Have you ever had this experience? You fully intend to do something. It’s a good thing to do, so you make plans to do it. And yet it just never seems to happen. Maybe the thought of doing it is overwhelming.
I did this just recently. I suggested a leader in my community make use of a theoretical model when creating and strategizing around change. She was open to the idea but wanted some concrete suggestions for how to do that, and I offered to draw up a few. I found some articles I knew would be helpful… and then they sat as open tabs in my browser for nearly two weeks.
Is that familiar? There’s a strategy that can be helpful (when I remember to do it).
It’s a superpower I’ve learned about called “Imperfect action.” Here’s how it works:
- I am faced with a daunting task.
- I hear myself think, “I don’t know what to do” and start to freeze up.
- Some other part of me responds, “Great! Let’s do it badly and then get better.”
- I tackle the task with freedom, knowing it doesn’t have to be ‘right.’
- I notice imperfections and problems.
- I tell myself it’s okay. Being a human being, I get to make mistakes. Package deal.
- I finish the task.
- People tell me it’s awesome!
That last one might be optional, but it happens a lot more than I expect. And frequently I keep working on it so “it” gets better and better.
So why do you suppose this superpower works so well?
For one thing, it errs on the side of the Growth Mindset.
Growth or Fixed Mindset?
According to researcher Carole Dweck, we have two primary mindsets about things, people, and ourselves. Either we believe that we are Fixed (the “fixed mindset”), or that we are Growing (the “growth mindset”).
A Fixed mindset means that we believe we are who we are (or it is what it is, or boys will be boys, or you can’t fix stupid). It’s a belief. Likewise, a Growth mindset means that we believe we are growing and changing; situations are constantly in flux, things do change over time, boys can learn to behave better, and stupid is just a label–not a representation of who or what a person is.
The fixed mindset doesn’t require accountability. It allows us to give up and let it go.
The growth mindset gives us a path forward. It tells us that we are changing and can continue to improve. If we aren’t ready now, we can become ready.
“I do strengths. If it isn’t my strength, I won’t bother.”
The strengths movement has encouraged us to focus on building our strengths and not spend too much energy trying to fix weaknesses. I agree, but sometimes this gets interpreted as a fixed mindset.
The growth mindset can embrace strengths philosophy. You and I can improve both our strengths and our weaknesses through focused practice and study. But, if something is a strength, that will improve a lot more and a lot faster than our weaknesses will improve. That’s okay!
I’ve recently relaunched my website, and it isn’t perfect. With a growth mindset, I can accept that those imperfections are evidence that I’m a real person, just like you, and have a lot to offer, just like you.
Imperfect Action is how we step into our power.
Waiting until we’re perfect is one of the important ways women stay small and play small. When we accept our imperfections and step forward anyway, accepting assignments and leadership and challenges, we become more fully ourselves. We allow ourselves to be seen. (And that is not an acceptable situation when you’re imperfect! –But only if you have a fixed mindset.)
If you know you have been playing small and missing the opportunities and power that have been available to you, a commitment to imperfect action is a powerful step you can take. Listen for all of the “What if?” objections that come to mind. What if I make them angry? What if they don’t like it? What if they don’t want me around any more? These fears are fueled by a fixed mindset, and they keep us boxed in,.
What if something bad happens? Well, it might, or it might not. If actual damage is done (probably unlikely), you can take action to make amends. More likely, you will have stepped into your power in a way that inspires and clarifies. Yes, there are people who count on you to play small because they don’t know how to truly own their power, themselves. But you cannot support them toward their own growth by agreeing to play small.
Imperfect Action requires self-compassion
Taking imperfect action requires a practice of self-compassion. When we begin to experience suffering at the hands of our inner critic, we must remind ourselves that none of us on this planet are perfect, though most of us wish we were.
Very little in this life needs to be exactly right. Precautions against infection in operating rooms, organ transplant surgeries, building rocket ships that take people into space… these things probably have to be perfect. But your presentation (or music or cooking or your decision to tell someone how you feel and what you want) is not likely to be one of those things.
It’s okay to take some time to discern whether or not perfection is important in your situation.
We must remember (and tell each other) that it’s okay when something isn’t perfect. Much can be changed tomorrow if necessary.
What task have you been avoiding? What have you procrastinated about? Could you get started today if you just embraced the growth mindset and did it imperfectly?
What have you been able to accomplish because you gave yourself permission to take imperfect action? Leave me a comment below and let me know!