Pathways to Success by Dale Carnegie is one of my favorite personal development books. One of the many lessons I take from his writings is to work through perfectionist tendencies. Can you relate with this story? It is Friday evening and you are ready to celebrate the end of a long week. You are progressing nicely in your new workout plan and have been eating very healthy. You are even on track to meet your weekly budget amount for dining out. The discipline has been a challenge but you feel good. Things are looking up.
As you are ready to leave the office for the day, you get an invitation to go out with some friends for dinner. Despite being surrounded by temptation, you are confident you can keep your diet on track. One glass of wine and a salad and you will be just fine.
However, your friends decide to buy another round of drinks. You feel guilty having another glass of wine. As you look the menu over, the salad just does not sound appetizing anymore. You figure that since you fell off your plan, it’s no use at this point. You decide on the double bacon cheeseburger and fries for dinner. Now that you are over budget, one more glass of wine and a piece of cheesecake can’t hurt at this point. Time to scrap the diet and exercise plan and rework the budget.
Pathways to Success and Dealing With Setbacks
This is an exaggerated scenario, but one I have seen over and over as a personal trainer and financial planner. The inner perfectionist kicks in and frustration turns to anger. You feel like a failure and think that it is hopeless that you will ever reach your goals. You forget to remember all the good you did accomplish through the week. It is time to start over and see if you can get it right this time.
Perfectionism is a quality that plagues many of us. I know it is something I have had to battle with. Holding ourselves to a standard that allows for no faults or setbacks is a recipe for frustration. Even the most accomplished people in the world make mistakes. People who have achieved a great deal in their lives will point to the many rough patches along the way. Pathways to success do not include perfectionism.
Standards: High or Impossible?
Many perfectionists will point to the fact that they want a high standard in everything they do. That is not a bad thing. However, a perfectionist has the expectation of getting everything right. As human beings, we simply are not capable of doing that. You will make mistakes along the way. How we react to them is much more important than the mistake itself.
One mistake does not wipe out all the progress you make. If we learn from our mistakes, we can use them in a positive way. In the scenario above, you get right back to your diet and exercise plan the next day. Look at the reasons why you deviated from your plan. If you were hungry and got caught up in the fun of a Friday evening, that’s OK. Try to plan for those scenarios next time and budget in the money and extra calories.
New Skills Take Time
There is a learning curve with any new set of skills. Dieting, budgeting, and exercise are disciplines that take time to get right. What works for one person may not work for you. I remember many scenarios growing up where I read an article about a bodybuilding hero of mine. I wanted to master his diet and exercise plan.
Instead of gradually making changes and learning along the way, I would attempt to get perfection. That set me up for immediate frustration and ultimate failure. The time and energy to master the diet was a lot of work. The workout plan was above my current level of training and I could not handle the heavy volume. After a few short days, I gave up and looked for the next “perfect” workout plan. Was I setting myself up on the pathways to success? No, only additional frustration because of unrealistic expectations.
Pathways to Success – Learning From Mistakes
Setting goals that are meaningful and realistic are important. If you set the bar so high that you cannot reach it, no wonder you feel frustrated! When I start a new exercise program or financial goal, I now give myself some leeway for mistakes. If it is a big new endeavor, I break it up into small steps and measure my progress carefully along the way. That is not to say I repeatedly give myself excuses for falling off the wagon. Instead, I try to see everything now as a learning experience and look for areas of weakness I need to address.
I try to avoid the word “diet” and think of it as lifestyle changes. Diets have a short shelf life and most of the time they are too restrictive for many of us. If you are a bodybuilder getting ready for a competition or an athlete, certainly more discipline is needed. But if you are not at that level, think about using the 80/20 rule to start out. 80 percent of the time you will avoid any food you wish to eliminate. The other 20 percent will allow you some freedom. Once you master that, make it 90/10 if you want. Build on your success and give yourself credit for progress! Remember, pathways to success have to suit our individual journey. Find what works best for you.
Find What Works For You
When it comes to setting a budget, I apply similar strategies. Many clients of mine resist setting a firm budget. Trying to perfectly meet the amount for each line item can be frustrating and difficult. It can be done, but make sure it is right for you. Experiment until you get a system in place that fits you. Another suggestion is to get advice from people who will help you progress.
I have had more success by simply tracking every dollar I spend and making sure that my savings objectives are met for each month. Instead of worrying that I went $100 over on groceries and taking it from another area, I focus more on if I achieved my most important goals. That has helped me avoid my perfectionist tendencies. I tried too hard to control every dollar and found myself frustrated. You will get a variety of opinions, so find what works best for you. My video on tracking expenses has some additional suggestions.
Progress Over Perfection
Perfectionism may be a challenge but it does not have to win out. It is great to have high standards and aim for excellence. However, as imperfect people we are going to have missteps. Allow for these to occur, learn from them, and keep moving forward.
Celebrate your pathways to success along the way and seek ways to keep improving. You may not get it right the first time, but most successful people rarely do. Gradual progress is something to be very proud of. As Earl Nightingale said so well, “Success is the progressive realization of a worthy goal or ideal.” You may have to fight off your inner perfectionist, but it is worth the effort. It will make the journey much more enjoyable and the success that much sweeter.