Maintaining a Mindset of Excellence (Not Perfectionism)

At first blush, perfection is viewed as flawless execution. There are individuals who claim, with pride, “I’m a perfectionist!” And yet to strive for perfection can have crippling effects, since that hope-for level of perfection rarely, if ever, arrives. When one is focused on attaining perfection, there is a tendency to be overly critical of oneself or others; to procrastinate; to generate stress; to dull efficiency; and to negatively affect morale as the individual and his coworkers learn that their efforts are never good enough.

The healthier and more productive mindset is that of excellence, meeting the highest standards set and agreed upon for oneself or by the group. The differences between these concepts might seem subtle at first, but the results are substantial.

Consider the mindset of a person focused on perfection:

  • Critical;
  • Harried and time-crunched;
  • Unable to see the big picture;
  • Stressed;
  • Unconfident;
  • Rarely, if ever, allowing a sense of true accomplishment and personal reward.

In contrast, the person concentrating on excellence has a mindset of:

  • Continual growth and learning;
  • Satisfaction of a job well-done and clients served;
  • Flexibility and adaptability;
  • Satisfaction, due to an ability to complete things and move on;
  • Lower stress thanks to clarified expectations;
  • Strong sense of meaningful accomplishment.

Transitioning from Perfectionism to Mastery

Take a reality check: When you find yourself becoming frantic about a goal that you have to meet, stop and ask, “What’s really at stake?” Is the frustration-level equal to the problem? If you continue to be stressed, ask a trusted colleague to evaluate the situation with you. Sometimes talking about it helps put the issue into perspective. Then, move into action mode so that your concerns will be replaced with accomplishments.

Identify what’s most important: Rather than aiming for complete perfection, ask yourself or the group members, “What’s most important about this project?” The question can be adapted to just about any scenario (e.g. “What’s most important about this meeting? Interaction?) Engaging in some free-flowing dialogue, and then narrowing to key points and agreements allows everyone to measure their performance and outcomes using the same gauge, as opposed to individuals within the same group using different standards and definitions — perfection, excellence, adequate, good enough and just enough — to guide them toward the end results.

Set clear expectations: If you know what’s expected of you, you can better track your progress and draw “perfection” boundaries when needed, which will signal you to stop “picking for unattainable perfection” and move forward with the project. Boundaries can be as simple as a theme sentence for an article — once corroborated by external information, your research for the article is done; or as fixed as time — you give yourself one hour to brief a colleague on a project.

Identify perfectionist triggers: Identify and recognize the factors that lead or contribute to your perfectionist thinking and behaviors. Keep a journal, for example. With this information, you can deliberately prepare your “buffer” against perfectionism, and employ tactics that shift your thinking to excellence. You’ll also be better able to see a bout of perfectionism on the horizon.

Consider using a coach: The outside perspective of someone trained and genuinely interested in helping others become their best selves can be a valuable addition to your more individual, introspective work. Ask for referrals or consider speaking with a mentor.

Delegate: Many perfectionists are overburdened by the thought that only they can do, manage, handle or fix something. They tackle every project, and micromanage any that they do manage to delegate, and ultimately burn out. Allow others to perform tasks and take on responsibilities, which will increase the group’s skill-level (not just yours) and increase the odds that the group will reach excellence more often.

Take baby steps: Like any long-time habit, breaking this one is best done first by acknowledging it, and then by taking regular, meaningful steps towards our intention for mastery, not perfectionism. Remember that it requires mindfulness and fortitude to break old habits that are long past usefulness, and then again to build healthy new habits that allow you and others to reach full potential.

This article was originally featured at Ivy Sea Online and is reprinted with permission.