A Coaching Power Tool Created by Amanda Olender
(Life Coach, UNITED STATES)
I am not perfect, nor will I ever be. I am a work in progress, and that is definitely good enough. Anonymous
We live in a society where people are constantly striving for perfection. People want the perfect job, perfect marriage, perfect children, etc. These are ideals that will likely never get met. Too often, people become so focused on reaching “perfection”, that they lose sight of the progress they make along the way.
Perfectionism involves a tendency to set standards that are so high they either cannot be met, or are only met with great difficulty. Perfectionists often feel stressed or disappointed with themselves for not being able to meet their standards. They believe they should never make mistakes and that making a mistake means they are a failure or a horrible person.
At the heart of perfectionism is fear. The fear of failure, the fear of making a mistake and the fear of being judged. For a perfectionist, these fears can be paralyzing and can play out as a continuous message that says “I’m not good enough”.
Often when we set new goals we start out excited and confident that things will go perfectly. However, as time goes on, people lose some of that excitement as challenges set in. When people face challenging times they too often give up and resign to the fact that their goal is not possible. Many may think that one desire for perfection may help them reach their goals, but in fact, it holds them back.
Here are some ways perfectionism stops people from achieving goals:
- It slows you down. Perfectionists tend to hyper-focus their attention on details which cause things to take more time, which can lead to having less energy and motivation to make meaningful change.
- It hinders new ideas and ways of doing things. When we focus on perfection we lose the ability to be aware and open to other possibilities.
- It leads to self-criticism. When we fall short of a goal, it can not only lead us to beat ourselves up over it but can also lead to abandoning the goal completely.
- It makes your motivation inconsistent. Perfectionists tend to think in terms of black or white, right or wrong and fail or succeed. This type of thinking can cause motivation to go up and down like a roller coaster.
According to dictionary.com, progress is defined as “forward or onward movement toward a destination or goal”. Progress is about the journey and the learnings we make along the way. It is about improvement, not perfection. In the progressive mindset, we feel good about ourselves now, and even though we can acknowledge there is room for improvement, we appreciate ourselves at ever incremental step towards our goal. Progress is a simple and positive concept, yet most people have difficulty with it. Focusing on progress instead of perfection can make it much easier and enjoyable to reach your goals.
Here are some benefits of focusing on progress:
- It motivates you to keep going. It can be empowering to look back at the progress made in spite of the challenges faced. When the going gets tough, past successes can propel you forward.
- It encourages a mindset of learning, not a failure. Mistakes are an opportunity to learn from what went wrong. When you focus on what you have learned it gives you the space to try new approaches to see what works and what doesn’t.
- It gives you more reasons to celebrate. When focusing on progress, we are able to see each accomplishment no matter how small. You are not only excited about what you just did but also on what is next.
- It is sustainable. Perfectionism is not sustainable given life is always changing and throwing us challenges. By focusing on progress you can more easily overcome obstacles because you know there will be ups and downs.
Progress vs. Perfection
- Progress is fluid and open. Perfection is rigid and inflexible.
- Perfection is exhausting. Progress is invigorating.
- Perfection wears masks. Progress is transparent.
- Perfection is endless because you never get there. Progress is endless because you are always there.
- Perfection focuses on what’s not working, the flaws, the not-enough's. Progress looks at what is working, the improvements, the discoveries, the aha moments that come from looking at things in a new way.
- Perfection is obsessed with time. Progress doesn’t measure time because it is right now. Progress represents the in-betweens, the moments between milestones and goals reached.
One way to move out of perfectionism is to replace self-critical talk with realistic or helpful statements even if you do not believe them right away. Enough repetition will turn positive realistic thoughts into a habit.
Examples of positive realistic statements:
- Nobody is perfect
- I am good enough
- Everyone makes mistakes. I can learn from them.
Taking a new perspective
Another approach in shifting from a mindset of perfection to progress is trying to see things from a different perspective. You can challenge your self-thoughts with questions such as:
- What have I done well that I can acknowledge and celebrate?
- What have I learned from something that didn't go well?
- What would it be like to have this desire for perfection gone?
Procrastination is only a temporary solution and it tends to make anxiety worse over time. Here are some ways to help overcome procrastination and take action:
- Create realistic schedules – break down larger tasks into manageable steps. Work toward deadlines by setting small goals along the way. Reward yourself for reaching each goal.
- Set priorities – Perfectionists sometimes have trouble deciding on where they should devote their energy and effort. Prioritize tasks by determining which are most important and which are least important.
As coaches, we need to be aware of our own perfectionist tendencies and how they may impact the coaching session as well as our ability to grow as a coach. If we focus on asking the perfect question, sharing the perfect observation and having the perfect session, we are not present with the client. We set ourselves up for constant feelings of disappointment and failure. If we focus on progress, we are learning, growing and most likely enjoying the coaching journey.
Perfection is the enemy of progress. Winston Churchill