Use the 70 Percent Rule to Avoid Excessive Perfectionism

Setting goals that are too demanding and expecting optimal results can be counterproductive. You need to learn to use perfectionism to your advantage.
Use the 70 Percent Rule to Avoid Excessive Perfectionism
Sharon Laura Capeluto

Written and verified by the psychologist Sharon Laura Capeluto.

Last update: 21 December, 2022

Did you know that perfectionism can prevent us from achieving greatness? In fact, it can be a spoke in the wheel for any of our dreams. If you don’t believe it, just think how many times you’ve stopped doing something simply for fear of failing or not getting the results you expected.

In fact, the search for excellence can play tricks on you if the anxiety of making mistakes leads you to abandon or leave your projects halfway through. Losing the fear of making mistakes is one of the secrets to procrastinating less and not wasting opportunities to take action.

A double-edged sword

Perfectionism is a personality trait characterized by the systematic – but often insatiable – search for optimal results. Defining it in terms of ‘good’ or ‘bad’ doesn’t make much sense. In reality, depending on how you use it, it can work in your favor or against you.

Man with work stress
Perfectionism can lead to high levels of stress.

Maladaptive perfectionism

Perfectionism often imposes excessive self- demand, harsh self-criticism, and mental rigidity on you. This makes it impossible for you to be more flexible in attaining your goals or adaptable in the face of obstacles. Therefore, it becomes a highly maladaptive trait.

If this is the case, you’ll feel anxious and exhausted as well as permanently frustrated. Indeed, maladaptive perfectionism goes far beyond quality. When you only pursue perfection, if you don’t meet those standards, you see yourself as a failure.

If you’re a self-proclaimed perfectionist, you may well end up abandoning or postponing your projects indefinitely. Procrastination is inherently linked to this hyper-demand for perfection.

Furthermore, if you’re carrying out a mission with high expectations, you might even prefer to cancel the process rather than have to challenge yourself to reevaluate your proposed goals. This means that your obsession with excellence is counterproductive because it causes you to stop facing certain tasks simply because you want to eliminate the possibility of failure.

Adaptive perfectionism

When it’s not too extreme, perfectionism can help you to motivate yourself to do your best and thus improve in different areas of your life. This is adaptive perfectionism. It’s usually accompanied by other personality traits such as responsibility, organization, and perseverance. It’s helpful as long as you set high but realistic goals.

Adaptive perfectionism usually coexists with healthy self-esteem. It means you’re able to identify, value, and enhance your strengths while enjoying your achievements. You don’t focus your attention exclusively on the results or what’s missing, but you take into account the learning process and what you’ve already achieved. In short, it’s based on the possibility of allowing yourself to make mistakes and continue trying.

The 70 percent rule: neither excellent nor mediocre

Fortunately, there are strategies to move past unhealthy perfectionism without underperforming or being mediocre. How about pushing yourself to 70 percent perfection? To be just a little less excellent.

By doing this, you’ll realize that setting yourself a possible goal gives you the flexibility you need to continue creating, studying, and working. You’ll also continue learning through practice because you no longer impose on yourself the need to do everything perfectly.

“Better to do something imperfectly than to do nothing perfectly.”

-Robert H. Schuller-

Executive works with her laptop from home
The 70 percent rule helps you move forward without being blocked.

How to apply it

If you tend to expect 100 percent optimal results in your work, this method will help you take action and move forward in all your pending tasks, avoiding overexertion. It means you’ll take care of the most valuable resources you have: your time, money, and energy.

Here’s how you do it:

  • When you finish a task ask yourself: is this 70 percent ‘perfect’?
  • If the answer is yes, you can finish the task. You don’t have to wait until you’re absolutely sure or satisfied to present your work or publish your artistic production. If you did, you’d lose many opportunities such as constructive criticism and learning. It’s enough to be 70 percent satisfied to launch your creation.
  • If the answer is no, check the following: what do I need to do or correct to get to 70 percent? Focus on those issues that are going to generate a concrete improvement, and try not to get lost in the rest.

This rule is a long-term strategy because it allows you to increase your skills progressively, without having to be perfect every day. Indeed, if you stop putting pressure on yourself to be magnificent in everything you do, you’ll be surprised at how many masterpieces you create along the way.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.