“Don’t worry, be crappy” — A simple tool to overcome perfectionism when building new habits

Olof Ekman
Jul 22, 2020

There’s a video version of this idea explained here if you prefer that!

I used to think that there were perfectionists and non-perfectionists. But the more I work with people, the more it seems that we are all somewhere on the spectrum.

Perfectionism isn’t necessarily a good or a bad thing. Sometimes it helps us by pushing us to new levels. And sometimes it gets in the way with unrealistic standards that are impossible to live up to.

When it comes to implementing some type of change or habit into our lives, it seems like perfectionism almost always gets in our way.

For any action to become a habit, you need to do it over and over and over again consistently for the brain to learn that this thing you are doing is beneficial and worth keeping up.

At the same time, it’s very hard to be perfect each day. Sometimes you feel great and motivated, and it’s easy to stick to that thing you said you would do. On other days, you feel overwhelmed, tired, or hungover and don’t feel like doing what you set ourselves up to do. So you skip it.

And the reason we skip in those situations is often that we have a fixed idea that if we can’t do it perfectly as we said we would do it, there’s no point in doing it all.

“If I can’t go through this door, there’s no other way!”

This is how perfectionism gets in the way of building new habits. Because when you skip once, you are far more likely to skip again, and then it is harder and harder to stay consistent. And consistency is what makes any action eventually turn into a habit.

I’ve seen people deal with this issue over and over again while working with them in The 1-Month Habit Experiment. We ALL do this.

So to avoid skipping becoming a habit of yours, there’s a very simple yet effective way to get around this.

The “Don’t worry, be crappy” approach

Let’s say you want to be fitter and you set out to do 50 pushups each day. In the beginning, you are doing great and sticking to your goal.

Then one morning you wake up and don’t feel like doing 50 pushups. So you skip it because you think that you need to do it perfectly for it to be worth your time.

The thing is when trying to build a new habit, ‘perfect’ is not that important. But, as mentioned above, consistency is vital.

So rather than skipping whatever you set yourself out to do when you don’t feel like it, just do it poorly. Or, as Olga, a participant from the 1-Month Habit Experiment put it, “don’t worry, be crappy!”.

Don’t feel like doing 50 pushups? Don’t worry, be crappy and do 5 pushups.

Don’t feel like meditating for 15min? Don’t worry, be crappy and meditate for 3 min.

Each brick does not need to be perfect, just laid.

Of course, you should aim to do what you set out to do, but on days when you don’t feel your best, do what you can. So rather than thinking “I can’t do it perfectly so what’s the point of doing it at all”, think “don’t worry, be crappy” and just do something.

That way you can keep consistent, even on days you feel crappy. And there will be days you will be feeling crappy, so it helps to have a plan.

Most likely you will also notice that once you have done those 5 pushups, you realize you can actually do another 10. Or even 45. But by telling your brain you are just doing 5, it feels easy enough to make it happen.

On the days you can only muster 5, remember to be happy with that. Be happy for showing up for yourself. Remember it will pay-off big time later. Not doing it because you can’t do it perfectly won’t, because in most cases you won't be doing it at all later.

So the next time you feel like not doing that thing you said you would do, “don’t worry, be crappy”. Give it a try next time you hear the perfectionist whisper in your ear and let me know how it goes!

Participants from The 1-Month Habit Experiment learning from each other and having fun while at it!

Want to learn more tools and techniques to help you be successful with building habits to get you where you want? Join The 1-Month Habit Experiment to learn the science behind habits, put what you learn into practice by experimenting, equip yourself with the skill of habit formation, and expand your self-awareness. And It’s fun! The picture above is proof of that! The next one starts on July 22nd and runs monthly throughout the year.

P.S — if you feel like your perfectionistic tendencies have got in the way of achieving things in life, this trick is a good starting point. But if it’s controlling your life in a way that you feel is really unhealthy, you could benefit greatly from working with a therapist or coach.

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