Tag Archives: perfectionism

Weekend wisdom 4: perfectionism meets comparison

A weekly review of things that came through my inbox that I found interesting and want to remember.

Perfectionism has been the major theme in the things that have caught my eye over the last couple of weeks and I think I’m calling an uneasy truce with it now that I’ve come to understand what it is. After much thinking and writing, I thought I was done with it and that it was time to move on to other things that were grabbing my attention. To put it in the words of a friend who I’d been talking about this with recently, I thought I had kicked that shit to the kerb.

But perfectionism isn’t done with me yet and so the lessons keep coming. It’s probably good that they do, because I don’t think you ever truly “recover” from perfectionism. You have to constantly be on your guard that its voice doesn’t start speaking to you again and that, if it does, you don’t start listening to it. And one way of doing that is to have the message that perfect is the enemy of the good (or done is better than perfect, whichever way you want to look at it) constantly reinforced because reinforcement is how the old pattern of perfectionist thinking got entrenched in the first place.

So, the first thing on Monday morning I saw was this article by Lisa Byrne on perfectionism, in which she says that she sees perfection as being the opposite of excellence. This rang a bell with me because I see my pursuit of perfection as a misguided pursuit of excellence. That is, where I thought I was seeking perfection I was really seeking excellence. I’m still processing my thoughts on this so that might not make too much sense, but I was interested to see what Lisa had to say.

Lisa says that perfectionism leads us to compare ourselves with somebody else (real or imagined) and that when we do this we’ll always come up short because we are not them. (There’s a theme emerging in these posts, isn’t there?)

In her post, Lisa writes of an interview she did with the shame researcher Brené Brown. Brené observed that we are all unique. We’re made up of different parts and we’re all many different things: mother, father, sister, brother, partner, worker, volunteer, writer, gardener, cook, artist, singer, teacher . . . whatever we are. There is no exact replica of us in the world and, therefore, no one to directly compare ourselves to. So instead, Brené says, she (we) (I) compares one part of herself to the “perfect” version of that part. So she might compare her writing to the World’s Best Writer’s work, her volunteer work to Mother Teresa’s work, her research to the World’s Best Researcher’s work, and her photography to the work of the Artistic Genius I referred to last week (no, she doesn’t, that’s what I do . . .).

And guess what? She concludes that she’s falling short in every area of her life because she compares each individual part of her life with the “top” parts of several different people’s lives.

The “comparee” might be a full-time artist who has spent their whole life learning their craft, and has been doing it 12 hours a day, seven days a week, for the last 25 years. They might have devoted their entire life to the service of others. They might be at home full-time with their kids . .  . and so it goes . . .

And hopefully you begin to see that you can’t be the Artistic Genius AND the World’s Best Researcher AND Mother Teresa AND the Gardening Guru AND be home looking after the kids all day because you don’t have 48 hours in a day or 14 days in a week to put in as much effort to each one of those things that you’d need to put in to reach the standard of one of those people in one of those areas. Even if you never slept, you wouldn’t be able to achieve at the level of all of those people in all of those things.

This reminded me of a time I was reading blogs about whole foods and trying to eliminate as much processed junk as I could. I thought I was doing pretty well until I read an article from a homemaker blogger, who said she milled her own flour because flour starts to go bad as soon as it’s milled and the fresher it is, the better.

My first thought was: Are you fucking kidding me? I make my own chicken stock, I am learning to bake bread, I buy hyper-expensive organic yogurt, I don’t buy packet sauces or tinned baked beans or frozen meals anymore, and I have my own chickens and now you’re telling me I have to Mill. My. Own. Flour.

At the time, I felt hopelessly inadequate beside this “homesteader”, who did absolutely everything from scratch, and wondered why I was bothering even trying because I could never achieve this level of food nirvana.

This week, as I reflected on how that had played out, I thought, hang on, if Brené Brown, world-renowned researcher and author, is comparing herself to others and finding herself falling short, then what hope is there for me in getting off the comparison hamster wheel?

And it hit me that maybe there isn’t. No matter how skilled I get at something, there will always be someone who is “better” than me, who knows more than me and who has been doing it longer. If I reach a level that I consider equal to theirs, then they will have moved forward too and I’ll still feel inadequate in comparison.

Comparison is a game we can’t win because the goalposts are always moving. Therefore, it’s a game that isn’t worth playing.

It’s a trap.

We compare ourselves unfavourably to other people because we’re comparing one part of ourselves to the only part of them that we see. When Brené Brown compares herself to the World’s Best Researcher or Barb compares herself to the Artistic Genius or the Homesteader Blogger, Brené and Barb are always going to feel inferior because they’re comparing a small part of their identities to what they perceive as being the whole of that person’s identity—that is, the part of that person’s identity that they show in public. (That was the only time I’m ever going to be mentioned in the same sentence as Brené Brown, so let’s just take that in for a moment . . . )

And you know what, if Brené thinks she comes up short against World’s Greatest Researcher, then I bet that the people I look up to have moments where they feel inadequate compared to someone else too. After all, they are human too. Homemaker Blogger might look at Artistic Genius the same way I do and feel like giving up her art because it’s not as good as theirs. World’s Best Researcher might look at Homemaker Blogger and feel terrible about their own food endeavours. Hell, Artistic Genius might sometimes feel totally incompetent in their own field because they aren’t Van Gogh or Ansel Adams. But they’re still in the same comparison trap that I’m in. They’re comparing their whole self with only a part of the other person’s identity.

One of my favourite expressions about this is that you can’t compare your cutting room floor footage with someone else’s highlight reel (thanks, Kendra). We don’t see the crap that the “comparees” made first, the struggle they’ve gone through to produce what they show us, the things that went wrong. We only see the finished product. We also don’t see the World’s Best Researcher pop in to Macca’s for drive-through on the way home every second night because they don’t have time to make dinner. We don’t see Homemaker Blogger’s pile of unfinished art and we don’t see Artistic Genius’s overgrown garden.

And that’s the way I have to deal with these comparisons whenever I hear that nagging little voice in my head tell me that what I’m doing isn’t as good as what . . . is doing.

So, after the initial guilt for using potentially tainted flour had worn off, I told myself that Homemaker Blogger devotes her entire life to raising her family, making a home and preparing the absolute best food she can. I am not this person, I am nothing like this person and my life is nothing like hers. For a start, I work outside the house. I have to, to pay for it. Therefore, doing home stuff is a much smaller part of my life than it is of hers. Just like I have less time to spend on my art than the Artistic Genius has and Brené has less time to volunteer than Mother Teresa did.

So rather than looking at World’s Greatest Researcher or Artistic Genius and thinking I’m useless in comparison and feeling deflated and defeated, I need to learn to acknowledge that someone else’s personal best is their personal best, not mine and that I should be striving for my personal best from the place I’m at, not that person’s personal best.

Rather than allowing it to make me feel inadequate, I can then use comparison as a motivation to do my own work and to get better. To shine my own light, not someone else’s. I can look at what it is I like about what they do and see if there’s something there that I can learn from. Perhaps I can buy better quality flour in smaller quantities and store it differently. If like the way the light falls in this artwork, maybe I can look for opportunities to incorporate that into my work. When I noticed that a writer has used words that flow with a certain rhythm, I can experiment with doing this and see if it works for me.

Comparison is a two-edged sword. When it inspires you and moves you forward, it’s a useful tool. When it deflates and demotivates you, it’s time to stop. Get off social media, stop reading blogs, take a break and focus on your own work. Forget about what everyone else is doing and go out and do what makes you happy.

And stop I will because that’s long enough to spend on one article from my inbox (which, incidentally, is still not at zero).

I had a couple of other strong messages grab my attention too this week. First, was an article from James Clear called Stop Thinking and Start Doing: The Power of Practicing More, which is a great reminder that you don’t get better at something by reading about it and thinking about it; you get better at it by doing it. The second theme that I saw in a couple of places was the importance of learning, which at first seems to contradict the message in James’ article, but this wasn’t as much about learning new skills as it was about broadening your world view through reading, exploring new ideas and getting out of your comfort zone. Here’s one of them by photographer David DuChemin, The Greatest Misconceptions in Photography.

19 for 2019: week 26 update

Coming up to the middle of the year, I’ve completed nine of my 19 things I wanted to do this year. That’s pretty close to half, although the pedant in me says that half of 19 is nine-and-a-half, which is rounded up to ten, so I should have completed ten things to be on track at the half-way point.

The realist says that’s ridiculous and that many of the things are more than half-finished so if you added in all of those to the mix, then the grand total would be way more than ten.

The pedant says that’s stupid and that a thing is either done or it isn’t done and only nine things are done. There is no part-done . . . and so I let my brain carry on its pointless argument while I actually sit down and do things. Or write about them, which isn’t really achieving anything. Well, it is. I like writing and I’m trying to improve, so any writing I do is helping me do this. I hope.

By writing these posts relatively quickly and publishing them, it’s also helping to reinforce the message in my brain that “done is better than perfect”, a concept I struggle with. I touched on this in my Weekend Wisdom post this week, and I lived the experience on Tuesday morning.

Tell me more, I hear you say.

To set the scene, I’ve been feeling more and more like I’m getting my walking back on track (see what I did there?) since I got sick in May and stopped doing my morning walks. I think it must be three weeks now, maybe four, when I’ve been for a walk every morning even if, on a couple of days, it was just to the end of the street because it was all I could do that day (because I slept through the alarm and had no time. True story).

On Tuesday, the “do what you can do” got taken to another level. It was freezing cold. I went outside for my walk at 5.45 and I could see frost on the road. What I didn’t realise was it was also on my driveway, which, although short, is steep. I discovered the frost pretty quickly when my feet started to slip out from under me and I just stopped myself from falling.

20190625 The frost that bit me edit

The frost that bit me

At first, I thought if I could just get to the road I’d be okay, but after three slips I still hadn’t got anywhere near the bottom of the driveway and I was worried about falling over. I slipped down my front stairs a few months ago and hurt my back really badly and I didn’t want to go through that amount of pain again.

I decided that walking wasn’t worth the risk of injuring myself and I stopped trying and went back inside. My fitness will not dramatically drop off because I missed one day. My health is my top priority, and I decided that if going for a walk presented a risk to my health that outweighed any benefit, I wouldn’t walk.

I told myself that I had walked to the extent that it was possible to walk that morning. I had followed the routine. I’d got up, got dressed and gone outside to walk.  Just like the days when I only get to the end of the street and that’s okay if it’s all I can do that day, on Tuesday I got out of the house and onto the driveway and, in the circumstances, that’s all I could have done. It was my personal best that day. It was different from what my personal best would have been the day before and different from what it would be tomorrow. But it was okay for that day.

Was it a perfect morning walk? No. Did I do the best I could do in the circumstances? Yes. Was I happy with that? Yes.

I’ve told myself time after time that done is better than perfect and that “done” looks different every time. It’s an antidote to the other voice in my head that whispers “it has to be perfect or it’s not worth doing”. That’s the voice that usually wins, despite every argument I throw against it.

But lately, I’ve been noticing a shift. The “done is better” voice is getting stronger and drowning out the whispers of the perfectionist. I’m starting to feel like it’s okay to call something done if I’ve done the best I can with what I had in the circumstances I was in at the time.

It’s one thing to know something and another thing entirely to believe it and to live your life by it and I wonder why, having known this is true for many years, I didn’t accept it sooner. How different my life might have been if I had fully accepted this belief 10 or 20 years ago. But I didn’t, and there’s no point wondering. I’m learning to accept it now, and how I take it forward into the rest of my life is what matters, not what might have been, because I can’t change that.

I suppose it’s part of the journey of life that it takes time to incorporate new beliefs into your way of thinking and behaving. You can see the same phrase over and over again, read countless articles that say the same things from different angles and sit there nodding your head, thinking, “I have to start doing this”, but when it comes down to it, you carry on as you always have because you don’t really believe it.

Changing long-held beliefs is like trying to change any other habit you’ve had for a long time and struggled to break. It doesn’t happen overnight. You don’t just wake up one morning and say, “hey, I’m not going to beat myself up for not being perfect any more” and never do it again, just like you don’t wake up one morning and decide to quit smoking and never do it again. (Well, I suppose some people do, but they are not me. I struggle with replacing behaviours that don’t support me with ones that do, so it comes as no surprise that I also struggle with replacing beliefs that don’t serve me with ones that do.)

I hope Tuesday morning is a turning point for me in my quest to overcome perfection. I hope that it has started to prove to me that it’s okay when my best isn’t really very good because what matters is that I did it, even though it wasn’t perfect. And that tomorrow I will have a chance to do it better. (And I did go for a walk in the middle of the day after the frost had gone.)

20190625 Hinsby Beach 2 edit

Lunch time walk

And so, to the pedantic perfectionist, which is still arguing with the realist, it’s half-way through the year and I’ve completed nine of my 19 things. Nine! Yay! You need to remember this was a wish list to guide me through the year, not a rigid set of goals that I had to achieve no matter what. Nine things completed and eight more in progress is tracking pretty well at the half-way point. So thanks for your thoughts but I’ll let that one go.

This week I only progressed three things.

Wait, no. I progressed three things. Three is good. I had a lot of other things on. I progressed three things on my wish list. Great!

I didn’t do any work on the photo course or Lightroom (things 1 and 19).

I’m working on trying to re-establish my evening routine and get to bed at a reasonable hour (thing 6) but I’m struggling turning my computer off at night when I’m not being productive, I’m just mindlessly scrolling and surfing. It might be relaxing but it’s not giving me the kind of rest that I really need.

I think I need to approach this with the “personal best” mindset, which is that any night where I get more sleep than I normally do is better than beating myself up because I didn’t turn the computer off at my scheduled shut down time and be in bed with the light off at precisely 10.30. No one will die if I’m still brushing my teeth at 10.35. The aim is a gradual shift into building the habit, just like I gradually got walking back into my life.

I stuck November’s collages into my photojournalist (thing 11) and I spent some more time tinkering with the draft list to go into the bucket list journal (thing 18).

20190628 Argyle & Davey St 754am edit

My favourite @hobartstreetcorners photo from this week

Status for week 26

  • Things completed this week: 0
  • Things completed to date: 9 (3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 9, 12, 13, 15)
  • Things I progressed: 3 (6, 11, 18)
  • Things in progress I didn’t progress:  5 (1, 2, 16, 17, 19)
  • Things not started: 2 (10, 14)

Weekend wisdom

One of the things I try to do on Saturday mornings is to go through the backlog of emails in my inbox that I haven’t read or dealt with during the week. I’m a slightly flawed follower of the inbox zero regime and I don’t often get to inbox zero but I do like to only have a small number of emails there that I can see all at once.

But I’m not here to talk about emails.

I’m on more email newsletter lists than I really need to be, many of them because I signed up for one thing and then never got around to unsubscribing from the list. Some of them I usually delete without opening unless the title of the email really grabs me, like one did this week. Some of them I glance through and some of them I read in more detail if I have time. Those are the ones where I often find little snippets of wisdom or inspiration. They often appear just at the right time when I’m grappling with an issue or a problem, which is kind of cool. (Still talking about emails . . . )

Sometimes I save the email in my extensive email library—but I’m not really sure why, because I never browse through my extensive email library. I usually file it away and never look at it again.

Sometimes I copy and past a couple of quotes into my journal so when I re-read it I’m reminded. But I wondered if there might be a better way to keep track of everything and I thought it might be fun to make a weekly blog post of quotes and information that I found interesting over the week.

So here’s instalment 1 of Weekend Wisdom.

Perfectionism and procrastination from Cassandra Massey,  which is not a website I regularly read, but the headline got my attention.

What interested me about this was talking about how we procrastinate because we can’t do the job perfectly or because the perfect conditions aren’t in place, so we don’t get the job done. And then we feel bad and try to do something to make us feel better, which is normally something that isn’t productive, like binge watching TV, endlessly scrolling through social media, having another glass of wine.

The podcast says that what to do instead of giving in to the bad feeling by “buffering” with one of these “false pleasures”, is to begin to tell yourself that you’re going to do the thing anyway and say, “I am not supposed to feel great about this right now. I am not supposed to be experiencing a positive emotion.”

Cassandra says:

Maybe it’s something that you haven’t done before. Maybe it’s a big project that you’ve been putting off for a long time. And so you’re experiencing a negative emotion and so just reminding yourself that that is okay, that that is part of the human experience.

When you can train yourself to allow that negative emotion and to do it anyway, you’re really building up a new skill and so the more that you do this, the easier it is going to be for you to follow through on things that you don’t feel like doing even though you know that they are going to lead to the result that you ultimately want.

I’ve been experiencing a lot of negative emotions this week and I think that reminding myself that it’s part of being human to feel like that is a good thing to keep in mind on the bad days. And linking it to procrastination, a thing that I am a master of, like this isn’t something I’ve heard of before.

20190621 Davey & Harrington St

One of this week’s photos from @hobartstreetcorners on Instagram

This one is from photographer Dan Milnor on the Blurb blog, which also served as a reminder for me to stop procrastinating because whatever I want to do won’t be perfect and just do it anyway.

Art is what you want it to be. A way of seeing the world, a way of thinking, a way of making something as pure expression, or something that has meaning.

Art is pure freedom. You can create and make anything your mind can dream up, and this acts as a counterbalance to many of the less than savory aspects of being human. Art also works as a translator, connecting people with varying opinions through the filter of light, shape, color, form, or concept.

The best way is to just start. Remember, there really is no right or wrong, only how you see the world, or an individual piece you are creating. Create as if you are the only person who will ever see the work. That way you allow for your real vision to shine through and not the vision you think people want to see.

Making art for art’s sake is a GREAT way to breakthrough creative plateaus. When left alone with no strings attached, you will create work that is pure you, and often times, this is the best work you will ever create.

And finally this week, some words from one of my favourite writers, James Clear, on the importance of showing up every day and mastering the fundamentals of whatever it is you’re trying to do.

It is so easy to overestimate the importance of one critical event or one “big break” while simultaneously forgetting about the hidden power that small choices, daily habits, and repeated actions can have on our lives. Without the fundamentals, the details are useless. With the fundamentals, tiny gains can add up to something very significant.

Nearly every area of life can be boiled down to some core task, some essential component, that must be mastered if you truly want to be good at it.

Mastery in nearly any endeavor is the result of deeply understanding simple ideas.

For most of us, the answer to becoming better leaders, better parents, better lovers, better friends, and better people is consistently practicing the fundamentals . . .

PS. I wasn’t going to post this at all because I didn’t have a snappy title for it. But I talked myself into it because if I’d waited until I had the right title, I’d still be waiting this time next year. Done is better than perfect.