Is Perfectionism Holding You Back?

Updated: Sep 22

There’s nothing wrong with having high standards. In fact I think most of you out there in the entrepreneurial space DO care about what you’re producing and the results you’re delivering - and you should! Sometimes, however, it’s tips waaaay too far the other way… and I see people holding themselves back for no good reason.

If you find yourself:

  • Feeling like your branding needs to be perfect before you can do anything else

  • Thinking you can’t launch without a website

  • Waiting for ‘the perfect’ idea to fall into your lap before taking action

  • Getting tied in knots over niching

  • Drafting and re-recording your courses time and time again…

This episode might just be exactly what you need.

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So today let’s take a look at perfectionism vs. high standards.

I know a LOT of people who as entrepreneurs really struggle to overcome their perfectionism, to the extent where it can really hold them back from achieving great things in their businesses.

And perfectionism is a real double-edged sword because it comes from a place of wanting to do your best, offer the world your best work and not let other people down - which is a wonderful thing!

But that can often spill over into something that really causes us to sabotage ourselves, maybe stop us ever getting our work out there at all and keeps us stuck in a place where we’re playing much smaller than we might otherwise.

Now today we’re going to get into why that happens, when it becomes a problem and a few ways I like to reframe things to help.

But before we do that, I just want to talk briefly about OCD - because I work with a lot of people with OCD - and I mean real OCD, which is quite different from just ‘being a bit particular’ and it can have a huge, crippling impact on people’s lives and what they can achieve.

It’s often treated as a bit of a throwaway thing or a joke ‘I’m a bit OCD’ but it genuinely can be an enormously debilitating and destructive condition, so if that’s you I just want you to know that I understand - and if I can help then please reach out.

And if I could get on my little soapbox for a moment or two here and just let everyone else in the world know that OCD is far from amusing if it affects your life - I’d love that to be a message that starts to permeate into the wider world, because we’re so much more conscious of being inclusive and mindful and respectful of people and their struggles these days, but OCD seems to just slip under that radar.

So please be mindful and if you do suffer with OCD, I’d love to encourage you to set that record straight and share your experiences like people have in more recent years with other mental wellbeing issues.

Now, saying that, I do think the lines are a bit blurred between perfectionism and OCD because both come down to our fear and control system going in to overdrive.

I would describe perfectionism as the tendency to want to do everything right, whereas OCD is an absolute compulsion that literally feels like something awful is going to happen if you don’t carry out the behaviour - and it can also take the form of intrusive thoughts that just won’t go away. Really horrible, both are based in anxiety and are, if you like, on the same spectrum.

So as I said it’s all rooted in fear.

That might surprise you because we think of perfectionism as:

  • striving to be excellent

  • making sure we’re doing the best job we can

  • showing up as our best selves

And I think if we’re talking about having high standards then yes, that’s a really good description and there is absolutely nothing wrong with doing a good job - obviously we DO want to do the best for our clients and show up as our best selves!

But when that starts to impact on your ability to move forward and make progress then it’s tipping over into something very negative and detrimental instead.

When we’re totally, 100% in our element we don’t let anything hold us back, we recognise what’s good enough - and we’re a lot more comfortable with the idea of having a go and not caring if we get things a bit off.

When we’re being overly perfectionist it’s because:

  • We care too much what other people think

  • We are afraid of what might happen if we did take a step forward

Often a bit of both!

It’s basically our brain’s way of opting out of something that feels frightening and threatening to us subconsciously - yes, even if it IS something we’re really excited about.

So our brain starts operating from a place of fear, and when it does that it starts coming up with bullsh*t excuses to keep us stuck.

We start seeing things from a place of ‘there’s not enough’ and ‘I’m not good enough’

  • I need to learn more

  • I’m not ready to do this yet

  • I need to keep tweaking things

  • I need to make things better

  • I’m just waiting for the right time

  • Now isn’t the right time to raise my prices because of the economy

  • There’s too much competition and they’re all way better than me

  • People will think ‘who the hell does she think she is’

The thing is, none of those are true - they’re just the reality we create for ourselves because our mind takes us down these rabbit holes rather than the alternative of giving it a go - which to our brain is absolutely terrifying!

It’s psychological self-defence in action.

But the thing we never really consider when we’re being ruled by our fear centre, our chimp brain… is it really safe to stay where we are?

Our brain subconsciously assumes that the things we’ve always done, the status quo IS the safest and best option.

Because it’s familiar - and we LOVE familiar.

That’s why we find it hard to quit smoking etc. - not because it’s a chemical addiction, not because it’s good for us, because it’s familiar and that familiarity is SO powerful. The battle to quit is 90% psychological and 10% addictive.

So if you’re a bit of a perfectionist and you’re struggling to move forward, I’d love you to just ask yourself this:

If you stay where you are right now - aren’t you actually risking a whole lot more?

And I think the answer is probably going to be ‘yes’, if you think about it hard enough.

Just on a very general level, the businesses that survive and thrive are the ones that evolve with whatever the changing situation is - global pandemic, economic crisis, the internet…

The ones that bury their heads in the sand and stay stuck are really the ones most at risk.

And just turning it to finances and future wealth - by learning about investments, for example, and doing something new towards building your financial future rather than keeping your money in the ‘safety’ of savings (which aren’t really safe at all because they’re currently losing you money, given the rate of inflation vs. the interest you’re receiving) - the chances are you’ll be a lot better off in the long run if you move out of that comfort zone and try new things.

I have to be honest and say it took me until very recently to start taking action on that one rather than just watching my savings dwindling as money that’s not earning interest is losing value, just sitting in a bank account.

Yet that feels safe!

You wouldn’t think that was the same as perfectionism but there’s a lot of similar ingredients.

With perfectionism we just add a bit too much worry about what other people might think into the mix!

So you’ll notice when you think of taking risks that your brain goes crazy and imagines all the dreadful things happening.

But how likely are those things to happen, really?

And if they did… wouldn’t you figure it out?

It’s usually a much bigger risk to do nothing.

And I think the biggest risk of all is wasting your life NOT doing the things you’d love to have done because you’ve kept yourself stuck.

For me, that’s massive.

I have always had this in my head, since I was a teenager I think!

‘I would hate to get to retirement age, look back and wish I hadn’t wasted years and years doing something I hated and being a prisoner in my own life’

Ugh, the risk of regret and thinking what could have been…

Now I’m sure you may have had similar thoughts because someone like you doesn't get to where they are are now without being pretty clear on wanting to live your best life!

SO DON’T LET PERFECTIONISM stop you being all you could be just because it feels a bit scary to give things a go.

I bet you’ve already made some pretty major leaps and come through them all the better for it.

And didn’t it feel good once you’d made that decision? Hell yes!

Now, we often use the expression ‘winging it’ in a bit of a negative way - I feel like I’m winging it compared to everyone else.

Firstly, know that everyone is winging it and we ALL come up against things that feel scary.

It’s just that some of us know how to minimise that and tune in to our logical decision making brain (the bit that does help us move forward) so that we can move forward easily and we don’t self-sabotage ourselves and sit there in self-doubt and lack of confidence - that’s what I do and that’s what I teach and ‘rewire’ my clients to do, using hypnotherapy.

You can find out more about what that looks like here.

Secondly, look on winging it as a wonderful thing.

Baby birds don’t know that they can fly before they take their first flight! They just trust that they can do it, leap and let their wings carry them.

And I want you to know that by leaping, you can trust your brain to work things out for you, too.

If things do start to go wrong your brain will problem-solve for you, if you let it.

We have wonderful, huge intellectual capacity to overcome problems - even massive ones - we just stop ourselves being able to tap into it because we’re too busy listening to the voice of fear.

The other amazing thing is that by letting go of perfectionism and trying less hard, you will actually produce better work and faster.

If you always struggle for content ideas, for example, you'll do much better when you stop blocking your own creativity - find out more here.

Because we only learn by allowing ourselves to get things wrong. Perfectionism is like keeping your stabilisers on your bike forever - it keeps you perfectly upright but it doesn’t let you really learn to ride!

Failure is always a stepping stone to greater success.

Every single pro, every super successful business person has been a beginner and made a ton of mistakes at some point. That’s why they’re so good! And they still make mistakes, because they’re human. They just deal with it and move on.

I want you to get used to embracing that feeling of uncertainty. Be that baby bird that’s about to leap - tap in to the excitement and think how amazing your flight is going to be once you do take off. Don’t teeter on the branch, wondering whether your feathers are quite the right colour for flying!

Trust yourself, commit to it and just go.