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"Successful Imperfection: Learning from mistakes - Psychology Today"



Anxiety Files

Successful Imperfection

Learning from mistakes.

Robert L. Leahy Ph.D. Robert L. Leahy Ph.D.

Posted Mar 15, 2017

Two Kinds of Perfectionism

Are you a perfectionist who thinks that making a mistake is unacceptable? Do you think that mistakes mean that you are a failure? Are you embarrassed about making mistakes? The fear of mistakes is a central feature of Maladaptive Perfectionism. The maladaptive perfectionist has these negative—often catastrophic—beliefs about mistakes. They think that if they make a mistake then they need to criticize themselves, they think they need to ruminate about their mistakes, and they believe that before they try something new they have to be sure it’s going to be perfect. This kind of perfectionism is linked to procrastination, anxiety, and depression. Is that you?

There’s a different kind of perfectionism—Adaptive Perfectionism. For example, you can set high standards for yourself, work very hard, and derive a lot of satisfaction from your achievements. Adaptive perfectionism can help you persist, help you take pride in what you do, and help you achieve valued goals. You don’t need to criticize yourself or achieve the impossible if you have this kind of healthy, proactive, perfectionism. Bill works hard at his job and puts in extra hours. He tries to do the best he can, but he accepts that he won’t be perfect. When he does well on something he gives himself a pat on the back. He takes credit for it. But when he doesn’t do well he thinks, “I need to put more effort into this” or he thinks, “This is going to be a challenge." Bill has healthy high standards and is a bit of a perfectionist—but it’s adaptive for him. He’s able to get things done and he feels generally pretty good about his work.

One way of thinking of this is to recognize that having high standards doesn’t mean that you fail if you don’t reach those standards. You don’t have to make the “perfect” the enemy of the “good enough." Let’s see how you can change your maladaptive perfectionism so that you can still have high standards, stay motivated and not have to procrastinate and criticize yourself.

What are the advantages of perfectionism?

You may think that an advantage of perfectionism is that you will have high standards and stay motivated. You won’t settle for less. But having high standards is different from demanding perfection. High standards means exactly that—standards that are better than the last time. For example, I like to think of myself as continually open to learning something new. I am sure that my approach to doing therapy is different from what it was ten years ago. But if you are a perfectionist you confuse high standards with failing, inferiority, and humiliation. It’s not. It’s simply trying to grow and learn. And we can learn from our mistakes.

Successful Imperfection

A key to personal growth is to reinforce moving toward your goal. Getting better and improving often means doing things imperfectly. I like to think of this as “successful imperfection” which means engaging in positive behaviors that move you in the direction of your goal. For example, consider the following choices—which is better?

Imperfect workout vs. no workout

Doing some work on that paper vs. doing no work

Spending some time with a friend vs. spending no time with a friend

Successful imperfection is something to engage in every day. You don’t have to be perfect to make progress. Give yourself permission to do things imperfectly as you accumulate more accomplishments that move you toward your goal.


What do mistakes mean to you?

Some people believe that mistakes are fatal and final. It’s almost as if the mistake means the world is ending. Other people think of mistakes as “trial and error” or “I can learn from my mistakes." Which way of thinking is more helpful? If you think that you shouldn’t make mistakes then you will probably take very few risks, you will seldom try anything new, and you will avoid anything that you feel uncertain about.

If I make a mistake, then….

I am a failure

I can never learn

I should give up

I shouldn’t make mistakes

Or, do you think: If I make a mistake, then….

I am human—everyone makes mistakes

I am in the process of learning—mistakes are part of trial and error learning

I can try harder and persist and keep going

Of course I should make mistakes—no one is perfect, especially me.
Learning from mistakes

Let me give you an example from my personal life. Years ago my wife and I were in Portugal on vacation. I had been sailing for a few years and so I thought I would be a natural in learning wind-surfing. I was wrong. We went to the expert on the beach who was going to teach us windsurfing. Now this guy clearly was more interested in helping my wife than in helping me. To be honest with you, I think he would have been happy if I drowned. In any case, I had too much confidence that I would be good at this. I was really terrible, but my wife turned out to be a natural. She could stand on the board with the sail and sail back and forth. In contrast, I would try to sail, fall, and struggle to get up. Realizing that the people on the beach thought I was pathetic and hearing the instructor yell in his accent—“THINK BOB. THINK!”—I was determined that I would eventually learn. So the next time we were on vacation I took private lessons and kept building skills based on my failures.

Here is how I looked at it. I realized that learning a new skill involved mistakes, I was able to accept the laughter and the humiliation as something that comes with the territory, and I was willing to put the effort into repeating mistakes and learning from them. The more I practiced, the better I got. Not great, but good enough.

Everyone makes mistakes—but you can think about mistakes as learning experiences and as steps toward improvement. Or you can give up now. Every athlete loses in a game, every poker player loses a hand, and every investor loses on an investment. Losing is part of the process of winning.

Successful imperfection is a different way of thinking of mistakes or imperfection. You can normalize mistakes and keep engaging in positive behavior that leads you toward your goal.

Ask yourself whom you admire most and then ask that person the kinds of mistakes that they have made and the kind that they have learned from. Winners are not perfect—they are simply people who are honest about their mistakes and willing to do what they need to do to make things better.

To learn more about coping with mistakes, perfectionism and procrastination you can read my book, Beat the Blues before They Beat You: How to Overcome Depression.


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Topic Outline
Subject Author Message Date ID
Christian teaching on perfectionism - swipe
Jan 02nd 2018
Failure Résumé: Failure isn’t a roadblock. It’s part of the proces...
Feb 05th 2019
Amazon's valuable failures
Feb 16th 2019

Member since Jan 15th 2008
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1. "Christian teaching on perfectionism - swipe"
In response to Reply # 0



Wednesday April 10, 2011

"Trying to become perfect by your own human effort?” Gal 3:3 NLT

Break Free from Perfectionism

Columnist Ann Landers wrote, “Rose-colored glasses are never made in bifocals. Nobody wants to read the small print in dreams.” The small print in every dream is - reality. You may fulfill your dream, but you won’t do it perfectly. Looking back you’ll say, “If I knew then what I know now.” But if you could live all over again you’d probably say the same thing. The truth is, the journey will take longer than you hoped. The obstacles will be more numerous than you thought. The disappointments will be greater than you expected. The lows will be lower than you imagined. The price will be higher than you anticipated. Stop expecting more than what’s reasonable. Stop seeing minor mistakes as major catastrophes. To break free from perfectionism, Dr. Chris Thurman says: “Humble yourself: repent of being so filled with pride that you think you’re equal with God. Be reality focused: accept life as it is, not how you think it should be. Establish attainable goals: make them realistic and achievable in the here-and-now. Set reasonable time limits: instead of spending time struggling to do one thing perfectly, prioritize, and allot a reasonable amount of time to each activity. In less-important areas, accept good-enough; not every job has to be (or can be) done exceptionally well. Lose the all-or-nothing thinking: not every situation is black and white…most contain shades of gray. Learn from your mistakes: then move on. Confess your shortcomings: acknowledging your weaknesses releases you from the pull of perfectionism. Find your worth in God: not in ‘your own human effort,’ in what you do and how well you do it.”


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2. "Failure Résumé: Failure isn’t a roadblock. It’s part of the proces..."
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Do You Keep a Failure Résumé? Here’s Why You Should Start.

Failure isn’t a roadblock. It’s part of the process.

Tim Herrera

By Tim Herrera

Feb. 3, 2019

Welcome to the Smarter Living newsletter! Every Monday, we email readers with tips and advice for living a better, more fulfilling life. Sign up here to get it in your inbox.

A little more than three years ago, I had to put together this presentation at work. It was on a topic I wasn’t very familiar with, but I took it on anyway, figuring I could get up to speed and deliver something useful and productive.

Friends, if you hadn’t guessed yet, I bombed it. I wasn’t prepared enough, I missed a few major points, and I didn’t give myself enough time to complete it. Not my greatest work.

But I have such fond memories of that presentation — O.K., maybe not exactly fond — because it was my first significant screw-up at a new job. It’s still something I look to when I’m in a similar position at work; I know what went wrong then, so I can try to fix those issues now before they become problems.

When things go right, we’re generally pretty good at identifying why they went right — that is, if we even take time to analyze the success at all. Preparation, proper scheduling, smart delegation and so on. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. But falling on our face gives us the rare opportunity to find and address the things that went wrong (or, even more broadly, the traits or habits that led us to fail), and it’s an opportunity we should welcome.

That’s where the failure résumé comes in. Whereas your normal résumé organizes your successes, accomplishments and your overall progress, your failure résumé tracks the times you didn’t quite hit the mark, along with what lessons you learned. (And yes, my disastrous presentation has a spot on mine.)

Melanie Stefan, a lecturer at Edinburgh Medical School, knows this well. A few years ago, she called on academics to publish their own “failure résumés,” eventually publishing her own. On it, she lists graduate programs she didn’t get into, degrees she didn’t finish or pursue, harsh feedback from an old boss and even the rejections she got after auditioning for several orchestras.

What’s the point of such self-flagellation?

Because you learn much more from failure than success, and honestly analyzing one’s failures can lead to the type of introspection that helps us grow — as well as show that the path to success isn’t a straight line.

“At the time, I thought we were really not talking enough about failure” in academia, Dr. Stefan said. “I had just finished my Ph.D. and was applying for so many fellowships to do a postdoc, and I got rejection after rejection, and I said it was something we don’t really talk about a lot.”

She added: “Sometimes I look back on them and see how much I’ve actually struggled to be where I am. That’s a powerful reminder that I deserve to be here,” she said. It “is a good reminder of how much you’ve tried.”

(Just to be clear: Despite her failures, Dr. Stefan is indeed quite successful: She earned her Ph.D. from the European Bioinformatics Institute, she worked at Caltech and Harvard, and she has been a lecturer since 2015.)

Failure is a topic we’ve covered before in Smarter Living. Last August, the writer Oset Babur wrote a guide to failing the right way. In it, Ms. Babur wrote that to turn even our most public failures into advantages, we need to be critical, mindful, honest and, most important, kind about what went wrong. Since that article was published, her own relationship with failure has shifted into one that’s much more productive.

“I try to be more compassionate, use language that isn’t so harsh,” Ms. Babur said, “given how widespread failure is.”

The biggest impact she has seen is in “changing an otherwise pretty harsh internal monologue I had about failing, which, in some cases, prevented progress.” As a writer, she said, “if you’re hung up on calling yourself dumb or a bad writer, it’s hard to get to the part where you make your piece a lot better.”

Like Dr. Stefan, Ms. Babur has a version of a failure résumé, on which she lists her articles that were rejected — along with feedback or notes on each rejection, so she can strengthen her ideas.

“I like to look back on that to see how many failed pitches it took to land a story,” she said, “and also to feel like it’s possible to still land an assignment even after a few places have passed.”

Keeping a failure résumé — or Anti-Portfolio or CV of Failures or whatever you’d like to call it — is simple: When you fail, write it down. But instead of focusing on how that failure makes you feel, take the time to step back and analyze the practical, operational reasons that you failed. Did you wait until the last minute to work on it? Were you too casual in your preparation? Were you simply out of your depth?

There are countless things that can go wrong when we’re trying accomplish our goals or advance our careers. But those things are opportunities, not derailments.

“Even people who, on paper, have had extremely successful careers have struggled along the way, and failure is part of a career,” Dr. Stefan said. “Everyone has to go through it if you want to be successful.”


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3. "Amazon's valuable failures"
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Sat Feb-16-19 06:28 AM by c71



Amazon has money, power and influence. But it flamed out in NYC. Here's why that matters

Analysis by David Goldman, CNN Business

Updated 7:20 PM ET, Thu February 14, 2019

New York (CNN Business)Amazon doesn't fail very often.

The company has had its missteps; those come with innovation. Amazon launched Destinations, Local, Wallet and Local Register products to little acclaim, for instance. All were short-lived ideas for which Amazon couldn't gain customer traction.

But before it ditched its New York HQ2 plans Thursday, Amazon had only ever fallen on its face this way once before, when it launched the Fire Phone, a smartphone no one wanted.

Amazon, like most tech companies, embraces its failures.

"I've made billions of dollars of failures at," Jeff Bezos said at the Business Insider Ignition conference in 2014. "Companies that don't embrace failure and continue to experiment eventually get in the desperate position where the only thing they can do is make a Hail Mary bet at the end of their corporate existence."

HQ2 isn't a financial disaster like the Fire Phone or an idea that flopped like the Destinations travel business. But Amazon set the stakes high for HQ2, with an international, multi-city audition process that gripped the business world.

The New York HQ2 saga was a public relations nightmare. It's the kind of misstep a company as successful as Amazon hasn't experienced. And it's the kind of rejection a company with Amazon's money and influence didn't expect.

"They made a big mistake here, but how they recover is an open question," said Nathan Jensen, a professor of government at the University of Texas. "If they're used to these failures, maybe that experience can help."

Successful failure

Amazon has a long history of success without a lot of profitability.

It has routinely piled up huge losses over the course of its 24-year history, only to increase its dominant share of the online retail market. On death's door during the dot-com bust, Amazon was one of the only fledgling tech companies to survive.

Amazon (AMZN) is now the third-most valuable company on the stock market, but it only became consistently profitable in the past few years when its cloud business took off. Its $10 billion profit in 2018 was more than the company made in the prior 23 years combined.

But investors don't care. They've sent Amazon's stock soaring in recent years. That confidence has given Amazon the capital and freedom it needs to take big risks — and absorb the losses when it fails.

Fire Phone

Amazon's biggest financial failure came in June 2014, when it launched its Fire Phone.

The company drummed up excitement and curiosity by airing commercials of people's shocked, impressed reactions to its Fire Phone — without showing the TV audience the phone itself. Later that month, Amazon held a press conference in Seattle, at which Bezos unveiled the Fire Phone, triumphantly raising his right hand in victory.

The Fire Phone was weird. Its most anticipated feature was a 3D display that didn't really work. It ran Google's Android, but it didn't have any of Google's apps, including Google Maps, YouTube and Gmail.

Amazon didn't reveal how many phones it sold, but it quickly discounted the phone to 99 cents, and it wrote down $170 million in unclaimed inventory in October of that year.

But Amazon learned its lesson, and eventually built its hardware business into an enormous success. Bezos has said the big mistake of the Fire Phone was creating a "me-too" device that tried to copy the iPhone. When it launched the Echo, Amazon did the opposite, giving customers a totally unique voice assistant product that made the company the market leader for home networking products.

New York HQ2

The HQ2 disaster is a different kind of misstep.

For one thing, it shows there are limits to Big Tech's influence. Like Walmart a decade ago, Amazon couldn't win over a loud segment of the public or key lawmakers, forcing it out of a market in which it so badly wanted a major physical presence.

"I don't think it's a failure for Amazon, but a sign of changing times where the idolatry of tech innovators — and their firms — has peaked," said Scott Galloway, a marketing professor at NYU's Stern Business School.

Although customers still flock to Amazon, the mystique it long enjoyed has largely vanished over the past decade. A garish 2011 portrayal of Amazon's treatment of warehouse workers in a local Allentown, Pennsylvania, newspaper didn't help matters. Neither did a bruising 2015 New York Times investigation into Amazon's workplace culture. Leaked, intimate details about Bezos' sex scandal clouded his aura too.

They were suddenly getting their entire business model scrutinized after years of mostly glowing coverage."

"Amazon is on its heels," said Zephyr Teachout, a professor at Fordham Law School and a critic of Amazon's HQ2 plans in New York who has also opposed one of its chief proponents, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. "There are many reasons it pulled out, but one of them has to be that they were suddenly getting their entire business model scrutinized after years of mostly glowing coverage."

The goodwill Amazon gained over the years through its fast delivery and low prices evaporated enough that New Yorkers protested its arrival in their city. Large, taxpayer-funded subsidies to bring Amazon to New York may have been a step too far. An Amazon spokesman did not comment for this article beyond its public statement.

"They treat sellers like Monsanto/Bayer treats farmers; workers like Walmart, and politicians like Foxconn," Teachout said. "It's a triple negative that will only grow as people learn more."

It's possible Amazon's HQ2 180 won't be viewed as a failure in the future. Amazon put relatively little money into the project, and it hasn't broken ground on any businesses. The Fire Phone probably cost Amazon more money than HQ2 in the end.

But Amazon took one on the chin Thursday. It's a financial success story now, but Amazon's reputation has been damaged.


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