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Are you a perfectionist or a progressionist?

This is a column focused on your wellness in the workplace. My aim is to provide you with an understanding of the connectedness between wellness and your performance at work. I will provide you with a recipe for being energised, engaged, empowered and purposeful at work. To begin that journey, in this first column we compare the pros and cons of being a perfectionist versus a progressionist.

Pace & complexity

The pace and complexity in the workplace is continuing to increase. For many of you, it brings with it a pressure to do more with fewer mistakes yet more quickly. The issue is that these factors can culminate to create a perfect storm, to trigger you into the pursuit of perfection, leading you down a path where you are working harder but not necessarily smarter. Where, not only is your wellbeing compromised, so too over time is the quality of your performance.

What is a perfectionist?

A perfectionist is described as a person who refuses to accept any standard that falls short of being perfect. If you are a perfectionist, you will strive to do things right in the right timeframe at the highest possible standard. As a perfectionist, you will struggle with the possibility of making a mistake, of failing to meet the exceptionally high standards you have set yourself.

You will generally begin your sentences with three phrases: I should, I must or I need. It often appears as if everything you do is an imperative, believing your value comes from having the right answers all of the time, of being able to push through barriers and challenges to get things done. It leads you to being goal orientated; believing reward comes from achieving your goals.

Reward does not come with the final goal, it comes from making progress.

Unfortunately, there are unintended consequences for you and likely those around you. In your pursuit to deliver perfection, you often find the standard of work of those around you is not of sufficient quality. It can lead to you taking over others work responsibilities, increasing your breadth of responsibility even where there is no reward. It also creates a risk that those you work with are left feeling wanting in their ability to meet your standards.

However, of most concern is that, because enough is never enough, you will drive yourself harder and faster trying to do more. What you attempt to get done in a day, the pace you seek to work and the hours you work will result over time in you working harder and harder. And over time you more often than not find yourself increasingly fatigued, and at worst on the verge of or in overwhelm and at risk of burnout.

You may have started your work role feeling energised, engaged, empowered and purposeful, excited at the prospect of what you could achieve. Yet you often find yourself over time feeling trapped in your role, not knowing how to extricate yourself from the vicious cycle of trying to meet relentlessly high standards.

Becoming a progressionist

What do you do? I recommend you become a progressionist, and let go of being a perfectionist.

Dr Jason Fox describes “progressionists” in his book the Game Changer. A progressionist is someone who seeks to be the best they can be, they want to work hard, achieve outcomes and be rewarded but they adopt a significantly different approach to getting things done. They begin with replacing goals with hypotheses. A goal is the object of your effort; it assumes you know the answer and that your focus is on doing, executing the plan to achieve the goal. A hypothesis is one of the possible explanations of a goal. It is made on the basis that you accept you have limited information and are not yet definite as to the answer.

A hypothesis provides you with a starting point to move forward, from which to make progress. It provides room to evolve the hypothesis as you progress, whether this is refining the focus of the work, and who needs to be involved to do the work or how to progress.

A hypothesis naturally creates opportunity to receive reward as you progress. Reward does not come with the final goal, it comes from making progress. Progress makes a progressionist feel energised and motivated, encouraging them to take the next step. A progressionst also expects to make mistakes, to have failure as part of the journey. Mistakes or failure are viewed as a learning opportunity, for justification to evolve the hypothesis so as progress continues.

If you are finding yourself working harder and harder, if you have been triggered into pursuing perfection due to a perfect storm, take a step back, pause and reframe your focus. Become a progressionist rather than a perfectionist and you will find yourself working smarter not harder.

Jan McLeod

Jan McLeod

Jan McLeod is a highly respected coach, mentor, speaker and consultant and a specialist in the areas of high performance, wellbeing, nutrition and change strategy in the workplace.

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