From childhood, I remember being a perfectionist on things that mattered to me, particularly schooling. It was crazy trying to live up to my own crazy expectations to perform since they were clearly higher than anyone else’s for me. Only after the passage of much time would I consider myself a reformed perfectionist, trying to not expect everything to go just as I expect it.
Trust me though – trying to be a reformed perfectionist is an ongoing work in progress.
While learning to see the benefits in attempting uncertain efforts and the positive value of mistakes as learning opportunities, I have realized 6 coping mechanisms developed long ago to deal with being a perfectionist still come in handy when trying to perform like crazy without going crazy in the process:
1. Manage toward lower expectations.
Aim high for what you expect to deliver, but work to set others’ expectations for more reasonable performance that’s less than you know you can deliver. Create a visible objective closer to the rest of the pack even though you’ll still aim for a higher standard to guide your performance.
2. Know when and where you can play to win.
It can be okay not going for the most wins because it could put you in more losing situations. Maybe it’s easier to simply accept you’re going to “play” fewer times and will miss some opportunities you could pursue in the interest of attaining the highest winning percentage.
3. Spread your effort across multiple fronts.
Manage your overall abilities to work hard (pure mental and physical exertion and stamina), work smart (knowing the short cuts and work-arounds to be more productive), and work efficiently (eliminating the extra steps others have to complete). Even if you’re not perfect on all these fronts, balancing your effort across all of them leads to great performance.
4. Know all the potential shortcuts and keep creating new shortcuts all the time.
Constantly hone your craft. Be the best student of what you do and always know where you must go all out and where you can coast. Then even if you’re coasting, make it look like you’re going all out.
5. Surround yourself with experts.
Make sure you develop relationships with ringers, i.e. tested experts who, whether visible or not, will be at your back when you need them delivering exceptional performance. These relationships take time, so don’t leave working on them for when you absolutely need them right away.
6. Don’t talk about everything you do.
Don’t over-share where you’ve figured out easier ways to perform better. There was an advertising slogan once that said, “Never let them see you sweat.” That may work for deodorant, but appearing to show a little sweat (even if you really aren’t sweating) is just another way of managing lower expectations.
What do you think?
Are you a perfectionist – reformed or not? Do you live or work with one? Do you see any performance-enhancing lessons to be pulled from the perfectionist’s world that you can put to good use? - Mike Brown
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