Muffling the Pesky Perfectionist in Your Head

Oye, who hasn’t suffered from that voice in their head constantly saying, “You need to tweak that a bit more. Add more detail and maybe change that shade from ‘school bus yellow’ to ‘aureolin’. Okay, good, and while you’re at it, you should probably change that blog theme one more time. 110th time’s the charm. Yes, that is a fact. Don’t argue with me. Focus. Why don’t you just change it back to the original? Maybe it’ll look better now than it did 3 days ago.”?

I see you nodding your head so I know that you feel me. (Let’s not discuss how I know you’re nodding your head…we have more important matters on our hands.)

My inner editor guy (and yes, for some reason, it’s a guy) wears glasses, is hunched over more often than not…mainly because he’s usually looking over my shoulder as I work…and is extremely nasty. (As in the mean kind, not the lack-of-hygiene kind). And lately, I’ve been considering putting a restraining order on him. But since our judicial system has yet to commence hearings for charges against figments of the imagination, I have to resort to writing out my pain here and thinking up crafty ways to elude him.

Part of that means I will actually share a couple of things that have helped me and hopefully you’ll get something out of this entry aside from my inane ramblings.

I have to admit though, these may or may not be original thoughts since I did go far and wide on the interwebs looking for ways others have combated perfectionism. But since only two things have worked for me, instead of providing you with a gigantic—and generic—list of helpful tips (because those can be found in abundance on Mr. Google), I’ll be a bit more personalized and share the two that have been working for me recently:

1. PRACTICE Imperfection

This has been huge for me. What do I mean by ‘practice imperfection’? Basically when you actually PRACTICE being imperfect. (Because after all, imperfection doesn’t come easily for perfect people like us. 😉 I keeeeed…well, maybe only a little.)

How do you practice imperfection?

Choose a task that has low (or no) stakes (preferably something you like doing, but still criticize yourself on because you…well, you’re crazy. Or at least you inner editor is.). Then, allow yourself to work on it with abandon and no judgement for an amount of time you think you can handle.

For example, I love writing. But I edit. A lot. So I followed the advice of writers everywhere and set a timer for 30 minutes and just wrote. I had no expectations and no one would see my work. It wasn’t really even work; just random thoughts that ran through my head. I was shooting for 1,667 words (to see if I had what it took to participate in nanowrimo one day) and I was surprised that I made it to 1,542 in just 30 minutes. A few other surprising discoveries I stumbled across on my wild adventures were:

  1. The only reason I didn’t hit the mark was because I couldn’t type fast enough to keep up with the stream of thoughts in my head. (Side note: I know writing 1,667 words for a story is much harder than just recording your stream of thoughts, but it’s just practice, remember? 😉 )
  2. Who knew I had so many thoughts in my head?
  3. Even bigger whammy: who knew I had so many interesting, useable-for-blog-entries thoughts in my head?
  4. Contrary to a deep-rooted, fervent belief I held…the world did NOT end when I left my work unedited.

And that last little bit of discovery, my friend, was what made it all worthwhile. Just one session has created a huge change in me. I am more willing to do a task without editing or if I DO edit, it’s kept to a minimum. More concretely, I’m a bit looser in my writing (this blog piece was written with minimal editing) and even more relaxed in my interactions with others. Weird how the change shows up in other aspects of life. But oh-so-awesome.

Bottom line: Choose a low stakes task and allow yourself to work on it with no expectations/pressure. Use the time limit as an excuse for the results being sucky. (And usually, the results aren’t as bad as you thought they would be.)

2. Do ONLY the Essentials (by making it a race)

Set a time limit, then see how much you can get accomplished. Yes, this is part of the last tip, but before you start throwing dirty looks at your screen (because, like I said, I can see you and that’s just hurtful), I’ll try and elaborate and hopefully I can convey the slight distinction.

The first tip focuses on getting you to perform a task without editing yourself, to free fall on anything you choose to work on. You don’t necessarily need to set a time limit, but it’s suggested in order to provide you with an excuse for the possibility of shoddy work that may result (which—and I reiterate for no good reason—is not as bad as you thought it would be). And okay, maybe also stabilize your cortisol levels by minimizing the time spent in an ‘unedited’ world. You know, if you’re completely new to that place and have yet to realize how amazing it is. Or for later, if you start getting addicted and you need to put a cap on it.

In contrast, this tip concentrates on getting you to perform only the NECESSARY parts of mundane/routine tasks. As a perfectionist, I’m pretty sure you can turn even cleaning a countertop into a whole extravaganza. To the point where sometimes, you don’t even want to start on it because you’ve blown it completely out of proportion in your mind. In which case, if you set a limit to the amount of time you can spend on the task, you will have to cut all the unnecessary things you mentally added which resulted in you assuming fetal position on your couch instead of actually…doing…anything.

Example: Clean your dresser for only 15 minutes. No going onto drawers, no wiping down every single bottle on top of it first with a duster and then with a wet wipe. Just wipe the mirror, dust off the bottles, wipe down the counter, place items back on. Done. Just the bare-boned essentials.

This basically just keeps you from digging too deep, overthinking, or adding extra bells and whistles. Set the time, figure out what you can do that would give you the maximum results, and then race to get it done. Result: you actually get stuff done.

Phew, this ended up being more long-winded than expected. It’s a slightly unedited piece that I’m sending out into the ether (bon voyage, little one!) so I can live what I write. Hope it helps someone out there! Good luck!

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