🎙️ How To Beat Perfectionism

Three Straightforward Actions You Can Take (Right Now)

By: Derek Jansen (MBA) and Ethar Al-Saraf (PhD) | June 2024

Perfectionism often masquerades as a commitment to excellence – sounds good, right? The problem, however, is that if left unchecked, this “commitment” can morph into a formidable barrier that stifles creativity and productivity.

In this post, we’ll explore how to turn perfectionism from a paralysing force into a motivating ally using three straightforward practices.

The Hidden Monster

At its core, perfectionism is, all too often, not about high standards – but rather an intense fear of failure and making mistakes. It’s a distraction mechanism, compelling you to fixate on minutiae instead of advancing towards your main goals. Worst of all, this pursuit of the unattainable perfect outcome typically just leads to procrastination, further killing your productivity.

So, how can you overcome perfectionism when crafting your dissertation? Well, there’s no one size fits all approach here, but we typically recommend the following to struggling students.

1. Muse, Not Dictator

The first step in overcoming perfectionism is to shift your perspective. Instead of viewing perfection as a master that demands flawlessness in every endeavour, treat it as a muse—an inspirational force that drives you to improve. Most importantly, recognise that true perfection isn’t about achieving a flawless end-product, but rather a process of continual improvement and learning.

It’s also useful to recognise and (hopefully even embrace) the fact that every piece of work has inherent flaws and that these imperfections are opportunities for creativity and growth. This mindset will help you focus on progress rather than perfection, allowing for a more creative and less restricted approach to your projects.

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2. The Art of Letting Go

Often referred to metaphorically in writing circles as ‘killing your darlings,’ you need to detach yourself from your creations to improve them. Specifically, you need to get use to the practice of cutting, revising, or completely redoing parts of your work that aren’t contributing. Of course, this can be particularly challenging because – but it’s essential.

In practical terms, start by drafting without censoring or correcting yourself. Allow your first drafts to be imperfect and treat them as a starting point, not a near-finished product. Then, systematically refine your work, removing elements that do not add value and enhancing those that do. This iterative process not only improves the quality of your output but also helps to develop a healthier relationship with your work—one where you are in control, not your inner critic.

3. Practice, Not Product

The most sustainable way to drive out perfectionism is to redefine it entirely. Specifically, you need to consider perfection not as an end goal, but as a practice—a continuous effort towards betterment. This redefinition shifts the focus from the pressure of achieving an ideal outcome to the process of working diligently and learning from each step.

In practical terms, this means setting small, attainable goals that build upon each other. By focusing on consistent, incremental improvements, you’ll cultivate a routine of excellence without the overwhelming pressure to be perfect. It’s about the cumulative effect of small efforts and learning to appreciate the journey of advancement as much as, if not more than, the destination.

Wrapping Up

By transforming how you view and interact with perfectionism, you can harness it as a force for good—a catalyst for continuous improvement rather than a barrier to creativity and success. By focusing on these practices, you can keep the drive for excellence alive while also maintaining your sanity and joy in your work.

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