To overcome perfectionism, we need to step back, identify what’s important, and then use this to shift our perspectives. Self-Hypnosis allows us to get ourselves unstuck so that we can take the necessary steps.
When we go through school, we’re taught that being wrong is bad. This is manifested via things ranging from a disapproving look from the teacher when our answer in class is wrong, through to assignments, tests and exams, where we’re graded and assessed based on how well we did what the teacher thought we should do.
This approach is useful in school, because it means that neither the teachers nor the students have to think very much. And it’s easy to perceive it as a fair system, because ultimately, most people can get good grades by simply applying themselves.
In a few short years, we acquire the resultant knowledge of billions of years of human thought.
There’s a problem though.
That dedication to getting it right comes at a huge cost to efficiency and creativity.
I can’t speak for areas outside science and math, but certainly in the fields that I studied, there was an absolute expectation of getting it right.
This is all very well when you’re learning. After all, just about any method that allows us to absorb the results of billions of years of human thinking in the space of a few short years has to be efficient-ish, right?
When it comes time to work efficiently, or make new discoveries, the system breaks down.
Here’s the truth: If we want to overcome perfectionism, we first must be motivated to do so. And that means that we need to understand why it’s a sub-optimal solution for most problems.
Or put another way, we need to develop an appreciation of why perfectionism is far from perfect.
Why perfectionism is less than perfect
There are two big problems with perfectionism: It leads to inefficiency and it significantly inhibits creativity. Perfectionism can also lead to procrastination.
Perfectionism is inefficient
If you’re a perfectionist, you’ve probably noticed how much time it takes to be perfect. It’s not a small amount.
Believe me, I know: I started out as a scientist. Being absolutely right was viewed as essential.
And, like me, you’ve probably wondered why so many people don’t do things right. At first glance, it makes no sense at all.
It turns out that it’s only necessary to do things completely right in a very small subset of activities.
If you’re publishing a paper on your latest mathematical theory, it’s best to make sure it’s rigorously correct before you publish it. The same is true if you’re writing the control software for a commercial jetliner, or a nuclear reactor.
But here’s the thing: Those are edge cases. Almost everything we do does not require that degree of rigor.
It’s even worse than that.
For most activities, we’re wasting significant amounts of time in being perfect.
Let me give you an example.
Suppose that word processors don’t exist. People type things out on typewriters. When they make a mistake, they have to white-out the mistake with correction fluid, wait for it to dry, manually wind back, and then type over it.
If it’s an important document, they might have to re-type the entire thing.
When they have a word processor, their efficiency massively increases. Not only can mistakes be corrected more-or-less instantly, but anyone at all can type.
Even if they are only 20% more efficient, that’s a huge gain.
Suppose your word processor software has a bug that causes it to crash twice a day. Your customers lose about 20 minutes per day as a result of this. But they’re saving 96 minutes every day.
Their net gain is more than an hour of productivity every day, even with the crashes. Over the course of a year, that’s a lot of hours saved.
Bugs are good and are the result of efficiency and productivity.
And here’s the thing: Making a bug-free word processor would have required more than 1000 times as much effort. It could have been decades longer before it was released.
And guess what happens when that situation exists in business.
Someone else comes along and launches their product first.
And then something magical happens.
They get data back from their customers.
They discover exactly where the bugs are without doing any extra work.
Suddenly that 1000 times as long to remove all the bugs is only 10 times as long.
When you’re a perfectionist in software development, the end result can be that you go out of business.
And it’s not only software development: The same is true in just about every field of human endeavor.
Perfectionism inhibits creativity
As if it weren’t bad enough that perfectionism is massively inefficient, it can also significantly inhibit our creativity.
You see, creativity happens when we take knowledge and experiences from other areas of our life, and apply it to an area where we’re an expert.
When we’re trying to be perfect, what we tend to do is stay within the established patterns.
We have to, because that’s the only way we can be certain of getting things right.
This leads to our creativity being reduced because that’s the only way we can maintain control.
Perfectionism can be a form of procrastination
So what drives perfectionism?
To a large degree, it’s something that we pick up after a decade or more in the schooling system.
We’re told over and over and over again that we must get things right.
Eventually it starts to sink in.
The problem is that no-one ever thinks to tell us that it only applies to school work.
So we go out into the world and we’re a perfectionist.
We know exactly how to do things right, and we do.
We invest a lot of time in our perfectionism, which makes it feel valuable to us.
Now as it turns out, for a great many problems out in the world, there are almost always things we can do to make our solution even better.
So if we’re faced with a choice between improving something we’re working on, and moving on to the next thing, sometimes it’s easier to keep on doing what we’re doing.
Our desire to make things perfect can result in procrastination.
Being perfect annoys people
Now one of the big reasons that we become perfectionists is that we think it’s expected. We don’t want people to perceive us negatively. This kind of perfectionism is driven by fear.
We largely pick up this perception from school.
Once we’re out in the world though, something miraculous happens: Most of the time, people don’t care very much if we mess up.
More than that, with the possible exception of high achievers, everyone messes up all the time.
So when we don’t mess up occasionally, most people can start to find it difficult to relate to us.
This phenomenon is so well known that it’s built-in to character development in storytelling.
A vital part of character development is that your hero has some flaw that they can overcome.
There’s a reason for that: When we have flaws, we’re more relatable.
Ironically, when we don’t have flaws, the lack of flaws itself becomes a flaw.
People start to become annoyed with us being right all the time.
We can end up with a reputation as a know-it-all.
Especially if we do happen to always be right.
In short: A lot of people find perfectionism to be annoying.
What to do to overcome perfectionism
Overcoming perfectionism is easy, when you know how. All that’s required is shifting our perspective a little so that we know what’s important. By redirecting our perfectionism to the places where it’s useful, we can turn overcoming it into an optimization problem.
The Pareto Principle
There’s a well-known rule that’s particularly applicable to perfectionism: The Pareto Principle. Also known as the 80-20 rule, the Pareto Principle states that we’ll typically get 80% of our results from 20% of the effort.
This law is more-or-less universal.
Think about your own skills for a moment. There are some skills at which you’re an expert, some where you aren’t an expert but can easily figure it out with a bit of effort, some where you’d have to do some learning first, and some that you don’t even know exist.
As you do more of something, you become better at it and it takes less time to do that thing.
Whenever you have a problem to solve out in the world, even when you’re the expert, there will be some parts of it that you can do effortlessly and others that you have to figure out.
Similarly, there will be some parts of the problem that are important and some that aren’t.
Often it’s those parts of the task at hand where we’re an expert and can do them effortlessly that we can get the 80% of results from 20% of our effort.
If we don’t take the time to overcome perfectionism, we can spend vast amounts of time working on sub-optimal tasks because we want them to be perfect when it’s counterproductive.
Step back to establish what’s important
To overcome perfectionism, we first need to identify that we’re doing it too much.
You see, some tasks call for perfectionism, while others don’t.
In one corporate role I held, one of the tasks I had to regularly perform was writing and running data fixes on live production databases.
If that process went wrong, the consequences for the company could be repair costs of anything from thousands to millions of dollars.
From a single mis-typed character. Or a single piece of faulty logic.
And that’s before we consider the cost of outages for customers, and potential legal implications.
In that case, perfectionism was a requirement: There was simply no room for error.
On the other hand, when I’m inducing hypnosis in someone, mistakes are completely unimportant.
If I misjudge something, or get something blatantly wrong, the worst that is likely to happen is that the hypnosis subject falls out of trance a little. Since I know that this will fractionate them, all I have to do is continue on as if I had intended for that to happen all along.
They go deeper into hypnosis, faster.
There aren’t really any bad outcomes, so perfectionism isn’t required.
In fact, it’s even better than that: Because of how hypnosis works, if I tried to be perfect, I’d probably screw up the process.
When I allow the mistakes to happen, they are random, which means the subject cannot track them. To them it looks like a part of the process, because it is a part of the process.
Work out where perfect is appropriate
One of the easiest ways to overcome perfectionism is to redirect it towards optimization. When we do this, our emotional needs for perfection tend to still be satisfied, and we’re putting our drive towards perfection to good use.
So how do you tell when perfectionism is required?
The first step is identifying the probable consequences if things go wrong.
This comes down to the actual cost. Which is usually not the same thing as our perception of the cost.
And it comes down to the benefits.
The costs can be in terms of time, money, legal consequences, relationships, and just about anything else you can expend to complete a task.
The benefits include those same things, with the added benefit that when you’re building a skill that you want, sometimes it’s worth spending extra time working towards perfection.
Step back from the task at hand, and ask yourself what’s important.
Break the task into small, discrete steps.
Then for each of those steps, work out what could potentially go wrong. How much doesn’t it matter? Is it likely that things will go wrong like that? And if things do go wrong, what’s the worst case?
This is important because as with hypnosis, sometimes the worst case will actually be a benefit.
Next, work out an approximate cost for each of those. Once you’ve done this a bit, you’ll find that it starts to happen automatically and you’ll be able to tell what parts of a task are likely to cause problems just by considering it.
Now work out the benefits. What’s the gain that you get from each step?
Finally, put it all together. Where a step has minimal bad outcomes if it goes wrong, it doesn’t need to be as perfect.
And if the step going wrong means that your commercial jetliner might crash, that one has to be perfect.
It’s a judgement call, which is why you work out the cost and implications.
When we take this approach to overcoming perfectionism, it’s easy because rather than doing away with it altogether, we’re simply redirecting it to those places where it’s actually important.
How to use self-hypnosis to overcome perfectionism
You may have noticed something about our process to overcome perfectionism so far: It’s very logical.
That’s all well and good for designing a solution, and I’m sure you can see that following the process in the previous section will lead to more optimal results.
But there’s still a problem: How do we make ourselves do it?
This is where self-hypnosis comes in handy.
We can use self-hypnosis to change our inner perceptions about overcoming perfectionism so that we can actually do it.
There are 3 things we need to be able to do.
First, we need to sort out our logic. Hopefully we’ve already covered that. If you’re not yet convinced, go over the previous sections again.
Second, we need to be able to let go. This is achieved by doing a few tiny things inside our mind so that we emotionally appreciate our refocused perfectionism.
And third, we need a mechanism to remind us that we’re now focusing on perfectly optimizing what we do, rather than the individual steps.
How to use hypnotic symbols
When we’re hypnotizing others, it’s relatively easy to get change: All we have to do is guide them into hypnosis, and then suggest things in a way that won’t trip their alerting system.
It’s a bit trickier when we’re hypnotizing ourselves.
After all, we’re definitely going to spot any suggestions we might make to ourselves.
Luckily, because of the way that our minds work, there are other options.
Inside our minds, everything we ever experience is represented by chunks. There will be chunks inside your mind for each of the words you’re reading in this article. There will also be chunks representing every emotion you’ve ever experienced, and every instance of those emotions. And collections of everything on every scale. And the relationships between them.
There are chunks for everything, regardless of whether it’s something tiny like the dot on an i, something huge like the universe, something abstract like the concept of a chunk, a physical thing, an imaginary thing… I’m sure you get the idea.
Literally everything we ever experience has it’s own little space inside our mind. And that little bit of storage is linked to everything else we’ve ever experienced around that thing, every emotion we’ve ever had at the same time as it, and every sequence of events we’ve experienced it being a part of.
In short: Inside our minds, everything is linked to everything else.
A hypnotic symbol is nothing more than a logical extension of this association process. Really, a symbol is just another chunk.
There are symbols for everything we’ve ever experienced, and when we take the time to allow them to interact with each other, change happens.
The way you use hypnotic symbols is straightforward: Go into hypnosis, find a symbol for the new thing you’d like, spend some time building it up, find the symbol for thing you want to change, then allow them to interact.
Generally speaking, when the symbols are opposite, only one of them will survive the interaction process.
Each time you allow opposite symbols to interact, one will be weakened and the other destroyed.
So all you have to do to use them effectively is repeat the process until the symbol you don’t want is gone.
How to use hypnotic symbols to overcome perfectionism
To overcome perfectionism with hypnotic symbols, we need to locate a symbol that represents the way we’ve been doing perfectionism so far, and a symbol that represents the way we’d like to do perfectionism in future.
1. Understand the logic behind overcoming perfectionism
Before anything else, it’s important to understand the logic. Without this step, all that happens is our brain will tend to make up excuses for us to not change.
In order to change, we need both a logical reason to change, and an emotional one.
Work through the stuff earlier on in this article until it makes sense.
Here’s the lightning summary: We don’t have infinite resources, so we get a lot more gain from some activities than from others. Rather than attempting to be perfect at individual tasks, aim to perfectly optimize whatever you’re doing.
And yes, the optimization process itself can also be optimized. This takes time, experience, and practice.
For now though, it will be enough to shift your focus from being perfect at individual things to optimization.
2. Hypnotize yourself
Naturally, if we’re going to use self-hypnosis to overcome perfectionism, we’re going to have to hypnotize ourselves.
To do this, follow the instructions in my article How to Hypnotize Yourself Instantly, or use any other method of self-hypnosis you’re familiar with.
3. Visualize how you’ve done perfectionism in the past
Once you’ve hypnotized yourself, spend a few moments creating a clear picture in your mind of how you’ve been doing perfectionism.
Put another way, remember a time you were determined to do something perfectly, and see that clearly in your mind’s eye.
4. Attach a symbol to how you’ve done perfectionism
While you’re holding that image of you being determined to do a specific thing perfectly in your mind, allow a symbol to form. It will usually be the very first thing that pops into your mind.
Don’t worry about whether the symbol makes sense or not. Remember, it’s a representation of an association between many, many chunks. You’re inside the system, so you can’t directly see all of the associations.
Allow that symbol to meld fully with that image of you being determined to do something perfectly.
5. Clear your mind
We don’t want our symbols mixed up just yet, so take a few moments to clear your mind. If you’re new to this, take 3 slow, deep breaths and focus all of your attention on the physical sensations of breathing.
6. Visualize your new way of doing perfectionism
Allow your attention to move outwards from your perfectionism. Bring in the bigger picture. Notice where unnecessary time was spent.
Really go to town on figuring out exactly how the process can be optimized.
See the new process clearly inside your mind’s eye.
Even more perfect than before.
7. Attach a symbol to your new way
While holding that image of your new optimization process in your mind, allow a symbol to form.
Allow that symbol to meld fully with the new way and run through it a few more times to really lock it in.
Smile and bask in the glow of knowing that you’ve perfected the process even more.
8. Allow the old symbol to transform into the new
Take another 3 slow, deep breaths and clear your mind again.
Call up your symbol for the old way, and allow that symbol to transform into your new way of doing things. Go deep inside the details and pay attention to how that old symbol shifts and moves as it’s transforming into the new.
If you have any difficulty achieving this, allow those symbols to interact with one another.
Allow yourself to bask in the glory of the increased perfection of your new way of doing things.
Take the time to really build up a positive glow around the new way.
9. Test that the transformation is complete
Testing is critical whenever we want our hypnosis to succeed.
In this case, the test is calling up the old symbol.
The act of calling up the symbol for the old way should end with you thinking about either your symbol for your new optimization process, or the optimization process itself.
If you find yourself still thinking about the old way of doing things, go back to step 5 and repeat.
Bear in mind that hypnotic change is a skill like any other. When we’re new at it, it can take a few times to get right.
The only way you can really fail at this point is by not repeating it enough times to get the outcome you want. Namely: Overcoming perfectionism.
To give you an idea of how many times might be needed, a skilled hypnotherapist will typically run customers through processes like this at least 3 times, and probably more. If you’re just starting out, expect more times to be required.
10. Test the new process in real life
Finally, once you’re certain that the process is complete, it’s time to test it out in real life.
Put yourself in a situation where you’d like to overcome perfectionism, and notice what you do.
If you find yourself doing things the old way, go back to the start of the process and re-run using that specific situation in step 3.
Overcoming perfectionism is an iterative process. Each time you notice yourself doing perfectionism the old way, run through the steps again using the specific situation you’ve noticed.
The more you do this, the more easily your mind will take on your new way of doing things.
How to supercharge your hypnotic symbols
Hypnotic symbols are a form of hypnotic anchor.
In hypnosis, an anchor is something that unconsciously reminds us to do something.
What we’re reminded to do can be anything at all. Because it’s unconscious, our perception is typically that the thing we were reminded of happened without any intervention on our part.
And the anchor can be anything we can perceive: A touch, a thought, a word, a sound, something we see… literally anything.
To give you a simple example, you may have seen a hypnosis stage show in which the hypnotist programs one of their volunteers to shout Hypnosis is fake every time they hear the hypnotist say the word Hypnosis. In this case, the anchor is the hypnotist saying the word Hypnosis.
Anchors go far beyond this, and they can be incredibly powerful because they work directly with the unconscious part of our mind.
As you might imagine, anchoring is a vast topic.
And it’s powered by a very simple core idea.
If you’d like to get good at using hypnotic symbols, not only for overcoming perfectionism, but for just about any change you might imagine, it’s essential to have a solid grasp of hypnotic anchors.
So I’ve put together a short, no-fluff book that I’ve designed to take people from not even knowing what an anchor is to being able to create them, test them, and use them, as quickly as possible.
Inside Artful Hypnotic Anchoring, I go over what anchoring really is, the exact steps to create an anchor, how to use anchors to cause change, why anchors degrade over time and what to do to prevent that, and much, much more.
Anchoring is one of the keys to success with any form of hypnosis, which means that it’s one of those areas where it’s worth investing time to grow your expertise.
If that sounds like something you’d like to have happen, go check out my book Artful Hypnotic Anchoring right now!