Written by TKS Boston student, Faith Inello (email: faithinello@gmail.com)

Since 1953, there have been over 10,000 climbers who have reached the top of Mount Everest.

Encouraging, right?

But there have actually been twice as many people who have tried and been unable to reach the peak of the world’s largest mountain.

Less encouraging…

Most of people don’t actually make it to the top of the mountain, just like most people don’t actually achieve their goals. For some reason, us humans reallllly struggle to finish things.

Have you ever heard the phrase ‘you can’t get something from nothing’? It turns out that it has many more applications in everyday life than we expected. This is because it starts with an idea, a goal; we all have goals.

If you don’t set frameworks in place to help you iterate on what you’ve done well and what you need to improve going forward, you may get close to your goals, but it is unlikely that you will make the most of your time and skills while trying to complete them. I’ve learned this from experience.

Last year, I had two major mountains I wanted to climb (goals):

  • I wanted to get 1% better every single day
  • I wanted to stop letting my anxiety and my perfectionism hold me back from working at my full potential

To achieve either of those goals, I would have to develop discipline and consistency by internalizing that done > perfect.

How is it that normally productive people can find themselves stuck in a cycle of procrastination and doubt?

After the holidays, I sort of found myself in a rut where I was dealing with issues at school and felt like I didn’t really have the time to focus on science or on my personal development. I would find myself sitting in front of my computer unable to move forward with my homework. I felt like my life was the human version of the buffering symbol that appears when you reload a video over and over again but the content just won’t play.

There is a difference between having high standards and perfectionism; high standards are doing something, giving it your all, and making sure its right, while perfectionism is doing something, giving it your all, and making sure it meets an arbitrary standard.

Perfectionism is a death trap:

  • It causes you to overthink the tiniest of details in your work
  • It causes you to waste an inordinate amount of time on “reworking” an ideas or content that you don’t think are “good enough”
  • It causes you to lose self esteem because you start to believe that nothing you do will ever be enough
  • It causes you to give up and never get anything done
How to Win the Emotional Battle of Procrastination — Gustavo Razzetti
Me on a daily basis trying to tackle my chem homework…

Eventually, I started to get my mojo back and finally overcame some mental health issues, but I still wasn’t taking initiative to do the things I previously enjoyed working on because I was waiting for myself to “get back to where I was” or “get the work ethic I had before back.”

I was tired of doing things just to check a box. I wanted to work on who I was as a person because I truly understood what it meant to me, how it was helping me grow, how it was preparing me to level up. I started making progress, but I was still expecting myself to be perfect before I could move on and this got me really stuck.

Perfectionism does not always act as a motivator; it can destroy your work ethic.

This was my ultimate failure; I literally looked at myself and forgot that I was good enough as I was. I had convinced myself that I had to be perfect to continue with my life as I had once known it, but that is so far from the truth.

Done > Perfect: What it means to achieve consistent success

“Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.” — Goethe

School teaches kids to aim for the A’s. Students work day and night trying to figure out how to make the best grades, to get into the best schools, to set themselves up for success later in life. But most of these kids are slaving away at desks and computers trying to make sure that their answers are perfect enough for the A+ not just the A. This causes many people — including myself in the past — great stress; we are working our way through a system that undervalues problem solvers and overvalues perfectionists.

A problem solver works to understand the method to the solution; a perfectionist works to produce the right answer.

It takes discipline to change one’s mindset from that of an anxiety-driven purpose to an opportunity-driven purpose. It’s not easy to evolve in a rigid system where the consequences for being “different’ feel high in comparison to the joy that comes with releasing a perfectionism mindset.

“A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan next week.” — George S. Patton Jr.

If you can internalize the idea that it is better to get something done than get it perfect, you will be able to start something, finish it, iterate, and move on, knowing you did your best and you have progressed to the next opportunity as a result.

The issue is, even if you let yourself drop fine-tuning insignificant details in your projects and you optimize for a wealth of knowledge over a lack of mistakes, you may find yourself able to move on but unable to get started on something new.

So if you know me, you know I preach done>perfect basically all the time, but what I say doesn’t matter if my actions are not aligned so I have been working on internalizing this mindset to help me in all areas of my life, whether its school, my personal growth with my anxiety, or even a slack post!I wanted to share some things I’ve learned from analyzing what it means to finish things. I’ve had three key realizations:

1. Finishing what you start actually requires practice

A couple weeks ago, I was listening to Jim Kwik’s podcast on discipline with Dandapani, and one thing they recommended for building discipline actually corresponds with done > perfect. Focusing and getting something done is not a skill you’re necessarily born with; it requires consistent practice of starting things and finishing them to build willpower. It’s a balance between passion and willpower that combine with practice to increase both your focus and discipline, and it’s something you can learn.

If you constantly start things and don’t finish them because you’re trying to get something perfect, that becomes a habit and you will subconsciously prevent yourself from ever finishing anything. No one wants to self-sabotage, so start making the practice of finishing something a habit, i.e. when you wake up in the morning, make your bed to end the process of sleep.

I’ve found that when I continue procrastinating, I start to wonder if I can carry out the task in the end. This leads to more doubt, which causes more procrastination… what I’m trying to say is, it’s a pretty bad circle to get looped into. From what I’ve found, this isn’t just the case for me: many people get tripped up by the easy decisions, and it sucks them into a void of doubt.

Even the most productive people fall into that hole — and what it really comes down to is being able to discipline yourself. I think for me, the challenge has been in trying to make the decisions that won’t have me falling into the hole of doubt.

With some reflection, I noticed that I don’t practice discipline with a ton of things, but I’m working on developing consistency in all areas of my life, which I think plays a major role in discipline:

Lately I’ve been saying no to:

  • engaging with toxic people and having superficial friendships
  • watching netflix/youtube all day
  • letting myself give up when I can’t focus

Lately I’ve been saying yes to:

  • getting up at 6am every day and writing daily updates consistently
  • trying to maximize community engagement through thoughtful posts throughout the week
  • 1% growth on my neuroscience research every day

(PS. if you haven’t listened to the podcast yet, you can here: https://overcast.fm/+IcNk6av5k

2. Internalize the concept that nothing can truly be perfect

You can spend your life trying to always do the best, or you can spend your life trying your best; there’s a subtle difference. Just like Michael said in the mindset video, nothing can ever be truly perfect. Your human potential is unable to be quantified, so you will always be able to improve, iterate, and get better.

Once you accept that you will never be able to achieve perfection and you will also never be able to do your best, you can easily set deadlines for yourself, make the most of the time you have. You will feel good about the work you produced because you tried your hardest, not because you tried to be the best or do the best or do YOUR best, although that can be a good motivator sometimes.

3. Perspective: experiments vs. commitments:

I’ve been trying to figure out the difference between not finishing something because its not perfect and not getting it done because its a waste of my time. If you look at everything you do as either a commitment or experiment, you will know exactly what is worth quitting and what must be completed for your own personal growth

“Experiments are okay to quit because the goal of an experiment is not to be afraid to try something out; if it doesn’t work for you, don’t finish it.”

“Commitments need to be carried out to the very end because the goal of a commitment is not to break your habit of finishing things. Unless it becomes impossible to finish, you must go forward with it.”

“This only works if you build the mental split as a habit. If you give up on your commitments with equal frequency as your experiments, the words carry no weight. What matters isn’t that you call something an experiment or commitment, but that your actions show that distinction matters to you. That’s a distinction that takes time, but it’s an investment worth making, since it underpins everything else you want to accomplish.” — Scott H. Young

What do you guys think? Have you developed any mindsets this past week? If you want to read more about finishing things, check out this article I got my third insight from: https://www.scotthyoung.com/blog/2015/04/01/finish-what-you-start/

I believe that prioritizing long term success>short term success like you said is so important, and it’s the little habits and mindsets we cultivate that set us up to do that. It’s like the building blocks to success: the ability to make many tiny decisions to the greater outcome.

Consistency is key

Another thing I’m working on is consistency, because I tend to be very up and down with my work ethic sometimes; I can’t always be waiting for my anxiety to be under control to take action, and I can’t always be procrastinating on the idea of working on myself.

I’m going to start building consistency by building habits and pushing content. I want to set goals for myself and reach them and then iterate to achieve higher goals as my schedule shifts and changes. I think it’s true that making the small decisions is both the hardest and the easiest part of getting work done. Success isn’t having perfection on your first try, it’s having something to work from. You can’t iterate if you have zero; you’ll never get something from nothing.

Done isn’t having all the habits formed, it’s having the audacity to take steps towards forming them. It’s having the mindset to be able to keep going, constantly. It may feel like you are climbing a mountain, and you’ll never reach the top because you keep stopping and tripping. The thing is, the path will always be there, so as long as you get back up eventually and keep moving, you will reach your goals, however big or small they may be.

I know I’ve struggled with this in the past, but now I understand that prioritizing the small parts of a project is where the end result comes from. I can always make the picture better, but first I have to have all the pieces. Mindsets like done > perfect and consistency are what help me put those pieces in their places, to assemble the final big picture. For me, getting to that product is more important than having the perfectly finished item.

TL;DR

  • Perfectionism is the world’s worst mindset and you need to ditch it ASAP!
  • You can learn to finish what you start and actually make it a habit
  • You will never be “the best”, because perfection is subjective and unattainable, so stop trying to achieve something physically impossible
  • Understand the difference between “commitments” and “experiments”
  • Consistency is 🔑