I have always naturally leaned towards perfectionism, for better or worse. No, let me modify this: I have always naturally leaned towards perfectionism and I honestly think that is a good thing. I rarely meet people whose standards are too unrealistically high, but I constantly meet people who do everything they do in a very sloppy manner. So hooray to being an anal stickler for details.
But: perfectionism can also function as an excuse, especially in the context of forming the right daily habits. Perfectionism as an excuse usually works out like this: person X decides on a certain project, i.e. losing weight. Instead of starting his or her diet right away, person X enters into a research phase first. That’s because person X is a self-labeled perfectionist—they are committed to this project now, and therefore want to come up with the best possible method to the problem.
Unfortunately, research takes time, so they put taking action off until they figured it out on a theoretical level first. What oftentimes happens in the process is they’ll come across a promising method, give it a very short try, won’t see any results right away, and as a consequence go right back into research mode to find a “better” method. This can play out over months and years, considering that life will not stand still either in the meantime, but rather throw stuff at you to keep you distracted from all the great research you are trying to accomplish.
And what DO you accomplish? Nothing. But let’s imagine you would have taken action right away, just based on the things you already know about dieting, the common sense stuff, like cutting out the sugar and junk food. So you would have cut out the soda and drank water instead. You would have skipped your customary two bagels at work. Instead of that slice of pizza at lunch, you would have gotten a salad.
Had you done this and skipped over your perfectionist research phase, you would already be 10-20 pounds lighter by now. Big wins first, you can still tweak the details as you go. So simple and yet so many people don’t get this. I myself have to constantly remind myself to not fall for the fallacy that is the research phase. It IS that tempting to a perfectionist.
I think there is an even more profound fallacy at the heart of this all, and I at least want to hint at this in closing. We all have a strange fixation on the future. We project all these ideal scenarios on it, the happiness we will be able to experience one day, the level of mastery we will then have reached. The only problem with that is the future is in a sense a very artificial construct—it is just in your head. In truth, all you do have, all you will ever have is the present moment. Don’t get me wrong: it is very fair to assume there be many more present moments for you, unless you get hit by a bus after reading this article. So long term thinking is VERY important; don’t get rid yourself of health insurance just yet.
But the present moment, NOW, is where things are happening, is where decisions are being made, is where YOUR FUTURE IS BEING DETERMINED. You only have the present moment to make it happen, so there is only one right attitude of going about it: start now. Yes, you might have to wing it for a while, if you don’t know that much about a given project or subject yet. So be it. But you always get started now. Putting important projects off equals never getting around to them, as much you like to tell yourself otherwise.
Did this article just take an Eckhart Tolle turn? I hope not…
Talk to you soon.