photo: danny on flickr

photo: danny on flickr

For those of you who are thinking that there is no way a formula could bust your perfectionism forever, I have this to say:

You’re right.

If you don’t think a simple formula can bust your perfectionism forever, then it won’t.

But if you’re willing to believe that maybe it could, then check it out:

Years ago I read a book by a guy named David Burns. The book is called Feeling Good, and it outlines a cognitive approach to depression.

While it’s a great book for anyone struggling with depression, it’s also a great book for anyone. (Here’s a blog post I wrote about David Burns on the 10 ways our minds distort reality.)

In the book Feeling Good, Dr. Burns tells a story about his colleagues and publication.

He noticed that his peers who had success in publishing didn’t tear their hair out making their papers perfect. They just got them to the point where they were good enough, and then sent them out.

Consequently, these were the people who had had a lot of success with publication.

Meanwhile, Dr. Burns agonized over every comma and semicolon, and his path to publication was much more laborious.

Until he changed his ways using a special formula. At least, that’s how I remembered it. Turns out I made the formula up, because when I went back to the book to find it, it wasn’t there.

That said, here’s the formula my mind came up with:

photo: z egloff

photo: z egloff

This circle represents the total amount of time a perfectionist spends on a project.

The left side represents the first 50% of the time, in which 98% of the task is accomplished. The right side represents the second 50% of the time, in which the perfectionist labors over every comma and second-guesses every semicolon, thus getting the project to 100%.

But if this same person let the project go at 98% and moved on to another project, they’d have two 98% projects done in the same amount of time.

But that’s not all!

Here’s another formula, also generated from my brain, that busts the perfectionist tendencies even further:

photo: z egloff

photo: z egloff

That’s right! You heard me.

There’s no such thing as perfect! Even what you think of as 100% perfect is really just 98%. There’s always going to be something more to work on. There will always be areas to improve.

Moving forward and not getting tripped up by the minutia is the best way to tap into true perfection.

And what is true perfection?

True perfection is allowing the creative spirit to flow through you.

Perfectionism blocks that flow! So it’s not really perfectionism at all!

Back when I was writing fiction, I remember hearing a writer say that too many people agonize over their first novel, trying to get it perfect. This writer said that it’s actually way more helpful for your development as a writer to just move on and write another book. You learn tons more about yourself as a writer that way. Plus you keep the creative juices flowing.

photo: jason rogers on flickr

photo: jason rogers on flickr

The other day, Melissa and I recorded the monthly video that goes out with our newsletter. We did a few takes until we had something that was good enough – something in the 98% range. There were a few things we could have changed, but they didn’t matter that much, and the time it would have taken to reshoot to fix those things would have seriously cramped our creative flow.

So we left it as it was.

I have to say, I had my knickers in a twist about the few things that could have been changed, until I remembered the formula. Then I realized I’d gotten caught up in perfectionism’s snare.

I also realized that those things my perfectionist said needed fixing were actually just areas of improvement for next time.

These things that need fixing areas of improvement give me the momentum to move forward and create the next video. And the next. And the next.

So here’s the finished product, a 98% perfect video that reminded me of an important formula, one that helps keep me sane and allows me to move forward as a creative person.

How do you bust perfectionism? Share your comments below!


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