productivity tips

3 Rules to Help You Fight the Tyranny of Perfection

Have you ever felt paralyzed by somebody else’s perfection? Afraid to move forward out of fear of failure? Looking down on your own hard earned achievements when there is somebody who in your mind is better in the world. Trust me, you are not alone.

Does it have to be like that? I say no and I will share 3 simple rules that will help you accept non-perfection when perfection is holding you back.

Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. – Voltaire

I love blues music, more specifically I love blues harmonica. Ever since my teens I have tried to listen to every recording I can find of blues harmonica and ever since I got my first harp for Christmas more than 25 years ago I have been (trying) to make my own music.

Living in Sweden I had a big problem for a long time, it is impossible to find a teacher. The 10-hole diatonic harmonica is considered a toy rather than a musical instrument. Anyone who has listened to Sonny Boy Williamson, Little Walter & Big Walter Horton would definitely disagree.

For very many years I was at the mercy of my ears to learn to play, not a bad thing in itself since that is the way many of the old masters learned to play. However I felt I needed more turned to the books I could find. Then about 8 years ago I was fortunate enough to meet a proper teacher.

At this point I thought I was home free, I was sure that this was the thing that was going to take me from being a good harmonica player (in my mind I was good) to a great player. Oh,how wrong I was.

I really quickly realised that what I thought was good (i.e my own playing) was close to catastrophe. This was a rude awakening and it was only my love for listening to blues harmonica that kept me going. I had to start all over.

Many months went into just getting the basics right but I also felt that the work was paying off. I could notice definite improvement all the time. Now it was time an even bigger hurdle.

Since my ears had opened I now understood what good playing and great playing really sounded like. The bad thing was that I now knew that my level of playing was no where near the level I wanted to be at. What was worse, I didn’t understand how to reach that level either.

Paralysis by analysis, I guess it’s called. Why was I wasting my time doing something I would never master (whatever that means)? This was a difficult time.

Every time I played I had my own little review going on in the back of my mind and the result was always negative. Once again I had to dig deep to keep going. My teacher and fellow students were very helpful in pointing out the progress I failed to see myself.

This might have been the end of my favorite hobby, what saved it was a sudden realization after many discussions with my harmonica buddies. I had forgotten why I was playing, perfection was not my original goal. Somehow I had unintentionally shifted my goals, from having fun and playing well to perfection.

This may seem like a small shift of focus but I can tell you that the impact is huge! From enjoyable activity to burden in no time.

After realizing this it was quite easy to get the joy back into my playing. Perfection is still what I strive for but it is not a bar I have to pass over, it is merely a reference now. Playing is fun and interesting again.

Looking back at my little journey I would summarize it like this: enthusiasm-practice-false sense of mastery-rude awakening-practice-despair-acceptance-enthusiasm. I expect a lot of people go through a similar cycle with their hobbies.

Looking back there a few things that can make this circle much easier to get through. Remember, this can be applied to anything you do, it is not confined to music.

  1. Don’t try to evolve in a vacuum. Team up with people with similar interest and get a teacher if possible. This will make your own assessment of how good you are much sharper. No more sense of false mastery.

  2. Remind yourself of why you started. You most likely started a hobby out of pure interest, it was never meant to become a burden. Writing down why you started is a powerful way of always being able to go back and check.

  3. Define your own level to attain. Set achievable goals and update them continuously to grow with your skill level. Don’t make the mistake of setting a goal of becoming world champion right away. That should be your vision, not your first attainable goal.

Following these easy rules will make sure that although you still strive for perfection in the long run it will not take the fun out of being good.

How do you deal with perfection?

Author bio: Fredrik Hertzberg is part of a two-man team running Reintegrate. Fredrik has a passion for finding ways to bring diet, exercise and mind together into powerful unity. Being a father, engineer and manager, Fredrik is well aware of the challenges of modern people. Follow Fredrik on G+.