How to Overcome Perfectionist Thinking With 1 Simple Trick

To overcome perfectionism, insert realism into the equation.

It’s hard to accept being good when you’d love to be great. But that’s the harsh reality for the great majority of us. We yearn for our book to be a smash hit, but it’s far more likely to be moderately successful. We have dreams for our website or blog to have viral success, but the reality is that it probably won’t. We crave building the next Facebook … to “disrupt” our industry. But few of us will achieve these lofty ambitions. Instead, we’re far more likely to have some “hits,” with a whole lot of misses along the way. And the question is: Can our egos handle it?

From reflecting on my own experience and chatting with people who struggle with these very same ambitions, my answer to this question is yes.

And the trick, I find, is to develop a balanced perspective when you’re caught in the throes of perfectionist thinking: something in between the idealistic thinking of perfectionism and the doomsday worst-case scenarios we’re prone to fall into. And it’s actually quite simple to do.

Step 1 is to carefully consider–and even write down–your worst-case scenario: What’s the absolutely worst thing that could happen in this situation? For example, the worst-case scenario for an entrepreneur might be that his fledgling company will flop, his reputation will be ruined, and he’ll never get funding again. Step 2 is the opposite: the dream scenario–the best thing that could possibly happen. For example, in the same situation, the perfect scenario might be a meteoric rise to the top, a valuation in the billions, and a call from ABC to replace Kevin O’Leary on Shark Tank (remember, we said your dream scenario!).

What’s critical about writing down these best- and worst-case scenarios is that it sets the stage for capturing the far more likely middle ground. Your company could certainly flop (many do), but in the world of startups, that’s par for the course. And in either case, you’ll learn quite a bit, develop new areas of expertise, and build your network of contacts along the way.

We all want to be great–but the reality is that “great” often doesn’t happen immediately. It’s the result of plenty of ups and downs, and a great deal of learning along the pathway to success. That’s why in order to overcome perfectionism, you have to insert realism into the equation. I’ve found this way of thinking to be essential for riding the ups and downs of my own career, and I hope it can be useful for you as well.


The material in this post is adapted from my forthcoming book Reach: A New Strategy to Help You Step Outside Your Comfort Zone, Rise to the Challenge, and Build Confidence(Penguin Random House, January 2017).

Originally published at Inc

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