Afraid to make a decision, undertake a course of action, or finish a project until you have more information, do more work, feel more confident, complete more analysis…perfection paralysis strikes all of us at times. It leads to unnecessary delays and lost opportunities, ultimately costing money and causing stress.
Your first weapon in fighting perfection paralysis is to be able to recognize when it’s happening. Clues can be that you’ve pushed deadlines trying to make your report a bit better, you’ve put off making a decision because you want to do just a little more research, or you have trouble delegating or resisting the urge to “fix” other people’s work because you feel you’re the only one who can properly complete the task.
Once you know that you’re suffering from perfection paralysis, there are two important questions that can help you fight it. First, what’s the ROI (return on investment) you’re going to get by delaying action in order to gather more information or do more work? I can guarantee you that there are very few situations where it’s possible to achieve perfection so you’ve got to ask yourself whether the additional resources, work and stress is worth the incremental value you think you’re creating. That’s not to say that it isn’t wise, for example, to set a report or email aside and proof read it the next day before sending it, or to solicit opinions from colleagues and mentors. It’s just acknowledging that it may actually be more beneficial (to you, your business, or your relationship) to finalize whatever you’re working on and move forward. Delay, indecision, and rework may be costing you more than it’s worth.
Secondly, ask yourself “what are you afraid of and trying to avoid?” A lot of people might say they’re afraid of being wrong but that’s just the superficial fear. What’s underlying that? If you’re wrong, what you’re actually afraid of may be that you’ll be judged, be embarrassed, lose money, get sued, hurt someone, or any of a myriad of other things. Some of these are legitimate concerns that warrant a push closer towards perfection – for example, if you’re a surgeon, you might want to do some serious research and practice before trying an innovative new technique – but many of these concerns simply require you to put things in perspective and, for lack of a better term, “get over it”. One of the best ways to help do this is to create a list of the benefits you and others would receive if the thing you’re afraid of actually happened. Seriously commit to this activity, I guarantee you it’s doable, and you’ll be surprised how powerful it can be in dissolving your fear. I don’t mean find 3 or 4 benefits, I mean find 30 or 40…or 300 or 400. The more afraid you are, the more benefits you’ll likely need to find in order to neutralize the fear.
Perfection paralysis results in lower productivity, personal stress, tension in relationships at home and at work, and lost opportunities. The bad news is that we all suffer from it at some point to one degree or another. The good news is that there are concrete steps you can take to conquer it. Given the costs of perfection paralysis, it’s worth making the effort to take those steps.