Dear Perfectionists: Lower Your Standards

I am a recovering perfectionist.

Throughout my life, I’ve always tried to do things perfectly, from my daily work to my daily habits – the end result being that I rarely get started with anything, let alone finish anything.

Take it from me: this is not a recipe for success. This is a recipe for a lifetime of wasted potential, unfinished dreams, and constant disappointment.

So I have a message for perfectionists:

Lower your standards.

That doesn’t necessarily mean being lazy and doing a terrible job (you already know how to do that). It means lower your standards for your habits, and for the work you’re willing to put out into the world.

From now on, the goal is no longer to do things perfectly or create masterpieces – the goal is the produce, create, and finish.

Your goal is to get things done, not get things perfect.

This doesn’t just apply to obvious things like writing a book or essay, it applies to everything.

Don’t set out with the goal of exercising for an hour – you’re probably not going to do it. Set out with the goal of exercising for 10 minutes, or 5 minutes, or even just 1 minute. Set the easiest possible exercise goal, and build up from there.

Don’t set the goal of meditating for an hour – at least at first. Meditate for 5 minutes, or even 1 minute. Start small, and build from there.

Read 1 page a day, and build from there.

Floss 1 tooth a day, and build from there.

Write 1 terrible page a day, and build from there.

Hell, write a single word, and build from there.

Building a product, or service? Create the crappiest possible version of it, and then build from there.

Start small. Start easy. Get the first and worst version of whatever you’re thinking about out of your head and into the world as quickly as possible.

Motivation is fleeting, and inspiration is like lightning – never hitting the same place twice. If you keep waiting for the perfect moment or perfect idea, you’ll be waiting forever. Habits and discipline are better in the long term, and you need to build those up over time. Start small. Very small. Extremely small. Start with the smallest and easiest version.

Make it as easy as possible to start – and build from there.

The people who get the most done are the people willing to produce the most work – even work they aren’t very happy with and will cringe at later.

You did a terrible job? Fine. At least you did something at all, when most people can’t even say that much. It’s not your best work? No one cares, and no one will remember it – whether you’re building a business or painting a portrait, we only remember the best 10-20 things any creator did. You could have done that habit better? Excellent! You have room to improve.

Stop waiting for the heavens to open and the gods of creativity or the gods of productivity to take over your body. Get started. Stop aiming for perfect. Make something. Build something. Produce the worst version of the work or habit you want, and improve later. Make it as easy as possible, and get it out of your head. You can revise it later, fix it later, and make it better later. The first step is to actually have something in front of you that you can improve.

Lower your standards. Get started.