Have no fear of perfection -- you'll never reach it.
-- Salvador Dali
Part 1 of this series, we briefly defined perfectionism and contrasted it with striving for excellence.Then in
Part 2, we described the negative ways perfectionists relate to their performance. Now we are ready to focus on how a perfectionist can challenge the view that perfect performance is the primary path to satisfaction.
This connection between striving for perfect performance and feeling satisfied is seldom challenged. We assume that the better we do something, the more satisfaction we experience from doing it. While sometimes this is true, it is by no means a connection we can assume is
So an important step in giving up the pursuit of perfection is to break this long-held and unconsciously assumed connection. It's possible to feel deep satisfaction with ourselves and our projects even when we don't perform perfectly. We experience satisfaction as a feeling of wholeness, completeness, pleasure or integrity. It may come from many sources other than perfect performance.
I Can't Get No Satisfaction
Consider your answers to the following questions:
How much satisfaction do you get from the process of striving for perfection?
How much satisfaction do you derive from your actual accomplishments?
When was the last time you experienced satisfaction because you actually measured up to your own perfectionistic expectations?
Aren't the odds of achieving satisfaction heavily stacked against you when you link satisfaction to perfection?
Can you imagine finding satisfaction in your projects and activities even when you don't perform perfectly?
If you're a perfectionist, one exercise that might help is to try this simple visualization: Imagine a common situation in which you perform well, but less than perfectly. See the actual outcome in your mind's eye and compare it to your image of the perfect performance. How different are the two? Are they so different that good-enough performance should bring you any less satisfaction than some unrealistic state of perfection?
Now, using this same outcome, imagine feeling
satisfied with your performance, more than you would ordinarily allow yourself to feel. Notice that you have a
as to how much satisfaction you feel over your performance.
Enjoying Good-Enough Performance
The connection between satisfaction and perfection was made long ago, in childhood. For the most part, we don't even think about it anymore. But the way we experience it is quite obvious: we feel less satisfaction and too much self-critical negativity. The self-acceptance and satisfaction we could be enjoying is replaced by a sense of inadequacy.
Let's say your expectation of perfection involves your trading outcome. You have an image in mind as to what it would be like to make the perfect trade. While you may occasionally make what feels like the perfect trade, you realize that more often than not, your trades are far from perfect. More satisfaction might be possible if it were permissible to give yourself a healthy dose of good-enough feeling for simply trading the best you could. This is especially true during brutally tough market conditions.
Your degree of satisfaction, then, is a matter of consciously giving yourself permission to feel more enjoyment and contentment with a less-than-perfect performance. How much satisfaction you feel about
, including trading, is ultimately up to you.
Write It Down
In learning to break the connection between satisfaction and performance, it is helpful to keep a record of your degree of satisfaction in performing various activities. You can do this by making a list of various activities, in which you assign a good-enough performance rating to projects.
This exercise is helpful for two reasons. First, it encourages you to define and refine your expectations in realistic, attainable terms. Second, it helps you set up the conditions to give yourself approval and feel satisfaction upon achieving your goals. If you set your terms too high, you will see this clearly as you continue to keep your record. You can then lower your objectives accordingly.
First, identify the activity. Then decide what you want your good-enough performance to be. Put it in objective, measurable terms, if possible. After you have tackled the task, enter (as a percentage) how close you feel you came to achieving your good-enough performance. Finally, estimate the degree of satisfaction (again as a percentage) that you derived from your performance of the task.
Working with this record form for a few weeks will help you think in terms of measurable performance until it becomes second nature. In this way, you are less likely to judge yourself as falling short simply because you don't
like you have performed perfectly. It will require your subjective judgment in assigning a percentage score for how you measured up to your objective goals. And of course, your assessment of how satisfying the activity was is also purely subjective.
What You May Gain
In working with this record form, you may discover the following:
Performance is not always positively related to satisfaction.
Performance in objective, measurable terms gives you something realistic to shoot for rather than an unreachable standard.
You can equate good-enough performance with excellence and need not be dependent upon the standards of others to determine whether you have achieved excellence.
Much more than you might think, it is possible to enjoy activities in which you don't measure up to perfection or even good-enough performance.
Most importantly, you can begin to see how much control you have over your satisfaction and pleasure, regardless of the activity itself or the actual outcome of your performance.
Steven J. Hendlin, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in Irvine, Calif. He has been in private practice for the last 26 years, investing for the last 20 years, and actively trading online as a position trader and long-term investor since 1996. He is the author of
The Disciplined Online Investor and maintains a site at www.hendlin.net. He is pleased to receive your comments and questions for publication in his public forum columns at
firstname.lastname@example.org , but please remember that he is unable to provide personal counseling or psychotherapy through the mail.
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