Is the Pursuit of Perfection Holding you Back from Success?

Are you a perfectionist?

Do you find yourself constantly pursuing that 100% percent marker?

The truth is, I think we all have some level of perfection-seeking inside of us.

We can’t help it. We’re just wired that way.

But the pursuit of perfection is a funny thing because it just might be the thing that’s holding you back from achieving great things in life.

Let’s dig in for a bit.

I, myself, am naturally very picky and extremely detail-oriented. In my mind, things need to be done to absolute perfection or there’s no point of doing them at all…

Although I find this pursuit keeps me focused and driven, a lot of the time it also holds me back because, as we all know…

True perfection is unnatainable.

Whether you are looking to lose weight or learn a new language, there are steps you can follow. There is a process. A system.

If you have the dedication and work ethic to follow the steps in the process and if you have the patience to stay within the system for the necessary amount of time, you will succeed (barring some unforeseen circumstances).

But how much effort are you willing to put in?

A better question might be how much effort does it take to stay within the system?

Take the idea of learning a new language as an example and bring in Pareto’s Principle. Pareto’s Principle of 80/20 dictates that 80% of the results in any endeavor come from 20% of the effort.

According to this post by Tim Ferriss,

“To understand 95% of a language and become conversationally fluent may require 3 months of applied learning; to reach the 98% threshold could require 10 years.”

So to get 3% better results, you need to put in 4000% more effort!

Whether that 3% is worth the extra 4000% effort is yours to decide, but I’m leaning towards HELL NO.

What I’ve come to discover is that pursuing perfection is far from ideal.

It actually might be holding you back from achieving any results at all. 

Introducing the law of 80% effort.

This little law (which I’ve taken the privilege of naming), states that:

To get acceptable results in the endeavor of your choice, you need to follow the steps in the process at least 80% of the time.

What this means is that to get satisfactory results, it is not necessary to try to stay within the system 100% of the time. There is no need to be perfect.

If you can follow the steps in the system 80% of the time, you will be successful.

Note: When I say system, I’m simply referring to the series of steps or actions that you are required to take consistently to achieve a goal or an objective. There can be numerous systems that may lead you to the same end point, but one can be more efficient than the other.

So how does this apply to building a better body?

Well, let’s take a look at an example.

Take the idea of building muscle. The (really) simplified process (or system) for building muscle looks something like this:

  • Train 2 days on, one day off with lower weights and lower rest periods to initiate sarcoplasmic hypertrophy (see details),
  • Consume 3,500 quality calories per day (see details),
  • Repeat for a set period of time.

Now, depending on your goals, you will be going through the steps in this system for a specific duration of time. It took me 8 weeks to gain 19lbs. The greater the goals, the longer the process should last.

Let’s say you’re going to be in a muscle building phase for six months. The law of 80% effort states that you don’t have to consume 3,500 calories every single day for six months. You don’t have to train 4-5 times per week every week.

All you have to do is stay within the system and follow those steps 80% of the time and you will build muscle. So if life happens and you have a shitty day where you consume only 1,500 calories or you happen to miss a training day in some weeks because you’re busy, don’t fret. Simply get back to following the steps in the process as soon as you can and keep going. Things will happen for you if you just keep going.

The reason this law works is because it plays right along with human psychology. Here are two things to consider…

First we look at humanity’s innate necessity to make mistakes.

My belief is that we are genetically inclined to fail. We’re simply wired to make mistakes. Why? Because mistakes allow us to grow. They allow us to learn, to expand and to adapt to change. Failure is just a sign that you are on the right path to success.

So what happens when you pursue perfection and you fail? You tend to bring out feelings of frustration and doubt. You put your mind in an environment that is not suitable for growth.

But when you follow the law of 80% effort, what you do is you leave some room for error. You leave room for growth and for expansion. You allow mistakes to happen. 

Essentially, you give yourself a better chance to succeed.

The second thing we look at is our unfortunate willingness to quit. That’s what we do best. When things are good, we keep going. But as soon as shit hits the fan, we get out. We quit and move onto something else.

When you pursue perfection, you make things really difficult for yourself. By not giving yourself room to breathe, you’re basically setting yourself up to quit. The harder things are – or the harder it is to follow the steps in the system – the more likely it is that you will not stick with it long enough to see progress.

But when you apply the law of 80% effort, you make things easier on yourself. You give yourself some room to breathe. You allow yourself to take days off when things get rough.

Once again, you give yourself a much better chance to succeed.

This law applies to just about anything. Anytime you want to develop a new habit, learn a new skill or make some sort of change, if you put in 80% of the effort that is necessary – if you follow the steps in the process 80% of the time – you will reach substantial levels of success.

If the pursuit of perfection is holding you back from getting the results you want, maybe it’s time to try something new. The law of 80% effort is guaranteed to give you the biggest bang for your buck.

Are you a perfection seeker? What are your thoughts on the law of 80% effort? Do you think it is feasible? I’m curious what you think. Please share your comments below.

10 thoughts on “Is the Pursuit of Perfection Holding you Back from Success?”

  1. The perfect is the enemy of the good!

    I totally agree with this. My philosophy with most things (including health and fitness) is that “90% is perfect, 75% is good enough.”

    The insane amount of effort you have to put in to get from 90% to 100% is unrealistic for most people, who would be happy with just 75%. But pushing it up another 5% is probably the best way to get the most bang for your buck! 🙂

  2. I think it’s about putting 100% in the right things. Prioritizing and then going full out makes more sense to me than just going 80% of the way and saying that’s good enough. So for me choosing the one or two details that matter then making those as perfect as possible.
    Thanks for getting me to think about where I place my efforts Srdjan.

    1. Hey Kevin, you bring up an excellent point. Sometimes we try to do so many things at once that it becomes difficult to know where to prioritize our efforts.

      I think it’s always important to give it your all in any goal you are trying to achieve. The only problem with pursuing goals such as weight loss is that these things are very long term. In my opinion, it is not possible to do everything you are required to do 100% of the time. By aiming for that 80, I don’t think you are settling for ‘good enough.’ Instead, you are creating a buffer zone for yourself. You are giving yourself room to make mistakes, to fix them and to learn from them. Essentially, you make it harder for yourself to quit.

      I like the idea of focusing on one or two things at a time though. I think that’s a great takeaway. Thanks for your comment!

  3. Yes, I do tend to be too much of a perfectionist, and things take me far too long to do because of this. So I never seem to have enough time to do what I need to do. I am aware of it and am trying to address it.

    I came across Fred Pareto’s 80/20 law a number of years ago in an entirely different context, but apparently it applies to just about everything. Indeed, 80% should be good enough to get the job done.

    1. That’s the beautiful thing about this law. You can apply it to practically anything. It’s funny because I was recently reading Mark Sisson’s book Primal Blueprint and he used the exact same percentage – 80%. I found that to be quite a coincidence. I guess great minds think alike 🙂

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