Being a Perfectionist or Taking Imperfect Action


Perfection is likely the goal when it comes to balancing your checkbook, following a cake recipe, getting your hair colored or traveling by air. We want our checkbook to balance, the cake to come out great, our hair color to be perfect and our flights to be safe and on time.

A lot of things in life however do not necessarily require perfect action. A job may need to be done to a certain standard, but there are times when mistakes are made, your energy is low or there are other contributing factors outside of your control. The whole business doesn’t shut down because you had an “off” day. Maybe no one, except you, even noticed the mistake or your decreased productivity or that you were imperfect at your job. Unless, of course, you are a perfectionist and then you notice it all and disparage yourself for your short-comings.

Having high standards and expectations and applying a perfectionist attitude, which leads to success and achievement, can be desirable qualities. Many of us though have trouble pursuing perfection and then letting go of the results when they fall short, rather than using the experience for feedback. The answers to a few questions can help you get clearer about whether or not perfectionist tendencies are holding you back. Ask yourself:

  • How do my actions show that I am doing the best I can?
  • How much time do I consistently apply my efforts?
  • What additional skills and training are needed for me to do this?
  • Do I believe I am good enough to do this and if yes or no, why or why not?
  • Do I have an all or nothing attitude, giving up when obstacles arise?

There can be a tendency with perfectionist traits to blame ourselves or others or to assert control over others. We may feel the need to do it all ourselves, which can lead to overwhelm or the hesitation to go forward until all preparations are perfect. Sometimes, we are indecisive and end up doing little or nothing.

Many of our endeavors, of course, require us to be prepared or to follow a set of steps to get the desired results or an expected outcome. Sometimes those steps have to be perfect and sometimes they do not. Perfection can be a matter of perspective.

Often it’s better to take some action, even if imperfect, rather than none. To stand on the sidelines out of the fear of making a mistake or eliciting disapproval may keep you stuck and immobilized. To take no action in the direction of a goal until all your ducks are lined up in a row may be a form of self-sabotage. Taking imperfect action is beneficial and it can naturally:

  • Build self-confidence
  • Empower you to do more
  • Eliminate an all or nothing attitude
  • Keep you flexible and better able to respond
  • Help you be more forgiving of yourself and others
  • Provide information for course corrections and adjustments
  • Support you to develop inner resources

The reality is that very little in life will ever be measurably perfect, but many things can be subjectively perfect. With the adoption of an attitude that some action is better than no action, it’s possible to take a step and then re-evaluate and take another step. People who take action are generally happier than those who are inert. Start looking at the results of your imperfect action as feedback rather than failure. You’ll soon learn that your actions get more perfect as you go along and you may even transform an unbalanced attachment to perfectionism.

© Deborah A. Lindholm

Categories : Empowerment

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As always, please consult with qualified health professionals before putting session or workshop ideas into practice. The ideas and techniques are not meant to diagnose or replace the need for medical attention or professional mental health care.

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