Overcoming Perfectionism

I was working on this blog post a couple of weeks ago, with the hope of publishing it before leaving to attend the Austin Songwriter’s Group Songwriting Symposium (awesome conference, by the way!).

As my ‘Things-To-Do-Before-The-Conference’ list grew longer, and the time frame to complete said list grew shorter, I began to feel the stress that comes with realizing there is absolutely no way to complete a three-page list of To-Do’s in one day!

Fortunately, I was able to pause long enough to recognize the irony in the situation.

Here I was working on a post about overcoming perfectionism, yet I was trying to complete the post and a million other things, as thoroughly and dare I say, as ‘perfectly’ as possible. Only then, was I willing I give myself permission to relax into a creativity-filled weekend with other songwriters and musicians.

Very interesting indeed…

Taking note of that irony allowed me to adjust my expectations and prioritize my efforts. I understood that in that moment, taking care of the urgent and important items on the first page of my To-Do list, was probably more important than diving into the ‘Lofty Life Goal’ section on page three of the list.

I also accepted the fact that things didn’t have to be ‘perfect’ before I left for the conference.

Perfectionism, in psychology, is defined as a personality trait characterized by a person’s striving for flawlessness and setting excessively high performance standards, accompanied by overly critical self-evaluations and concerns regarding others’ evaluations.

In his book, “The Pursuit of Perfect: How to Stop Chasing Perfection and Start Living a Richer, Happier Life,” Tal Ben-Shahar, Ph.D., examines the difference between the Perfectionist, who rejects failure, and the Optimalist, who accepts it. He proposes viewing perfectionism and optimalism as lying on a continuum, rather than being distinct qualities that are entirely independent of each other.

“Perfectionists and Optimalists do not necessarily differ in their aspirations, in the goals they set for themselves,” writes Ben-Shahar. “Both can demonstrate the same levels of ambition, the same intense desire to achieve their goals. The difference lies in the ways each approaches the process of achieving goals.”

“For the Perfectionist, failure has no role in the journey toward the peak of the mountain; the ideal path toward her goals is the shortest, most direct path—a straight line. Anything that impedes her progress toward the ultimate goal is viewed as an unwelcome obstacle, a hurdle in her path.”

“For the Optimalist, failure is an inevitable part of the journey, of getting from where she is to where she wants to be. She views the optimal journey not as a straight line but as something more like an irregular upward spiral—while the general direction is toward her objective, she knows that there will be numerous deviations along the way.”

“The Perfectionist likes to think that his path to success can be, and will be, failure free, a straight line. But this does not correspond to reality…”

I could not agree with that description more! Without a doubt, the Optimalist viewpoint is a much more growth-minded, forgiving and achievable approach to attaining goals and to living life.

As a recovering perfectionist, I work hard to recognize and ward off all-or-nothing thinking—the type of thinking that tells you, “If I can’t do this perfectly right now, I should probably put it off until I can.”

When perfection is your aim, you strive to avoid mistakes at all costs. The idea of embracing mistakes as a part of the learning process, as a necessary step on the road to success, feels foreign.

For me, perfectionism has also proven to be the breeding ground for procrastination and the enemy of creativity (not good when you’re on the way to a Songwriter’s Conference)! ☺

Thankfully, I’ve come to realize that baby steps are better than no steps, and that progress always trumps perfection. Most importantly, I’m grateful to have learned these lessons just in time to teach them to my children!

Enjoy the rest of your weekend!

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