The Cure For Perfectionism

No wasted motion

The Cure For Perfectionism

What are you aiming for?

Quality in everything you do, or just in the things that are important to you?

If you are like most people, you are wasting motion: continuing to invest time and effort even after you've achieved your goals.

What do I mean by that?

Imagine taking a class:

  • Are you required to take it, but you have no interest in the subject? Then your goal is to just pass (and no more).
  • Is the class important to get a certain job later? Then you need a good-enough grade (and no more).
  • Or does that subject interest you personally and you really want to learn it? Then learn as much as you can, but don't worry about grades.

In all these cases, there is a certain quality target that you are aiming for. You can find out what your target is by asking yourself what exactly you want to accomplish with this activity, and what exactly you need to do to accomplish that goal.

Then, do just as much as needed and no more to reach that target.

If you just want to pass, don’t hand in The Perfect Assignment. Instead, hand in something half-assed, something that’s bad in oh so many ways, but just enough to pass.

The goal is to optimize for hitting your quality target as precisely as possible, not to optimize for quality.

Not to waste any motion – because that gives you the time to do the actual important.

This can work quite well with perfectionism. Because instead of using it to create something that’s capital-P Perfect, you are using it to hit your quality target as precisely as possible. It’s like playing a game at a higher level.

And that doesn't mean there can't or shouldn't be any quality – quite the contrary – because there are still things that you value or that are important to you.

Saying that something is important to you is just another way of saying that the quality target is very, very high. And sometimes even unattainably high, like when you’re learning a new skill that is slightly out of reach, or when you’re trying to save someone’s life. Giving your best might not be enough.

It’s not about identifying the worst possible outcome that you would reluctantly accept. It’s about understanding the difference between quality and your actual preferences.

Don’t use perfectionism to do your best when it doesn’t matter.

Use it to know what matters.

And then strive for that – without wasting motion.

This is an excerpt of a post on Mental Garden, a regular newsletter designed to help you become a better human through guided introspections. Read the full post and sign up now.