Don’t Let Perfection Prevent You From Changing Your Life
We are two months into the New Year. But if we’re being honest, how many of us were actually looking forward to anything new in our lives? Every year we set goals and make wishes, but they often result in the same dreams that never quite come true.
Think about all the times we’ve told ourselves that we’re going to lose weight, save money for a vacation or retirement, turn a new leaf in our relationships, or take up a new project or hobby. When those things don’t happen, we blame some character flaw in ourselves. We despise the “lazy” person in the mirror. We loathe the “irresponsible” part of us that doesn’t save money. And we feel ashamed for being the “untalented” or “undisciplined” person who can’t get a business off the ground.
We know that we’re not being the best we can be, and because of that we miss opportunities that allow other people to live out their dreams while ours pass us by. We hate ourselves for it.
How can we really make this year different?
Too often we get stuck in this cycle and think that there’s nothing we can do to break it. It’s just who we are. But I’m writing this for all of us who know things can change but maybe just don’t know how.
I’ve spent the past few years studying the biographies of ultra-successful people from Teddy Roosevelt and Steve Jobs to various different athletes, musicians, scientists, activists and more to determine how they achieved not just success in their work but overall fulfillment in their life. I’ve used this information to implement proven psychological and behavioral systems that have taken me from failing classes and battling depression to becoming a funded graduate student with active research at a reasonably prestigious school, growing a steady online marketing business on the side, and continuing to perform and meet people as a jazz pianist.
There are a lot of different parts and ideas to any successful system. Today, I want to share one core principle that can single-handedly start giving you exponential results in school, for your business, at the gym, and in your life in general. It’s the one that’s been the most difficult for me to embrace, but it’s also the one that will allow you to let go of the psychological barriers that hold you back from success.
A Common Trait Among Successful People
One thing successful people have in common—and the reason many of us feel unsuccessful—is that they are finishers. How skilled are you at envisioning a plan, executing the steps to completion, and reaping the results? If you’re good, chances are you’re on the right track. But for the majority of us, we have a lot of room for improvement.
When we see other people, we tend to see only their “wins” and not all the work and failures that have gone into producing them. Your Facebook friends might post about losing 50 pounds with a new diet, but they probably didn’t advertise the times that they struggled and failed along the way. Your co-worker might mention the wonderful getaway he and his wife had last weekend, but did he openly talk about the struggles inherent to marriage and the times he thought it might not last? Probably not.
My point is that we only get to see certain parts of other people, usually their best ones. We compare that image to ourselves with all of our struggles and flaws. We think that those people are naturally fit, talented, or motivated and that we’re at an unfair disadvantage and therefore can’t ever accomplish what they can.
These are examples of “invisible scripts” we carry in our minds that prevent us from doing the things we really love and achieving the life of our dreams. Successful people live with the exact same mental barriers. The difference is that they know how to manage 30 FIT815 Magazine · Winter 2017 and mitigate them so that they don’t become obstacles in the path to their final goals. Sometimes they can even be leveraged to accelerate our progress.
Step One: Letting Go of Perfection
Okay, great. Finishing what you start is a secret to success. Maybe that’s nothing new. How do you actually go from someone who never gets any closer to their goals to someone who’s known for being a finisher and producing quality results?
Earlier I said that finishing was a skill possessed by successful people. Like all skills, people aren’t born with it. Instead, they cultivate it as part of their craft. Anybody can become a finisher with a little deliberate planning and practice. So how do we begin? Here’s one step that addresses something that prevents many of us from even starting, let alone finishing anything.
To become a finisher, we have to recognize that, as it’s commonly said, perfection really is the enemy of good. Demanding an unrealistic standard of ourselves sets us up for stress, failure, and a cycle of telling ourselves that we’re not good enough. But by being consistently good, we can be better than if we were trying to be perfect. Being perfect is something that no one can do consistently—or at all. Shifting the focus to getting things done, on the other hand, is the key to improving something with practice.
This is the secret to how some people seem to be so good at what they do. One of my favorite examples is the case of expert comedian and actor Jerry Seinfeld. When he was first getting started in the industry, Seinfeld would write a few jokes every single day—anything he could think of. He would mark a large “X” on the days of his calendar to keep him on track. The quality of his jokes started out probably as any other person’s jokes would, but over time, he became known as one of the greatest stand-up comics of all time.
If Jerry Seinfeld would have started by trying to write the perfect or “best” jokes he could, I think he never would have reached the elite level where he is today. He knew that quality came with quantity, which meant he had to choose to make progress with small steps every day. Finishing a project, even if it’s just a few jokes, and getting feedback on it is the best way for us to improve our results for the next time. If we get caught up on just one thing, never letting go of it because our invisible scripts tell us it’s not good enough, we’ll never be able to move forward.
What Will It Look Like When You Let Go of Perfection?
At FitMe Wellness, the motto is “Move More, Eat Better.” This simple phrase captures the importance of continuing to move forward with small steps every day. We often get caught up in the before and after states of others, whether it’s for weight loss, muscle gain, salary expectations, artistic prowess, or anything else. I think that if we took “pictures” of the entire process in between, we might not be so quick to romanticize these stories.
Our goals shouldn’t set us up for failure before they even begin. Don’t make your resolution “go to the gym six times per week” or “lose 100 pounds this year.” Start by finishing something, and don’t get hung up on whether it’s “perfect.” Cook with an extra serving of vegetables today. Exercise for just ten minutes today. Move a little bit more. Eat a little bit better. It might not be perfect, but it’s something. And that’s how you know you’re on the right track.