Book Review – How To Be An Imperfectionist by Stephen Guise

ImperfectionPerfection is regarding anything short of perfection as unacceptable. Unfortunately that mindset can render us unproductive where we don’t take chances or we procrastinate but when we recognise that doing things and taking action even when the situation is imperfect is okay, our lives can move forward.

Summarily Stephen Guise in this book is challenging us to choose imprecfection over perfection and then keep moving forward. He writes that:

Perfection makes you stay at home, not take chances and procrastinate on projects, it makes you think your life is worse than it is, it keeps you from being yourself

What about imperfection? According to Stephen:

Imperfection isn’t bad either – by definition, it’s freedom.

In the book’s preface, Stephen introduces us to the concept of mini-habits (he previously wrote a best selling book on the subject). A mini-habit as defined by Stephen is when you:

Force yourself to do (seemingly) too-small-to matter positive behaviours, but ones you can do everyday, even on your worst day.

This is a concept that blends very well wth imperfection. For example, if you want to read more, how about reading 2-pages everyday instead of tellining yourself you want to read for 60-minutes everyday and you struggle to achieve that goal? What about exercise? How about starting with 5 star-jumps and 5 press-ups daily instead of setting yourself the goals of going to the gym 3 times a week? The point of mini-habits isn’t to stay small but begin small and be consistent instead of becoming frustrated when you don’t achieve your ‘perfect’ goals.

This information alone was worth opening up the book for me. So how about the rest of the book, what will you learn from it?  The book starts out focusing on helping us understand the problem of perfectionism before diving into some solutions or how to use imperfection to overcome the problem of perfectionism. Let’s have a top level dive into each chapter.

CHAPTER 1 – INTRODUCTION

This chapter introduces us to perfectionism and it’s dangers. It discusses the science behind it and Stephen takes the time to review some key research on the subject. He summarises the research into five core areas of perfectionism which are discussed in later chapters. These areas are:

  1. Unrealistic expectations
  2. Rumination
  3. Need for approval
  4. Concern over mistakes
  5. Doubts about actions.

CHAPTER 2 – THE PERFECTIONIST MIND

This chapter focuses on the mindset behind perfectionism. It starts out describing three perfectionist standards which are:

  1. Perfect context: According to Stephen, “this type of perfectionism reduces the number of situations in which a person will take action”. The sub-contexts discuused here are location where people will not act if they don’t belive they are in the perfect location, time of the day, in which people won’t also act because the time doesn’t feel ideal for them and finally resources which causes people to say they won’t do something because they don’t have the right amount or level or resources.
  2. Perfect quality: This involves looking for flawless quality. Of course this mindset causes people to keep delaying decisions and procrastinating.
  3. Perfect quantity: This involves not being satisfied with a standard below a certain quality. For example, if you set a goal to do something for a set period of time and you don’t then it’s not good enough. This makes you feel bad about yourself.

Stephen writes that:

Perfectionists do not accept a small amount of value or progress, they only want big, smooth, perfect wins.

Two other aspects discussed in this chapter are the precursors of perfectionism and the benefits of perfectionism. The precursors explored are:

  • Insecurity
  • Inferiority complex
  • Discontentment
  • Parents and school

While the benefits of perfectionism or as Stephen calls them ‘perceived safety’ are:

  • The illusion of greatness
  • The two considerations of failure
  • The fact that perfectionism can give us a perceived protection against failure since it mostly prevents us from taking risks.

CHAPTER 3 – THE POISON OF PERFECTIONISM

This chapter deals with how perfectionism can hurt us. It explores television watching and perfectionism. Stephen describes TV as a passive perfectionist activity because we can’t watch TV imperfectly. He writes about how perfectionism can hurt performance and there’s a section on how we can use perfectionism to hold ourselves back. Stephen uses the term ‘self handicapping’ to describe this concept.

Towards the end of the chapter Stephen writes about how we can change. His question here is, can motivation help us? But again he goes in to the issue of habits which he sees as taking action instead of expecting to feel motivated to act. Here’s a quote from him to that effect:

It’s easier to change your mind and emotions by taking action than it is to change your actions by trying to think and feel differently.

CHAPTER 4 – THE FREEDOM OF IMPERFECTIONISM

Stephen opens the chapter with this statement:

Imperfectionism is freedom because it’s our natural state – it’s the way we’re born to be. Perfectionism is the artificial construct, rigidity and conforms behaviour to an unreasonable standard.

He also writes that:

Imperfectionism is not laziness, low standards, contentment with failure, disinterest in excellence and improvement or apathy. At it’s core, imprectionism is pursuing and doing good things in life without so much as hoping for perfection. It’s prioritising doing over doing well, it only takes away the crippling fear of not doing well.

Summarily this chapter is about the benefits of imperfection. It’s about having and acting on:

  1. Imperfect thoughts and ideas
  2. Imperfect decisions
  3. Imperfect actions
  4. Imperfect adaptation
  5. Imperfect but successful results

These steps from 1 to 5 are what Stephen calls the imperfectionist process. The chapter ends with an introduction on how to be an imperfectionist . One lesson I learned is that being an imperfectionist is about caring less about things such as results, problems, what people think, doing it right, timing and caring more about putting in the work, making progress, who you want to be and doing the task.

The next five chapters deal with the solutions to the five areas of perfectionism that Stephen identified earlier.

CHAPTER 5 – UNREALISTIC EXPECTATIONS

Our emotions are largely derived from our expectations thus perfectionism will create negative emotions while imperfectionism creates positive ones. Some ways to manage our expectation through imperfection discussed here include:

  • Enough: decide what is enough and have contentment. Focus on ‘not quite enough’ instead of ‘never enough’. Focus on what you can do instead of what you feel you should be doing.
  • Lower the bar for action: Don’t look for perfect scenarios. For instance if you want to write, choose a number of words a day you can achieve and do it consistently, with time you will increase the words but never go below the original chosen number of words. Stephen writes that:

You miss out on too many opportunities when you wait for the perfect scenario to live up to, so here’s how to change: whatever you want to do more of in life – exercise, write, read, swim, dance, sing, laugh and so on – lower the bar for doing it. If you are willing to do it in the sewer, you will never fail to do it again.

  • Focus on the process: Accordign to Stephen,

When you care less about any result of a process, it makes the process itself easier.

CHAPTER 6 – RUMINATION

Rumination is a form of perfectionism in which a person focuses obsessively on their problems and/or the events that caused them. Solutions that Stephen discusses for this one are titled as follows:

  • Acceptance into action
  • Understand chance versus failure
  • ‘Should’ and self-talk
  • Be active in the present moment

At the end of the chapter is a rumination quick guide.

CHAPTER 7 – NEED FOR APPROVAL

People seek approval to be liked especially if they lack self-confidence and self-esteem. That is a type of perfectionism. Some suggestions for dealing with it include building our self-confidence by:

  • Chemical confidence: Confidence building related to using our body language to affect how we feel.
  • Faking confidence: By suspending self-doubt to allow oneself to think and act like a confident person.
  • Adjust your benchmark: By adjusting what you measure yourself against to your own context and abilities and not that of others.

The key to building confidence is to decide specifically what you can be confident about right now and build from there.

Another solution discussed is that of permission and embarassment. Many of us won’t permit ourselves to do things because we might get embarrased, especially if it involves failure or rejection. Stephe writes that:

Don’t seek permission (just do it-my addition) or fear embarassment unless it involves something illegal or harms someone else. Otherwise be yourself.

Another solution discussed is rebellion, not rebellion against authority or what is right but rebellion against things that hold you back for instance:

  • Rebellion against your typical way of living.
  • Rebellion against societal expectations.
  • Rebellion against external standards and expectations.

CHAPTER 8 – CONCERN OVER MISTAKES

When we have concern over mistakes, we either don’t do anything or perform badly. A story at the beginning of the chapter shows how a girl won a race despite making the most mistakes. The fact that she finished the race despite her mistakes shows that disregarding her mistakes meant she still achieved her goal.

Concerning yourself over making mistakes increases your anxiety and fear of action.

Solutions suggested to deal with this perfectionist tendency include:

  • Create a new path of least resistance, and
  • Redefine success as progess.

CHAPTER 9 – DOUBTS ABOUT ACTIONS

This quote summarises what Stephen deals with in this chapter:

If a sliver of doubt exists about doing something generally or right now, whats the most likely response? Delay action until you’re more ceratin.

This problem comes from our tendency to project the outcome we expect which in a lot of cases is inaccurate. Projections are theoritical and can lead us astray, so how do we deal with this. Suggested solutions are:

  • Make faster decisions. According to Stephen:

If you hesitate to move to implementation even briefly, you may look back to deliberation and get lost in the details of complex variables.

  • Don’t wait for more data. Start and see what happens.
  • When it comes to decision making, choose quantity over quality. Go for quantity and then refine.

CHAPTER 10 – APPLICATION GUIDE

This is the last chapter and it summarises the solutions required to deal with the five perfectionist tendencies discussed previously.

APPLICATION TO YOUR SIDE HUSTLE

The main lesson to be gained from this book for those running side hustles or those who want to start one is that you should start with what you have and where you are. Don’t let what you don’t have or what you don’t know stop you from doing what you can now. Also don’t compare yourself with others, that will only cause you to believe that you are not good enough. Embrace the concept of imperfectionism, start where you are and keep growing and learning as you progress with imperfect decisions.

 

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