Society is obsessed with perfection. Being a perfectionist means you’re not willing to accept any standard short of perfection. And that can be a very hard way to live.
“Imagine you refuse to accept any standard short of perfection,” Jay Shetty explains. “How happy do you think your life is going to be? The more you aspire for perfection, the closer you become to a perfectionist. You refuse to accept any standard short of perfection. You don't just refuse to settle for it. You refuse to accept it.”
A person seeking perfection is actually creating more misery in their life.
This vicious cycle of seeking perfection can become an addiction. In this article, Jay Shetty breaks down six steps to overcoming a perfectionist mentality and saving yourself from the pain of never feeling like you measure up.
“Addiction to perfection is an addiction to the result,” explains Jay Shetty. “What is an addiction to the result? It's an attachment to our ego. It's the feeling we get from saying we did that in that much time. It's the emotion we feel by saying we're the only ones to have done that. It's the fascination we have with being the best.”
Instead of doing this, pivot your focus away from the result and onto action and progress. If you don’t, you’ll be living in a distorted reality, where you’ll be stuck losing time and experiencing frustration when you chase an unattainable, unrealistic goal.
Reality distortion happens when you obsess over deluded ideas that only exist in your mind. There’s a difference between being obsessed with the process and being obsessed with perfection. When obsession or addiction is applied in the right way, it is not a problem.
The pursuit of perfection can be dangerous. If you always think you need to perfect something in your life, you are walking a fine line. Chances are, your desire for perfection is causing the pain of failure. This doesn’t mean you have to settle for less than your best. It just means you try your best and accept what happens.
The story about Alex Honnold is an excellent example of what the first step to overcoming perfectionist mentality looks like. Honnold free-solo climbed El Capitan, the 3,000 vertical foot peak, without any ropes. How did he do it?
Honnold trained for years, practicing portions of the route over and over again. When he first attempted the climb, he abandoned it. It didn't feel right that day. Shortly after, he went back and started again. This proved to be the right time.1
Through his story, we learn several steps to achieving goals by focusing on the process. Once you set your goal, break it down into smaller steps and practice each one. Before each stage, Honnold identified the skills he needed to cultivate and master in order to complete each step of the climb.
Focus on the Practice
Practice is the first step to overcoming the perfectionist mentality. Instead of obsessing over the result, focus on the next thing you need to learn to complete whatever process you are working on. Don’t get caught up in being perfect.
When you focus on the process over the goal, you won’t get derailed when you run into roadblocks along the way. You can go back and use the practice to learn a different skill to get you to where you need to be.
“Think about someone like Beyonce,” Jay Shetty explains. “She is just so talented. She's so incredibly gifted. You probably think she was born with it, that she's had it her whole life. A lot of that may be true, but the amazing thing is we forget the work she put in as well.”
According to her Netflix documentary, Homecoming, she started rehearsals for that tour more than 115 days before opening night. One hundred fifteen days of rehearsals for her performance! On top of that, she did up to nine hours a day of dance practice, often in heels.2
According to Jay Shetty, all too often we forget the amount of time the people we admire have practiced before we ever see the end result. Even someone you consider gifted is practicing and rehearsing.
Focus on the Process
The second step to overcoming a perfection mentality is to focus on the process.
For example, when Jay Shetty started to think about writing a book, there was a four-year gap from the time he wrote the title until he got a book deal. During that time period, Jay Shetty did not focus on the perfect result. He focused on the process of writing the best book he could.
“Every time I'd write a chapter, and I didn't feel like it moved me, I would go back and say, ‘Alright, which stories are missing from here?” Jay Shetty shares. “Which science studies are missing? Which strategies and steps are missing from here?’ Then I would go back to the process of the chapter and ask myself ‘What's missing?’”
Jay Shetty also finds it helpful to focus on what is commonly known as the 70 percent, a system he follows that helps him set personal targets for himself.
“The 70 percent rule comes from the idea that getting a 70 percent in a university or college gives you a first class degree,” Shetty explains. “Whether you get 70 percent or you get 99 percent, it's still a first class degree.”
So many obsess over getting 99 or even 100 percent, but remember – all it takes to get a degree is 70 percent. The process from zero to 70 is manageable. But the process from 70 to 100 could take your whole life.
“The effort it takes to get from 70 to 100 percent may mean you never, ever release what you want to share with the world,” explains Jay Shetty. “Every creator, every author, every artist in their heart knows, nothing they've created is perfect because they know what it would have taken if they attempted to make it perfect.
Jay Shetty had a tutor in math, and something the tutor told him stuck with him for life.
“You're obsessed and focused on a projected predicted result that, by the way, is unpredictable,” he told Jay Shetty.
It was a life-changing moment for Shetty. He took information and applied it to not only math, but life. He realized he worried more about what his parents, family, and friends might think of him than he did about what he was working on.
Once Jay Shetty let go of that weight, he realized it didn’t matter. What mattered was the process of getting himself where he wanted to be. When it came to his book, instead of focusing on writing a best-seller, Shetty focused on the process of writing the best book he could. If the book ended up on the bestseller list, great. But that wasn’t his focus.
Make a conscious effort not to get lost in the process. Define your course of action, but allow yourself to be flexible along the way.
Focus on Pivoting
Allowing flexibility means you are open to pivoting when you need to. In times when things don’t go according to plan or you hit a roadblock, it can be a sign you need to reevaluate your path or project, and pivot.
Ask yourself if there’s another way to reach your goal. You may have a crystal clear plan in mind, but if you are unwilling to pivot when needed, you will create unneeded stress and frustration when you can’t hit your goal.
Focus on the Phase
Looking at the whole picture can be overwhelming when you are trying to reach a goal. One way to keep from following the process mindlessly is to focus on each stage or phase.
Treat it like climbing to the top of a hill. If you focus on the top of the hill, it may seem like you will never get there. When you focus on putting one foot in front of the other, the goal becomes manageable.
“If the process is always exhausting and never fun, if we never bring joy to the process, and get to take pleasure in it, we're unlikely to stay with it because we'll lose motivation,” explains Jay Shetty.
Each phase of the process creates a beautiful result. When you’re fully present in each phase and give it your all, you can achieve bigger goals.
Focus on Taking a Pause
Taking time to pause is a necessary tool when you are in a perfectionist mentality. The perfectionist mentality can push you to your limit without stopping or taking breaks. This leads to burnout. Science shows taking breaks is so powerful.3 Taking time to share a laugh causes the brain to release dopamine, keeping you motivated to move forward.
When you focus on accomplishing one thing at a time, you get that high of finishing something, driving your motivation up to achieve the next goal. When you take the time to pause, it gives you time to remember the purpose.
Focus on Your Purpose
Purpose is not about what others think or say. It’s about doing the thing that’s meaningful to you. It is about you sharing your goal with others. Purpose is not about beating others or proving anything to anyone. Purpose is what moves you to move others.
Jay Shetty encourages you to remember these six things to focus on next time your perfectionist mentality takes over.
These are the six steps to overcoming your perfectionist mindset and mentality and replacing it with a process mindset and mentality.
More From Jay Shetty
Listen to the entire On Purpose with Jay Shetty podcast episode on “6 Steps to Overcome the Perfectionist Mindset” now in the iTunes store or on Spotify. For more inspirational stories and messages like this, check out Jay’s website at jayshetty.me.