be 80% perfectionist


Here's this blog I've started a long time ago, and it only had the first entry for months. I had a good idea, but then it faded into an urging "back-thought" in my brain, from where it popped up from time to time, but never made its way out totally again. I had more important things to do for sure (giving birth and raising two kids are quite important, for me at least), but I could have done a tiny bit more. The reason I didn't, is called: perfectionism. I know many of you let out a silent hiss now, because you know what I'm talking about; but for the rest, let me tell you a few things about perfectionism. While you would think about it as a strength, a positive attitude at a first glimpse that does the opposite of what I just mentioned, it's not exactly what it looks like and it is not exactly the best state to be in. Sure, it has it's advantages if you do it right. But when you are 120% perfectionist, you become paralyzed when you realize there's no chance to finish something perfectly, and it stops you from even starting it.

The title is an oxymoron, and I wrote it for a reason. I used to think of myself as a perfectionist who is aware of every little detail and who achieves 120% every time a task is finished. And that was true, but there's one thing I never took into consideration, at least not consciously: the percentage of finished tasks. You can guess: it was low. If I had ten things on my list, I took the one I liked the most, spent tremendous time on it to finalize perfectly (it takes huge effort to finish something when your goal is 120%) only to realize that I have no energy left to start on the next one, at least not immediately. So I started to generate new problems – also unconsciously – that needed to be solved connected to my first task, or simply started the familiar process of procrastination: organizing bookmarks, cleaning up emails, actual cleaning up, and so on. The other nine tasks were sitting there in a shouting silence, making me nervous and feel busy all the time.

I didn't have the time to stop and enjoy the silence around, and more importantly inside me. There was no time. I was busy for God's sake!

Something that helped me a lot to cure this pure perfectionism was my first child. I'm sure a lot of people can relate: reality kicks in, and you really don't have time to do things perfectly, but you still have to do them. In the first few weeks you have panic attacks and crying "I suck in everything" phases alternating, then a period of stoic "I don't care" just before you finally find a healthy balance, and realize life is going on anyway without your perfect solutions. That's when you start to have your silent periods, when your mind is clear, and you hear nothing but your breaths and your heartbeat. Usually that is also the moment when you have the best ideas or thoughts (I call them mini enlightenments), because you made place for them.

But you don't have to run and make kids. You can learn how to be less perfectionist and more effective, in another, quite simple way. You "only" have to follow one simple rule that applies to many areas in our lives: the 80/20 rule, or by its official name: the Pareto principle. (I like to call it 83/17, just because I love prime numbers, and because that shows how wide the range of imbalance can be). In a nutshell this theory assumes that most of the results are defined by a small number of causes. Just take a look at your life to find a simple example: you probably wear 20 percent of your clothes 80 percent of the time. Or you might have realized that if you clean up the kitchen (or the tend-to-be-messiest place in your house), the biggest part of the clean-up is done and you instantly feel a lot better. I could go on, but I think it's enough to understand how the principle works. You can apply it to many things in both your personal and business life, after you have explored the areas where you need improvement.

After implementing small changes in my life based on this rule, I could see positive results in almost no time. I'm still falling back in the trap of perfectionism from time to time, but I'm getting better every day. Being 80% perfectionist in my case means that I don't procrastinate things, because I embrace the possibility of errors here and there. I've been learning about myself a lot, and I realized that this attitude makes me do more in a shorter period of time, and I accomplish a lot more things then I did before. I also realized something that's seemingly impossible: I actually can finish things almost perfectly, because of calmness and the ability to prioritize things better. It makes me moving and growing constantly, instead of going round and round without elevating levels and development. It also helps me being more aware of the present moment, which is something I've been trying to achieve for years. And that's a story for later.