Using writing, and meditation, and ice cream, and reading, and dreams,

and a whole lot of other tools to rediscover who I am,

after six years living with a man with OCPD.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Too Perfect Tuesdays - Chapt 3 - Rising Above Perfectionism
Confronting Your Inner Saboteurs & Getting Your Work Done

from Dru Bloomfield at Flickr 
Is it better to run the "perfect" race, or to finish a great one?

This post continues with Rising Above Perfectionism: CONFRONTING YOUR INNER SABOTEURS & GETTING YOUR WORK DONE, from Chapter Three.

This series will look at a small snippet of The book on the Perfectionist Personality, aka The Obsessive Compulsive disordered Personality, aka OCPD, each week. Please follow along, leave your comments, engage more on the FaceBook website... whatever your heart calls you to do.

Too Perfect, When Being in Control Gets Out of Control by Allan E. Mallinger, M.D. and Jeanette DeWyze was published by Random House in 1992.  If you believe you are dealing with OCPD or someone who is "Too Perfect," whether that's you or a loved one, please buy a copy of the book and read it for additional insights that will not all be covered in these excerpts.

Rising Above Perfectionism

Whether you're writing a paper, painting a living room, or preparing a dinner for guests, if you're a perfectionist you tend to be haunted by such unconscious assumptions as: 
  • "I couldn't stand it if my work wasn't as good as X's."
  • "It's got to be great!"
  • "It would be intolerable for them to see me make a mistake."

You may be entirely unaware you're saying such things to yourself; they may sound completely foreign.  But from their silent place within such enduring, submerged beliefs govern many people's more visible behaviors and conscious concerns.

If you're such a person, what you need to know right now is: 
  • You are choosing to think these thoughts.
  • They are obliterating your chances at happiness.
  • You can start making significant changes right this minute, even with little or no "insight" into your obsessiveness.
For example, let's say you're writing a report or a paper.  Maybe you've always thought that a good written report includes every possible angle on the subject, answers every conceivable question, and reflects as much research as humanly possible.

Well, that's wrong.  And it's just that kind of thinking that will prevent you from reaching your creative and productive potential.

In most situations, the best report is the one that's done as well as possible within the given time limits.

If getting work done in a timely manner invariably proves to be difficult or painful, you've got to recognize that your way (perfection) isn't working.  So try this: every time one of those irrational beliefs ("It's got to be done flawlessly!") starts pushing in on you, push back.  Tell yourself, "No, it's got to be completed!" and keep moving.  Focus on how good it feels to make progress on the task.  Refuse to judge whether or not you are doing a terrific piece of work.  The beauty of finishing on time (or even ahead of schedule) is that you can go back and fine-tune later.  Think in terms of movement.

Give serious attention not just to doing the work, but scheduling it realistically.  Perfectionists tend to schedule their time as if they will perform ideally and can anticipate perfect conditions.  They assume, for example, that nothing will interrupt them, that fatigue won't hamper their efficiency, that they'll be able to move along at top speed.  <snip>  Accept that your project won't be, cannot be, as "perfect" as it could be if you had no deadline and no other responsibilities.  <snip>

Photo by horizontal.integration at Flickr
Imagine yourself swimming down a river, with the current, toward a goal.  You have to arrive there before dark, or it will be too late.  Whenever you get sidetracked by details or fine points, envision yourself losing the current and drifting slowly out of the main river into smaller streams.  They are seductive and interesting, but you lose momentum when you investigate them.  Get back into the main river and move into the central current again!

Do the finest piece of work you can, given the limitations of deadlines and the legitimate requirements of your health, family, social life, and leisure pursuits.  Remember that all of these dimensions are crucial to your enjoyment of life.

For me, too, part of me wants every page I write, every report I complete, to not just be good, or even excellent, but the best thing anyone has ever seen.

My ego needs to take a chill pill.  In the first place, that's simply not an achievable goal.  Even if somehow, I magically accomplished such a feat, and my work was perfect in my own eyes, the people doing the judging are subjective.  Always.  Even trained Olympic judges have differing opinions.

photo by RHColo_General at Flickr
There are long lists on the internet of books that were panned by critics and later adored by the general public.  Likewise movies, and art, and music... The one thing that is assured about any endeavor, is that everyone will have a different opinion about it.

You are choosing to think these thoughts.

The need/compulsion to be "the best ever" in every single endeavor is a thought that is chosen.

There is no Gold Medal awarded for the perfect grocery list.  Unless we are moving to the jungles for six months and forgot malaria medicine, leaving something off the list... not a tragedy.  Just stop by the store again later that day, or even later that week.

I would much rather have had the garage half-cleaned out than put off till it could be done "perfectly."  (In other words, postponed forever.)  When people at work need a report, getting it done on time is significantly more important than getting it done perfectly.  Maybe some numbers would change slightly, but when you need those figures for a budget, delay costs much more money than a slight variance.

I've heard of people with ironing baskets with baby clothes at the bottom of them - and the "babies" are now applying to college.  Yet they aren't willing to donate or store the baby clothes until they iron them... because?  This is distorted thinking, folks.

Forward movement, keep swimming, git'r done - whatever slogan works for you, apply it.  For most projects in life, a horseshoes & hand grenades (close enough is good enough) approach, rather than treating everything as if it's brain surgery, works best.  In tests, reports, cross-stitch, manuscripts - what's most effective is the broad strokes, first, then going back to fine-tune and add details, later.

That may not be the way you want to work.  It probably doesn't come naturally; it may take considerable effort to change your approach.  But it is the way to get things done.

Do you have inner saboteurs?  
Do you get so hung up on the details you can't finish things?