Self-criticism & negative self-talk. Instead of being proud, excited or encouraged about doing a great job, making real effort, progress or learning, you might be constantly comparing your work to the work of others, fixating on achieving flawless results or beating yourself up for not having achieved that. You’re holding yourself up to impossibly high standards — and I say ‘impossibly’ because it’s just not going to happen. There’s always room for further improvement and that’s what life is about.
Many successful people are perfectionists. At the same time, they have the ability to say “Done is Better Than Perfect” and just complete and wrap up a project. What is the best way to overcome the stalling and procrastination that perfectionism causes? How does one overcome the fear of potential critique or the fear of not being successful? In this interview series, called How To Get Past Your Perfectionism And ‘Just Do It’, we are interviewing successful leaders who can share stories and lessons from their experience about “how to overcome the hesitation caused by perfectionism.
As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Maya Zack.
Maya is a business mindset coach, hypnotherapist and peak-performance specialist for women who want to set up or who are already running their own business. Based in the UK, she works internationally, helping women entrepreneurs let go of fears, limiting stories or beliefs standing in their way and get the needed confidence, clarity & focus to sustainably grow and hit their goals. She uses a unique combination of tools to create change on the deepest, subconscious level so that new ways of thinking, feeling and behaving quickly become automatic and effortless. Her business mission is to contribute to a future world where women are freer — personally, professionally, creatively and financially. More about her & her work can be found on
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
Thank you so much for having me!
My growing up was not a particularly happy one. I mostly grew up in Israel where I always somehow felt foreign, and coming from a pretty dysfunctional family, I never really felt a sense of connection or security there either. Even though I had a handful of good friends, I was mostly an outsider in social circles. So I grew up feeling alone, like I can only trust and count on myself and like I needed to take care of myself because there was no one else who would do that. Although that wasn’t easy, it actually made me independent and pretty detached from the need to belong or conform.
At the age of 18 I had no choice but to join the mandatory military service for almost two years. I struggled a lot during this time and became obsessed with the idea of ‘freedom’. I couldn’t wait for the day I’d be out of there, making my way in the world as an independent adult. When I was finally released, I very quickly realized that I was still not ‘free’ — to be myself, do things I wanted to do or express who I wanted to be.
It became clear to me that it was me in my own way. Traumatic experiences, anger, fear and self-hate were basically driving me. I was deeply insecure, had issues with trust and genuine communication and struggled with showing any kind of emotion other than anger.
But I had a big realization when I asked myself the question: who or what would I be if I didn’t have these memories? That’s when I understood, that in a way, all those limitations were only past stories I kept revisiting or telling myself. I could see that in the present moment, they were all made up. The idea that without those memories of ‘who I was’, I could in fact be free, a completely new person — the person I wanted to be, was disturbing to me but also very exciting. Of course, I couldn’t just ‘lose’ the memories, but I decided I didn’t need to identify with them anymore.
That’s what kicked off my personal-development journey, and since I also always had a fascination around how the mind works, this led me to self-hypnosis, and later on after settling in the UK, to becoming a hypnotherapist and performance coach.
I know that my challenging childhood experiences have given me a deep sense of trust in myself and in following my own path. I never struggled with being alone, which is quite a big advantage. I spent a lot of my time isolated and I know this also contributed to my sense of taking responsibility for myself, as well as to my self-exploration and awareness.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson. This is basically what I live by — you’re always free to be whoever you want to be. You’re not limited to your past or to ideas of who you are (or more accurately, were — as they’re all based on memory). Nothing is stopping you other than your own mind barriers, and those limitations are imaginary in the present moment. You already have all the resources within you to create the person you want to become and so it is a choice and a decision. In fact, I’d argue you already are the person you want to become — because it’s simply your true self wanting to come out, be free and express itself.
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
Around that time I was released from the military service, I came across the classic book ‘The Power of your Subconscious Mind’ by Dr. Joseph Murphy. I don’t know how or why we had it at home but no one read it and it wasn’t taken seriously. But when I picked it up, I was immediately hooked. It’s a pretty basic introduction into how to access the deeper levels of your mind and using these to take charge of your life and create yourself and your experience as you like by following simple processes. I didn’t resonate with some religious references (though I can understand one’s interpretation of where a ‘higher’ intelligence comes from), but otherwise everything made complete sense to me and I started following the exercises quite ‘religiously’. Gradually, these kinds of practices completely changed my life. Not only my personal life, but of course it also led me to my professional path.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
1. Confidence & self-belief. Of course, this took me some time to develop. But even when I was feeling insecure, somewhere I always had an underlying sense of confidence and trust, whether in myself & my ability to overcome any of my challenges, or ‘in life’ that always continues shifting — I knew that where I am today is not where I’ll be tomorrow.
It was only when I truly felt comfortable in who I really am, that I started experiencing big shifts in my business. Not only was I able to easily and consistently show up, speak in front of crowds or simply do a better job with my clients, but this attracted a larger audience. Confidence sells.
2. A positive, growth-mindset. I knew that building my own business wasn’t going to be an easy ride. I knew there was going to lots of challenges, trying and ‘failing’. But the idea of freedom and being independent was more important. So I made a commitment to continue on, no matter what, with an open and curious mind. I made friends with experimenting, taking risks and feeling uncomfortable, and made sure I was asking the right kind of questions such as ‘What (else) can I do to…?’. Failure doesn’t exist as far as I’m concerned, only the process of learning.
3. The ability to focus. This goes way beyond focusing on tasks without distractions or being in a state of flow. What I really mean by this is the ability to take charge of your mind — directing your attention wherever you want it to go. This allows me to keep positive and be able to choose which thoughts to ‘follow’; to use what I call ‘intentional imagination’ to bring clarity, create states of high motivation & keep heading towards my goals; choose which beliefs I want to have; not be concerned with what others think of me or comparing myself to others (as I simply focus on my ‘own business’), and being able to be in the present rather than in the past or future. Intentional focus basically allows me to direct my mind’s attention to what will serve me rather than not.
It’s important to point out though, that these ‘traits’ are actually skills & resources available to anyone — and they can all be learned and developed!
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Let’s begin with a definition of terms so that each of us and our readers are on the same page. What exactly is a perfectionist? Can you explain?
A perfectionist is someone who feels a need to do things or complete tasks so that they are completely flawless; so that they are done so well, there’s no room for improvement. They view imperfect action or results as not being good enough or as a failure. This aiming to be perfect is very different to high achievers aspiring to be excellent at what they do because as opposed to high achievers, they feel or believe that they have to be perfect in order to be validated, accepted, approved of or loved.
The premise of this interview series is making the assumption that being a perfectionist is not a positive thing. But presumably, seeking perfection can’t be entirely bad. What are the positive aspects of being a perfectionist? Can you give a story or example to explain what you mean?
Perfectionism, to a degree, can of course push you to do your absolute best and to aim to create or produce something of the highest quality. If a task is detail or data oriented — then perfectionism can also be an advantage, making sure there are no errors. Eliminating this kind of risk can be hugely important as sometimes ‘small’ mistakes can have a very big negative impact.
What are the negative aspects of being a perfectionist? Can you give a story or example to explain what you mean?
Being a perfectionist creates a whole lot of mental and emotional challenges, which can actually create high levels of anxiety and depression.
1. Self-criticism & negative self-talk. Instead of being proud, excited or encouraged about doing a great job, making real effort, progress or learning, you might be constantly comparing your work to the work of others, fixating on achieving flawless results or beating yourself up for not having achieved that. You’re holding yourself up to impossibly high standards — and I say ‘impossibly’ because it’s just not going to happen. There’s always room for further improvement and that’s what life is about.
2. Self-frustration, anger & inner conflict. You’re facing a lose-lose situation. You feel angry at yourself for either procrastinating or avoiding taking an action, but then if you do complete it, you then put yourself down for the output not being good enough. There’s really no winning.
3. Having ‘I’m not good enough’ type of beliefs and feelings of shame driving you. You might think that being or doing things perfectly will help you feel better. In practice — this kind of black & white mindset (where imperfect means failure) perpetuates the problem and makes it even worse.
4. You might be constantly worrying about other’s opinions and be driven by fear of judgment. You keep comparing yourself to others. You feel like you can never live up to expectations. Consciously, you might think that it’s your own standards you want to live up to, but the truth is, even when it seems like these are your own, this subconscious programming actually comes from what you regard as ‘acceptable’ according to others’ perspective. So you keep needing approval from others or to prove yourself to them to make you feel good about yourself.
This means you’re putting your self-worth in other people’s hands and out of your control (where it really is). And because your self-esteem is tied to achievements which you’re less likely to experience having this mindset, it continues to stay low, and so you want approval even more. It’s a very vicious cycle.
5. Discomfort, pressure, stress & fear around failure and the process of learning means you easily get discouraged and that you don’t allow yourself to take on constructive criticism, risks, or of course, make any mistakes. This leads to there being far more limited possibilities out there for you, less opportunities to grow or take different directions. As a result, you’re of course far less likely to achieve your goals or enjoy new experiences.
From your experience or perspective, what are some of the common reasons that cause a perfectionist to “get stuck” and not move forward? Can you explain?
Perfectionists can feel that nothing they do is worthwhile unless it’s flawless. Worse, they feel they’re personally a failure, or unworthy if they don’t achieve perfect results.
So when facing a task, this immediately creates fear, stress, pressure & overwhelm around not knowing how to make things perfect (and of course, there’s no answer to this because the idea of perfection is false). Then this leads to avoidance or procrastination of taking any action at all because you feel that action or output won’t be good enough.
If you did manage to take some action, you might still be in a state of avoidance of completion of the task. So you end up either not moving forward at all, or taking a far longer and more challenging time that could have already produced some great results and led to the next development step or even the next level of success, which is of course what you wanted in the first place.
Negative self-talk or self-shaming is never going to encourage you or push you forward in a constructive way. Even if you did experience some success, internally you’ll still be struggling, in fear of ‘losing’ that success and your self-worth as a result. Sometimes this causes even worse avoidance of action after that success.
The difference between high achievers and perfectionists is that high achievers are driven by a desire to get closer to their goals. They’re happy with any accomplishments and big or small steps made in the right direction. They can appreciate and enjoy the process itself.
Perfectionists, on the other hand, are driven by the fear of not reaching their goals. They only see the end goal rather than the process, and see anything less than a perfectly met goal as a failure which causes action-paralysis.
Here is the central question of our discussion. What are the five things a perfectionist needs to know to get past their perfectionism and “just do it?” Please share a story or example for each.
1. Your mind is a learning machine — that’s literally what it’s for. So adopt a learning or growth mindset & practice being curious. You were born keen to learn & experience. You had no issue with trying & ‘failing’. You didn’t judge yourself. Everything was new, but you just went for it. You were driven by that curiosity and you were open. And it was natural. Success is not about getting it right, but about making progress moving towards excellence.
The growth mindset is all about potential & possibility. It’s about changing your inner conversation from “I can’t do it” to “How can I do / improve this?” or “What can I do to learn more?” This attitude has been shown to predict achievement — so remember taking imperfect action actually makes your success far more likely! Make your goal learning instead of the result you’re after — so that either way, you set yourself up for success each and every time!
Also remember that you don’t need to ‘create’ this kind of confidence out of nothing — which might sound like hard work. Instead, as you recognize that it’s naturally inherent in you as a human, you simply need to remove beliefs you’ve accumulated along your way in order to uncover what’s always already there. Now this sounds easier & faster!
For example, I wanted to create my own website. My motivation at the time was to save money on that. I’m not a website builder and I had some aversion then to some techy stuff because I simply didn’t have the knowledge or skills. There was definitely a lot of head-banging against the wall… I launched my first version — and I wasn’t very happy with it. But since it was completed, I could clearly see exactly what I wanted to improve and I gradually figured things out. This website has seen three incarnations since then and not only am I very happy with the result (and the fact I did it myself) but having done it now four times, I actually really enjoy it (and have even been asked to design for others!).
Another example is of course marketing — as a business owner you’ll absolutely be doing things that won’t get the success you want. What works for one business doesn’t necessarily work for another. But trying and ‘failing’ is really the only way to find out what does work for you, and of course this needs to be tweaked and improved to continue getting results.
2. There’s a misconception that you need to feel confidence before you can take an action. But the truth is confidence comes after, not before doing something. Especially if you’re facing doing something for the first time, there’s always going to be a bit of healthy uncertainty. I say ‘healthy’ because it means you’re stretching yourself to learn and beyond what you already know. So remind yourself you can’t be arriving at your destination when you’ve only just started your journey. If you’re inexperienced, it’s just not going to be your best work ever. It just isn’t — and that’s not only ok, but completely normal. Do you think top achievers, performers, business or sports people got it all right from the start? Of course not. They practiced, over and over.
In my first ever ‘public’ speaking event (if you can call it that — only 5 people showed up!) I was feeling nervous, insecure and self-conscious. It was far from perfect. It was ok. But my level of confidence already went a lot higher right after that because I recognized the world didn’t crash over me and I also identified what I could do a lot better. Since then I’ve given countless talks and presentations which today I don’t even give a second thought about — it feels completely comfortable and natural. Yet, even now I still know there’s always room for more improvement taking it to the next level of great! In fact, had I thought I’d already achieved perfection I would’ve probably rested on my laurels and subsequently continued on doing less well.
3. Remembering the bigger picture will help to lower the significance of any one single action. For example, when I made my first ever webinar, I was nervous because of course I wanted it to be amazing and draw lots of clients in. I actually procrastinated making it for months. It was because of this type of thinking that ‘my life depends on this one video’ that I was reluctant to release it to the world. But once I started thinking of the bigger picture & perspective, so say I might be making a hundred videos in my business, one out of a hundred wasn’t that threatening at all. And again, once I started making videos and felt more skilled at it, I really started enjoying it!
4. In the end, you’re only left with your own experience, your own thoughts and feelings, not others’. So you need to let go of others’ expectations & define your own success. Deal with fears or beliefs around not being good enough. Believe in yourself, that you’re doing just fine where you’re at and that you’re on your own, right path to improvement. Take your focus away from others and onto just that — your own journey of development.
5. Recognize that success or achievement and your self-worth are two separate and very different things. Do you perceive a baby or child to be less worthy or have less value because they’ve not perfected a task or haven’t yet achieved anything? Of course not. A better standard to hold yourself up against might be how you live up to your own values or what kinds of intentions drive you. Mixing these two up creates a lot of completely unnecessary pressure and shame. So identify and remove beliefs that are keeping your self-esteem low.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
For my master’s degree, I conducted experimental research on the topic of using hypnosis to help university students reduce their anxiety around studies & exams and achieve better academic performance. The study was small but showed potentially significant positive results.
My plan afterwards was to take both hypnosis and other self-development tools into universities — and I thought it was a great time for it too because mindfulness had become hugely popular for both managing well-being as well as for better performance and was successfully being brought into many academic institutions.
However, seemed hypnosis was still an idea ahead of its time. This is probably to do with lack of awareness around it, misconceptions and how it’s often portrayed in the media. This venture didn’t work out for me (thought I didn’t see this as a failure — but it simply directed me to do something else!).
So a movement I’d really love to see is something around bringing self-development into mainstream and higher education and teaching people how to most effectively ‘use their minds’. The mind is the most powerful tool we have to create our life and experience yet curiously we’re not taught how to use it. I’d love to see this happening in conjunction with specifically promoting more confidence, self-expression, self-regulation and creativity.
We prioritize and focus so much on conformity, competition and productivity in our society. I think a lot of the crises we face both as individuals as well as collectively are directly linked to that, and it’s no wonder that both the personal-development & self-help industry are so big. Self-awareness, personal growth & expression have been neglected and even rejected in favor of economic growth, yet these are the most important ingredients in creating more health, peace, joy and contentment in our lives.
Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!
I’d love to have a chat with Carrie Green, founder of the Female Entrepreneur Association. I love how she’s built that kind of community which has been helping so many women grow their business. I like her genuine and honest approach, having built her business over years — not trying to sell some overnight success story like many others I see in the industry. Truly inspiring and I know I could learn a lot from her.
How can our readers follow you online?
They can visit my website https://youcandoanything.co.uk
Connect with me on IG @mayazackmindset
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!