grateful for current benefits that outweigh any future rewards. Simply put, I have stopped viewing writing as a task that must be checked off my list. It has instead become a productive habit that I anticipate every day. I brew a cup of coffee or tea, boot up my beloved MacBook and begin my writing ritual. I relish the stages of a creative writing project – the percolation of an idea, the thrill of research, the anticipation of writing the piece and the satisfaction of publishing it.

I recommend that you develop routines for each goal that you wish to achieve and each space that you inhabit. Knowing in advance the ritual that you follow, will allow you to focus on your work and disregard distractions. Map out your process for your workspace, home or when you are on the road. What are the essential components of your routine? Can you identify tools or tricks that will aid you? How can you create a routine for any goal, be it healthy living, writing or speaking, that will fill you with anticipation?

Creativity is not all about motivation and inspiration. Even creativity requires a process; one cannot be expected to show up at a blank page with no forethought as to what to say and how to say it. You need to have the means and tools to be able to articulate that idea from start to finish. Having such a process in place allows you to move past perfectionism.

Step by step, you make your way forward. That’s why practices such as daily writing exercises or keeping a daily blog can be so helpful. You see yourself do the work, which shows you that you can do the work. Progress is reassuring and inspiring; panic and then despair set in when you find yourself getting nothing done day after day.

— Gretchen Rubin, The Happiness Project

Iterate Frequently

Iteration is a popular concept in software development. The Agile framework for software development states that their only goal is to “Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale”.

Success is measured through incremental progress within a shorter duration. A software project is not considered a failure if the development team only creates a single widget at a time, if that product is seen within the context of a condensed timeframe.  Since the typical timeframe ranges from weeks to a month, it is easy to course correct if the team has deviated from the overall goal.

I find Agile to be an apt methodology not just for software design, but also for writing. It advises me to set goals for every week yet leave enough room to explore the uncharted. It urges me to judge success by not how perfect my writing is, but by how productive I have been.

You could also benefit from the Agile philosophy. It will train you to break down your Great Big Idea into manageable segments and stay accountable to your iteration goal one day at a time.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that you are making progress when you are taking actions that do not move you towards your goals. If you are expending your time searching for new writing software or focusing on redecorating your home office so that you will be more motivated to write, it might feel like you are making progress, while in reality you are only erecting more passive barriers.

Adopt the Agile philosophy and make a working process and product the only measure of your progress.

Practice Makes Perfect Process

Stop Comparing and Contribute

We all seem to have a never-ending negative conversation in our minds. When we encounter obstacles on our path, we don’t recognize them for what they are – either a lack of preparation or impossible expectations. We tend to fall into the trap of labeling ourselves. Ironically the farther we feel removed from success; the more we hoard our talents hoping to score an advantage over competitors.

The journey of personal growth is a life long one. A goal such embracing your inner writer (or creative genius) is just one milepost on this highway. If you find yourself in a defeatist, self labeling or selfish mode, do me a favor, go help someone in need. Collaborate with other writers, and contribute to your community. Schools always need volunteers to read to kids or run creative programs. Embrace the giver philosophy – when you give more, you get more. You will find that there is inestimable joy in contribution that will end your chronic self-comparison to others.

Seek your tribe

If you are serious about any goal, and especially writing, one of the first things you must do is find allies. You must seek and connect with your tribespeople, mentors and colleagues who will keep you company on the path to your ultimate goal. Simply by their presence you will learn to be more accountable and prevent yourself from getting caught in the perfectionistic trap. These days with blogs and social media it is easier than ever to identify these individuals. How you connect with them and learn from them is a topic that I will cover in detail in the near future.  So be sure to check back here!

Are you a perfectionist? How do you conquer the compulsion for flawless execution? Are there any other steps that you follow to make sure that you stay true to your goals? Do you have a routine that empowers you? How do you combat disappointment and disengagement? 

Is there anything specific you want to learn about connecting with mentors?

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