Perfectionism – When High Standards Attack!

What’s wrong with striving for perfection? Doesn’t that mean that you will always do your best?

Let’s consider those two standards–“be perfect” and “do your best.” Are they really equivalent?

In his 27 years of coaching basketball at UCLA, John Wooden had one standard that he taught all of his players: Do your best. He is famous not only for his incredible record at UCLA, but for his philosophy of success.

According to Coach Wooden, the scoreboard did not determine who won or lost. Only the player himself could know that. If he played his best, he won. If he slacked off, he lost, even if his team’s score was higher.

Sounds a bit like an aphorism we know: It’s not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game. Most people scoff at such a sentiment these days. But it’s impossible to argue with Coach Wooden’s results: he led UCLA to ten NCAA Championships in his final twelve years as coach. He is considered to be the most successful coach in college basketball.

Notice that Coach Wooden’s philosophy was not “be perfect.” Nor was it “be better than the other team.”

Can you see how “do your best” is fundamentally different?

“Be perfect” measures your performance by your mistakes and shortcomings. There is perfection, and then how far you fall short of it.

“Be better” measures your performance by someone else’s performance. It doesn’t really matter how YOU perform, as long as they perform worse than you.

But “do your best” measures your performance by your effort and preparation. Why is this distinction so important? Because effort and preparation are things you can control.

When you try to be perfect or to be better than someone else, your focus shifts away from what you can control to what you can’t. You worry about what you might do wrong, what obstacles you might encounter that will hinder your performance, or whether the other person will “beat” you. Later, you second-guess your decisions, and you dwell on If-Only’s. If only this hadn’t gone wrong, if only they hadn’t been so lucky.

All of which creates stress and despair because deep down inside you know perfection is impossible. Thus perfectionism soon becomes an excuse for inaction: “If I can’t be perfect, why should I even try?”

But when you focus on doing your best, you don’t worry, you act. You look for ways to improve, not ways to avoid mistakes. You look for ways to succeed, not ways to avoid defeat. You are energized but at peace, knowing that what you can’t control (other people or circumstances) is not relevant to your self-esteem or the quality of your performance.

Afterwards, when you know you did the best you could do, you feel good about yourself. You’ve measured your performance by the only standard that’s meaningful, the only standard from which you can learn and grow.

Perfectionism is an excuse, not a livable standard for achievement. And when you relinquish your perfectionist standards, you’ll find that you actually get much more accomplished.

The universe rewards action, not perfection. Now is better than perfect.

Copyright 2007 Curtis G. Schmitt

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