walking on custard

One Weird Trick For Getting Over Perfectionism

22 Jul 2016

Photo by Mark Stosberg on Unsplash

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

Today I’m too tired to write a proper post, so my cunning plan is “just not to”.

Right now, there’s too much going on.

Yesterday was the anniversary of a friend’s death. My grandparents are both ill. I’ve worked hard this week, and still have a lot of tasks to do. I’ve been exercising, and while sometimes that gives me more energy, today it gives me less.

All this is my way of reminding myself that it’s okay if I don’t write THE BEST POST EVER right now.

In fact, ideally, this post would be less-than-ideal.

Writing something imperfect is a chance to demonstrate to myself that it’s okay not to be perfect, that being less than perfect is fine, and that perfectionism isn’t necessary.

(Yes, that WAS three ways of saying the exact same thing. Not ideal, but that’s alright!)

So I’m not going to redraft this post. I’m just going to dump it up as it appears.

Nothing Is Perfect Anyway

Of course, I’m not under the illusion that my posts are NORMALLY perfect!

Perfect doesn’t actually exist.

You can show me anything that you consider perfect, and I guarantee that someone will be able to point out a flaw in it.

(In fact, that sounds like a fun game! Feel free to comment with something you consider perfect, and I’ll have fun attempting to explain it isn’t! :D)

Still, let’s imagine I’m wrong about this…

Even if perfect WAS attainable, it would be impossible to maintain it.

By definition, I operate at my peak performance only some of the time.

Even if my peak reached as high as ‘perfect’ – which we can all agree it doesn’t, whatever area of life we’re talking about! – I would spend most of my time NOT being perfect, because I rarely reach my peak level at anything.

Demanding constant-peak-performance of myself is an awful idea.

And demanding constant perfection is just self-destructive. So…

The One Weird Trick

I don’t remember where I first heard this idea, but we can let go of perfectionism by attempting to draw perfect circles.

That’s right. Just get a piece of paper and a pen (or open up Paint), and draw the most-perfectest circles you can.

Let me have a quick go:

perfect circles

Damn it!

To a recovering perfectionist, this idea immediately sounds like hell. It’s a task that you’re guaranteed to fail.

But that’s the point. It forces us to stare reality in the face. We simply CANNOT do it.

Just as I can’t do the things my brain seems to expect me to do perfectly.

Sometimes my performance is going to be less than peak, and it’s NEVER going to be perfect.

And both of those things are simply okay.

Beware the Reverse Trap

Of course, there’s always a reverse trap hidden in any advice.

In this case, the opposite mistake would be to use this as an excuse to do nothing:

“I shouldn’t expect perfection, therefore I shouldn’t bother trying”

Instead, I should probably aim to use the maximum capacity I have at any given time, while remembering that it isn’t some imaginary perfect capacity that a super-version of me has in a fantasy world.

I know a lot of people who read this site struggle with perfectionism, so I’d love to hear your stories, thoughts and tips for dealing with it in the comments!

(Like I say, I don’t remember where I first heard this idea about drawing circles. Looking around I found this nice article which suggests that perhaps it goes back to old Zen ideas, which is pleasing. If I remember where I heard it, I’ll update this post.)

Neil Hughes

Neil Hughes is the author of Walking on Custard & the Meaning of Life, a comical and useful guide to life with anxiety, and The Shop Before Life, a tale about a magical shop which sells human personality traits.

Along with writing more books, he spends his time on standup comedy, speaking about mental health, computer programming, public speaking and everything from music to video games to languages. He struggles to answer the question "so, what do you do?" and is worried that the honest answer is probably "procrastinate."

He would like it if you said hello.

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