Tag Archives: perfectionism

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.

Writing Consistently No Matter What

The point of a blog is to create. Produce. Write. I talked about this a little bit in the Intro, but I’m not very good at writing consistently.

Barriers to Writing

Procrastination. Perfectionism. Writer’s Block. Disorganization. I’ve encountered my fair share of barriers to writing. I’m still trying to overcome those, and I bet I’ll encounter more in the future. None of them are fun. And I know there are even more barriers to writing – like deep poverty – that I haven’t experienced, but I’d rather not add them to the list if I can avoid them.

I’m trying not to approach this blog with some ambitious goal at the moment, but it’s hard not to imagine the grander possibilities of what a blog can lead to: millions of readers. Book deals. International fame and fortune. Groupies.

None of that happens if you don’t write consistently, and build up your skill as a writer. Even if you do build up your skill as a writer, that’s no guarantee that writing a blog will lead to fortune or fame. Or groupies.

The Goal of Writing Consistently

Like I said in the Intro, this blog doesn’t have any grand ambitious goals right now, only a few modest goals:

  1. Write.
  2. Write consistently.
  3. Write about whatever is interesting or important right now.
  4. Write in order to clearly communicate what I think and believe.

If anything big or important develops from that, fantastic. If I only build up writing skill, and apply it to something else, awesome. And even if the ultimate path I take through life doesn’t involve writing in any way, at least I’ll take some time to figure out (in detail!) what I think and believe.

The most important thing to do, no matter the outcome, is to write consistently.

As much as possible.

Everyday, if possible.

That’s hard. Really hard. In The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, he calls all of the barriers to writing, and all of the barriers to creativity, Resistance. It comes in many forms, and if you want to produce good work, you need to find the methods of defeating it.

Advice for Myself on How to Write Consistently

I’m not an expert on writing, or productivity. Take any advice I give with a grain of salt. But right now, as I’m in the beginning stages of this blog, I’ve tried to come up with advice for myself on how to write consistently:

Set a writing schedule for finishing each piece or section of writing. Stick to it as much as possible. Right now I’m trying to always post something on this blog three times a week. As my own ability as a writer grows (and I find ways of fitting more writing into the day), I want to increase that.

Figure out when to write, and not just when to finish. People are productive at different times, and you may need to experiment to find when (and under what conditions) you’re most productive. To be honest, I’m writing this section very early in the morning. I’m not a morning person, but somehow I’ve written more in the past hour than I did the entire day before. Writing productively, or doing anything productively, can be tricky to figure out.

Have multiple projects that you’re working on at any time. If you just have one, and encounter writer’s block for that single project, you’ll get nothing done. But if you have multiple projects, you can just work on something else whenever writer’s block happens. I have no problem having multiple projects, since I…

Have lots of ideas to work with. Lots of ideas. Have dedicated brainstorming sessions. Choose the best ideas. If you have too many ideas, either stop brainstorming as much, or figure out a way to sort your ideas by quality and priority. Let’s just say I have no problem coming up with ideas.

Focus on quantity until you get quality. The writing advice I’ve heard again and again is that you need to write a million bad words to become a great writer. A million. At 500 words a page, that’s 2000 pages. If you wrote 1000 words everyday, consistently, it would take you nearly 3 years to get to a million words. Sometimes it’s not exactly a million words, or there’s ways of cutting the number down. But for now, it’s the number I’m going to strive for until I have reason not to.

Don’t worry if your first pieces of writing suck. Chances are they will suck. A lot. But you’ll get better. And over time, you’ll produce so much work that no one will even want to read your early writing. Not only will no one care about your early writing, but chances are the works people love will be the ones you’d never expect. Which is why I’m trying to…

Write about multiple topics. At least until you find the one topic that gives you the most bang for your buck. Write about different things. Write about what’s on your mind. Write about current events. Write the worst short story ever. Write a book review for a book you love. Write about things you would never usually write about to expand your writing ability. And then once you have the one topic or one kind of writing that has the most potential, write everything you possibly can about that.

There’s lots of other writing advice I could come up with. If any of this advice is misguided, I can’t tell you which – but that’s what I’m starting with. Only time will tell if that’s enough to write consistently.

30% Is Better Than 0%

Life is full of choices.

At the best of times, you have a choice that gives you everything you want with no drawbacks. It’s the perfect choice, the one you’ve wanted for a long time.

But then something happens. Through no fault of your own, you can’t make the 100% perfect choice, and you’re forced to make a different choice.

Maybe there’s an option for 90%, or 80% of what you want. But often you’ll be faced with two choices you don’t want: the choice that gives you 30% (or less) of what you want, and another that gives you 0% of what you want.

When faced with a choice like that, remember this:

30% is better than 0%.

An imperfect metaphor to think about:

Imagine you’re back in school, taking a class. You have an important test coming up that will have a big influence on your final grade. Normally you’d do pretty well on this test, scoring 80% or more. But through no fault of your own, you’ve been unable to go to class or study for the whole week. Suddenly you remember you have a test tomorrow, and you’re forced into a choice between two options: study in the evening and take the test tomorrow (even though you’ll only score a max of 30% for your efforts), or stay home (and get a guaranteed 0%).

(You could also attend class and protest the test, but only a few people do that and most people will just get mad at you.)

The easiest thing to do is to just stay home and give up. The harder choice is to try to make the best of the situation, and choose the option for 30%. Maybe you didn’t study enough, and get 0% anyway. Or maybe you were pessimistic, and a lucky break gives you 50% (or more) on the test.

You’ll never know if you stay home.

I said it’s an imperfect metaphor for a reason. Most choices are more complicated than that. Often the “scores” aren’t clear, and these choices often involve loyalties, principles, or judgements about good and evil.

Still, when faced with something like this, the easiest thing to say is “Both options suck! I refuse to choose either one!” Sometimes you can do that, and move on. Most of the time, you can’t. You have to make some kind of choice, otherwise life will choose for you.

“I still don’t like it!” says the person faced with two terrible choices. “This sounds like ‘voting for the lesser of two evils!’ I refuse! I don’t want to vote for evil!”

Okay! Don’t vote for the lesser of two evils – vote for the best of two options. Alternatively, vote against the worst option. Just make a choice, because refusing to make a choice at all only helps you feel more in control – it doesn’t help anyone, even you. Especially you. And especially anyone else who will be affected by that 0% choice.

Be practical. Be pragmatic. And even when you hate the choices given to you…

Choose wisely.