the shape of leadership

Don’t Let Perfectionism Sabotage Your Goals

Jon Acuff’s “Finish” helps readers move from “to do” to “done”

George P Wood on January 4, 2018


Most people don’t keep their New Year’s resolutions. According to a commonly cited statistic, 92 percent of resolution-makers become resolution-breakers. The odds may not be ever in your favor, it seems.

Of course, most people don’t accomplish their goals, period. It doesn’t matter to your body whether you resolve to eat right and exercise on January 1 or July 17, for example. The only thing that matters is whether you eat right and exercise. You can start doing those things — or not doing them — any time of the year. The same goes with any other goal.

So why do our resolutions fail? Why don’t we finish what we start? There may be any number of reasons, but Jon Acuff thinks that perfectionism is “the ultimate villain.”

Don’t let the best get in the way of the better. Don’t let perfectionism hinder progress, however small. Be realistic, be patient…and get ’er done!

He writes:

The problem is that perfectionism magnifies your mistakes and minimizes your progress. It does not believe in incremental success. Perfectionism portrays your goal as a house of cards. If one thing doesn’t go perfectly, the whole thing falls apart. The smallest misstep means the entire goal is ruined.

Perfectionism also messes us up by making us aim too high. There are perhaps a thousand reasons 92 percent of resolutions fail, but one of the greatest is also one of the most deceptive.

When we create a goal, we aim for something better. We want to look better. We want to feel better. We want to be better. But then better turns into best. We don’t want small growth. We want massive, overnight success.

The key to keeping your New Year’s resolutions and accomplishing your goals starts with kicking perfectionism to the curb. This is easier said than done, however, so Acuff recommends taking six action steps:

  1. Cut your goal in half.
  2. Choose what to bomb.
  3. Make it fun if you want it done.
  4. Leave your hiding places and ignore noble obstacles.
  5. Get rid of your secret rules.
  6. Use data to celebrate your imperfect progress.

Again, this looks easy, but while Acuff keeps the tone of the book light — he’s a very witty author — there are sound motivational principles behind his advice. And he fleshes out how to take each action step with concrete examples, diagnostic questions and helpful suggestions.

Reading a book isn’t a magic wand. Accomplishing your goals requires work, often hard work. But the work doesn’t have to be impossible or joyless. In fact, it should be doable and tap into your deepest hopes. 

As the New Year begins, don’t let the best get in the way of the better. Don’t let perfectionism hinder progress, however small. Be realistic, be patient…and get ’er done!

Book Reviewed

Jon Acuff, Finish: Give Yourself the Gift of Done (New York: Portfolio, 2017).

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