Perfection Paralysis – The Instagram Fallacy

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In this blog series we’ve looked at several ways in which our thoughts can keep us stuck, what I call Perfect Paralysis. Another way that I see Perfection Paralysis show up in my clients… and myself is what I call ‘The Instagram Fallacy’.

The basic scenario goes something like this:

Client: ‘I want to try meditation.’

Me: ‘What about meditation is interesting to you?’

Client: ‘I have lots of friends who have a regular practice and they just love it.’

Me: ‘So you’ve heard good things, what would trying meditation look like for you?’

Client: ‘Well, I’d like to try it, but I don’t really have a good spot in my house. I mean I have a little nook, but I’d need a mat, and some calming music, or a small water fountain and it is a bit drafty, so I’d have to think about how to fix that…’

Roadblock! This client is paralyzed by ‘The Instagram Fallacy’. She can’t imagine just trying meditation without setting up the perfect, Instagram worthy meditation space with mat, fountain and a cheery bamboo plant.

I do this to myself every time someone gives me a beautiful journal… I agonize over, using it, because well my handwriting is terrible (truly terrible), I’m an inconsistent journal writer… I basically stop myself from ‘ruining’ the beautiful journal by using it. WTF? And it is not limited to meditation and journaling, I see it with dating, job hunting, starting a new hobby, taking family pictures… important things in our lives that are often fleeting, might not happen if we are so set on it being perfect before we start.

In our highly curated visual world, we are constantly fed the idea that the environment must be ‘picture perfect’ before we can move forward. Having an environment that supports our activities is hugely important, however wanting it to be perfect can throw-up major roadblocks. If you tend to suffer from ‘The Instagram Fallacy’ there are a few things you can do to free yourself.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What is the absolute minimum I need to ‘try’ this new thing? What if you hate meditation, but you only discover that after you’ve spent hours and hundreds of dollars setting up the perfect Zen space.
  • Why does it feel important for the space to be picture perfect?
  • What does it say about you if meditate in your pjs, on the couch with the mail and toys and laundry within reach?
  • Who is the judge of the worthiness of your space, or journal?
  • What is more important, the action or the environment?
  • Can you give yourself permission to create your environment as you evolve? What you think you need as a novice is rarely what you discover you need as you move towards mastery.

So far, we’ve looked at ‘The Fear Factor‘, ‘The Guilt Gremlins‘, ‘The Daisy Chain Effect‘ and the Instagram Fallacy… in my final blog post about Perfection Paralysis we will examine ‘Eating an Elephant’. (No elephants were harmed in the writing of this blog post.)

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Perfection Paralysis – The Daisy Chain Effect

Perfection Paralysis - The Daisy Chain Effect

In this third post about the many manifestations of Perfection Paralysis we are going to look at what I call the ‘Daisy Chain Effect’. In electrical and electronic engineering (stay with me here) a ‘Daisy Chain’ is a wiring scheme in which multiple devices are wired together in sequence or in a ring. At this point you are asking yourself what the hell does this have to do with Perfection Paralysis.

Well I’ll explain why I use this term. The ‘Daisy Chain Effect’ is when an individual wants to do a task, but before they can start that task, they have 10 things that need to happen first. The task they want to do is contingent on the completion of other tasks, and those tasks are usually unpleasant.

For example, I have an amazing client she has lived in her current house for three years. We were exploring why she was not feeling settled in this house and she casually mentioned that she has not hung any pictures or artwork on the walls. So naturally I pursued that comment, because to me hanging pictures makes a house feel more like home. Well it turns out that she was suffering from the ‘Daisy Chain Effect’. Before she could hang any pictures, she needed to paint all the walls, and then the trim would need painting and she has some crown molding in a few rooms that would have to be painted. After she painted the walls she needed to replace the carpet in the hall and two of the rooms, and replacing carpet always dings the trim so that would need to be touched up… the seemingly simple act of hammering a nail into a wall to hang a picture was contingent on several expensive and time consuming tasks. And so, she was stuck.

The ‘Daisy Chain Effect’ can be very challenging to untangle, once we’ve created the chain it is very hard to break it apart to see the individual components. Like the ‘Guilt Gremlins’, when working with a client paralyzed by the ‘Daisy Chain Effect’, I approach it on multiple fronts.

I always start at the task the client wants to accomplish, in this example hanging some pictures on the walls. I start here, because this is where the client’s energy is focused, they have identified it as something that will meet a need. In this example having pictures and artwork on her walls would help my client feel more settled in her home.

Being a coach, I get to ask all sorts exploratory questions, and shine the light of curiosity on a situation. Being outside the situation I can help clients unpick the mental construct that created the ‘Daisy Chain’ in the first place.

Some of the lines of questions I pursue include:

  • Is this task contingent on the other tasks being completed? Could you hang pictures on the walls before they are painted?
  • What would be the benefit of doing the task, meeting the need, even before all the other tasks were done? Would it help you feel more settled if you had pictures on the walls, even if the carpet and paint and trim are not updated?
  • What would it say about you as a person if you did the tasks out of order?
  • What is the benefit of delaying the task until all the items in the ‘Daisy Chain’ are completed?
  • Using a scale can also be helpful when breaking the ‘Daisy Chain Effect’. Exploring on a scale of 1 – 10 how important is it to hang the pictures, paint the walls, paint the trim, replace the carpets? Using scales can often help us see where our real priorities lay.
  • Sometimes tasks are truly contingent on another task, and if that is the case, I’ll work with the client to create an action plan to start working from the beginning. This might include exploring the idea of breaking the project up into multiple smaller projects. Rather than taking on the whole house, could you approach it room by room?

Like the ‘Fear Factor’ and the ‘Guilt Gremlins’ that we explored in the last two blog posts the ‘Daisy Chain Effect’ is a thought it is not a fact.

To break the ‘Daisy Chain’ one must be willing to question their thoughts, explore with curiosity and be open to creating new thoughts about these tasks.   In the next blog post I’ll explore what I call the ‘Instagram Fallacy.’

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Perfection Paralysis – The Guilt Gremlins

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In my last post we talked about how fear can show-up as Perfection Paralysis… and today we are going to look at another mighty foe… Guilt.

I see this most commonly when a client is thinking about trying something purely for the joy it will bring them, a bucket filler you might say. This could be learning to knit, taking a walk every night after dinner, scrapbooking, reading a novel… there are so many examples of thing we can choose to do to fill our bucket.

Here is the basic scenario. This client has identified a need, a need to relax, be creative, be physical and they have identified something they want to try to meet that need… you’d think it would be a no-brainer to give it a try.

This is where the Guilt Gremlins show-up.

“I can’t take the time to read that new mystery novel, I should be folding the laundry.”

“I have so much to do around the house, I can’t take the time for a walk in the evening, the dishes aren’t going to wash themselves.”

“Learning to knit will take so long, and it will just drive me crazy sitting there looking at my messy house, knowing I’m wasting time.”

The Guilt Gremlins love to contrast ‘bucket fillers’ with the things we ‘SHOULD’ do and make them seem like a selfish indulgence. Our world is peppered with the ‘Shoulds’ and many of us live our lives by what we ‘should’ do rather than what we ‘want’ to do.

When working with a client battling the Guilt Gremlins, I usually approach it on multiple fronts.

  • We look at the need they have identified and why that need is important. What benefit will there be if they explore their creativity, be more physical, etc.
  • We look at their idea to meet that need. How much time will it take, what does it require, etc.
  • Then we look at the ‘Should’. I honestly believe every time someone says, ‘I should…’ the next statement should always be ‘Why?’
    • ‘Why, should I do this thing?’ If you can’t identify a reason that has a positive benefit to you it might be time to question the need for ‘the Should’.
  • ‘What negative thing would happen if you skipped the ‘the Should’?
  • If ‘the Should’ slides, what does it say about you as a person? Are you lazy, self-indulgent, messy?
  • Does ‘the Should’ preclude with possibility of the bucket filler? Is it possible to do ‘the Should’ and the ‘bucket filler’?
  • Why does ‘the Should’ take higher priority than the ‘bucket filler’?

This is usually the kicker. People have deep-seated feeling about meeting their own needs before meeting the needs of others’, even if the ‘others’ are the laundry. The Guilt Gremlins will poke the guilt button, trying to convince us that we are selfish, self-indulgent, dodging our responsibilities when we think about meeting our needs.

I’m going to call bullshit! It is not selfish, self-indulgent or irresponsible to meet our needs, especially those things that fill our bucket.

By working your way through the questions listed above you can expose the Guilt Gremlins for what they are; they are thoughts, not indisputable pronouncements from the universe. Recognizing the validity and benefits of meeting our needs can help calm the gremlins. Understanding the ‘stories’ we tell ourselves about what might happen, or what it says about ourselves can help calm the gremlins. Realizing that what we want to do, and what we ‘should’ do are rarely mutually exclusive; there is room for both. Lastly recognizing our habit of prioritizing everyone and everything above our needs is a habit that does not serve us.

The Guilt Gremlins are hard to defeat, it takes a very conscious effort, but it is possible. Like they always say on the airplane, put your air mask on before helping others. Our bucket fillers are the air mask, they must be a priority!

In my next blog post we are looking at the third most common way that Perfection Paralysis shows-up… The Daisy Chain Effect.

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Perfection Paralysis – The Fear Factor

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Are you a sufferer of this modern affliction? Perfection Paralysis… I’m pretty sure you won’t find this diagnosis in any medical journal, and your health insurance company is sure as hell not going to cover treatment for it. However, if you are like me and many of my clients this affliction has probably impacted your life in a negative way.

Perfection Paralysis – A complete or partial loss of function brought on by a mental construct that whispers, ‘you can’t start this unless you know it will be perfect in the end’. Boom!!! Your plans to try oil painting, clean the junk drawer, try the new diet, take up the piano again, start a meditation practice or any of the million things you want to try comes to a screeching halt, because before you start you don’t know that it will be perfect.

When you write it down in back and white it sounds absurd. How could anyone expect to know that the outcome of a new venture, new hobby or anything new will come out perfect. And even the expectation that we would be perfect the first time we try something is equally absurd… but in the inner workings of our minds it is a common expectation of ourselves.

I’ve never kept hard statistics on this phenomenon among my clients, but I’m guessing at least 90% exhibit some level of perfection paralysis. I work with high achieving and accomplished adults, who are well grounded, and intelligent and maybe their achievements make them more susceptible, but whatever the reason it causes my clients a great deal of pain and frustration.

So how do you cure yourself of this affliction?

The first thing is to even be aware that you are suffering. Perfection Paralysis can show up in several different disguises. In this series of blog posts, we will look at the top 5 manifestations, and what to do about them.

The first one we will examine is the way perfection paralysis often shows up for me and many of my clients.

What if I look dumb or don’t do it right?

When you start thinking about trying something new, do thoughts of ‘I won’t be good at it’ or ‘What if I try and it’s ugly, silly or stupid’? or ‘What if I don’t do it right?’ popup in your mind?

This form often shows up in things that have some public exposure. You want to get back into piano, you want to learn to knit, you want to take on a new responsibility at work. Basically, you are trying something that you are not already an expert, and other people will be able to see your performance, your scarf or that important business report. The public exposure triggers fear!

What if I look dumb or don’t do it right?’ is a classic example of a fixed mindset. The focus is on the outcome, everything rides on the successful outcome. There is a fear or disdain for the work that it takes to master a new skill. Our self-worth is wrapped up in the outcome. A poor outcome will reflect badly on me as a person.

So, if this is how perfection paralysis shows up for you, what do you do?

First and foremost, know that you are not alone, and you are not the first person who struggles with fixed mindset thinking.

The first step is to recognize it for what it is, it is a thought about a project or a task, and not a fact, or prophecy.

To regain your forward motion, it is a perfect time to flex your growth mindset muscles. Connecting with why you want to do the new thing can help you see that the process and not just the outcome have value.

If you want to start playing the piano again, why?

  • Maybe you love music, the complexities and the beauty
  • Maybe it helps you destress
  • Maybe you want to be able to help your child with their lessons
  • Maybe you just miss it

Connecting with your why can certainly help get you moving again.

Checking in with your expectations of perfection. When thinking about it we all know that mastery takes time; great painters are terrible then mediocre then passable then decent then great… no one starts out great!  Learning something new will take time, and there is no shame in it.

The self-worth connection. No one likes to look dumb or do something wrong, however even when you really mess up there is always a chance to learn and grow. Extending a little self-compassion here, recognizing that it hurts when we fail, but in truth we are brave and strong for trying, choosing to learn and moving forward. I also like to turn the tables and consider how I would feel and my reaction to the ‘perceived failure’ if it was done by someone I love. Of course I would be compassionate, and kind… so I should act that way towards myself, right?

When facing this fear foe it can be useful to make agreements with yourself about how you will process challenges and mistakes. If you have a plan to act with compassion when something goes wrong it will lower that fear factor.

Fear will keep us stuck; it is our choice if we allow it that power.

In the next blog post we will look at another way perfection paralysis shows up…. Not fear, but guilt.

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Blooming in our own time….

Orchid in bloom

I have this orchid plant next to my bathtub, in hopes that that location might be slightly higher in humidity than the rest of the house (Relative humidity in Colorado does not support tropical plants). Anyway, I’ve had this plant for years. I bought it when it was blooming, enjoyed the blooms and then spent several years looking at it with scorn because it was not blooming. My husband would tease me about ‘my under-performing plant’, asking why I bothered to water it.

I’ll be honest, I’d pretty much written it off as simply an oxygen producer and nothing more. I felt slightly let down and a bit embarrassed that I could not get it to bloom or bother to figure out what it needed to bloom. And then guess what… I’m sure you can guess if you’ve seen the picture posted with this blog. It bloomed, not only did it bloom, it currently has four huge, bright, glorious blooms in the dead of winter.

While thinking in the shower, where all great thinking occurs, I had a real ‘a-ah’ moment. The orchid was going to bloom in its own damn time, regardless of my feelings negative or positive. I did support it, in the fact that I kept watering it, but that was it, minimal support. Over the years I’ve put in an absurd about of thought and judgement about this silly plant… and it could not care less.

The a-ah for me was really more of a ‘duh, I’m guilty of believing that I could influence the blooming of the plant, because that is what I wanted to happen’. I see this all the time with my coaching clients, they’ve been hounded, often for decades, by ‘concerned’ family and friends to lose weight, get in shape, do this or do that. Often these clients have tried so hard to do what everyone else has told them they should do, they have tried so hard to bloom for someone else, but time and again they fail to achieve what someone else wants for them. That cycle of criticism, effort and failure is exceptionally painful and paralyzing for people.

So for everyone out there who is worried about a family members weight, physical fitness, bad relationships, etc. you can support, you can ‘water’ but that person is going to bloom in their own damn time. People make lasting change for their own reasons, not yours. Wishing, wanting, demanding, bribing, cajoling, cheerleading may feel like support but frankly it is just an arrogant expression of believing that you can influence the path of another, because that path would serve you. I know that sounds harsh, and I’m guessing many people would bluster and claim ‘I’m doing it because I love them’, and likely that does play a role, but if you want to support someone making a change in their life help them discover their own reasons for doing it, not yours.

This discovery process is one of the things I like most about coaching. Helping people discover their own reasons for making a change, doing something differently, or just experimenting with new things. We have an epidemic of people who have lost their autonomy and are shocked at its power when they rediscover it.

For those people who are struggling, who are being hounded to make a change, you will bloom in your own damn time, and you get to choose what that bloom looks like. Have courage and remember you are in charge and it is your decision what happens next in your life, be the orchid, forget what everyone else wants and decide what you want. Then make it happen!

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My Triumphant Return

My Triumphant Return

Wow does that sound cocky. A return implies that I went somewhere. A triumphant return implies that I’ve overcome something… and in both things are true. And while no one might have noticed, I certainly did and I’m excited to be back. In the summer of 2017 I became really disillusioned with my new career path. I started to feel like being a coach was equivalent to being a life insurance sales man (think Ned Ryerson in the movie Groundhog Day). Every coach I met, promised to help me achieve my goals by applying their secret sauce… and I believed several of them… and guess what the secret sauce was bullshit. At the same time I was working with a client, who I knew in my heart of hearts was not a good candidate for the type of coaching I do… but I was so excited to practice my craft. I ignored my gut feeling that said… Julie you cannot successfully coach this person, what she expects from coaching is not what you deliver. And you won’t be shocked to discover that it was not a successful coaching relationship, and it made me feel like the charlatans who kept promising me the secret sauce. Which made me feel ‘lower than whale shit’ (a famous phrase of my father’s) And as these things tend to go I went down a rabbit hole of feeling like coaching was only for the affluent and beyond the reach of regular people, which made me feel like shit as well.

So what did I do? I pulled back. I withdrew from all the ‘professional guides’ I’d assembled. I stopped all my social media activity, I stopped much of my so called networking and I did a lot of soul searching. I am really passionate about this work, and I knew I needed to find a path that would allow me to share my talents and genuinely help a variety of people, while separating myself from the cons which apparently abound in this profession.

In the fall of 2017 I started working as a Wellness Coach at a company in Loveland Colorado. I only worked there a few hours a week but what it gave me was a lifeline. I was able to work with a huge range of people, men and women, executives and admin assistants, and everyone in-between. I was able to work with people who all want to improve their lives in different ways. I worked with people who were willing to face major life challenges and push forward, choosing to believe in themselves, and work on themselves in spite of everything. The experience of coaching in this environment restored my faith in this avocation. I could see that I am one hell of a good coach, and I don’t and never have offered a secret sauce. What I offer is an unwavering belief in the capacity of my clients to achieve their goals. I continue to work at this company and honestly coming out of those sessions is pure joy! The metamorphosis that I’ve witnessed in a number if my clients is truly awe inspiring. They often thank me for my help, when in truth they’ve done all the work, and I want to thank them for restoring my faith.

2018 was spent getting my bearings, getting grounded and designing a path forward. So 2019 is the year of my Triumphant Return. It is not cocky it’s just what is true for me. I have some big plans that I look forward to sharing with the world. I’m back baby… and I’m not going anywhere!

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What’s the deal with my timeline anyway?

This meme cracks me up… because I’ve totally said it to myself and it got me thinking about timelines and personal goals. When I decide I want to make a change I want it now and part of that mentality often includes an artificial timeline in which I believe I should be able to accomplish a goal. If I’m not keeping pace with that schedule I’m disappointed, frustrated, and petulant and in the worst case scenario I give up on the goal all together.  I see this same time restriction with some of my clients and on social media, especially when it comes to weight loss.

As a Lifetime Member of Weight Watchers, I’m a frequent user of their Connect community, which is basically Facebook for Weight Watchers members, but a really positive and supportive space where trolls are not welcome. I cannot tell you how many times a day I see a post about being disappointment with the pace of someone’s weight loss or frustrated that they only lost .4 pounds that week.  And I get it. I’ve been there. I know it is crazy frustrating when you feel like you’ve been putting in the work and you are not seeing the results you expect.

While it is totally normal to be disappointed or frustrated the danger of having a strict timeline is you are putting yourself under undue stress over something that is not a linear process. While many would have you believe that weight loss is simply about calories in versus calories out, it is far more complex than that; and holding yourself to a linear timeline for a non-linear process will only end in frustration and disappointment.

I’ve thought about this timeline trap quite a bit, and the phenomenon of quitting a goal when your progress is not fast enough. I think a number of things come into play to create this dynamic.

  • We all want immediate outcome results, forgetting that outcomes goals require behavioral action, and that requires time.
  • We’ve been taught that weight loss is about calories in versus calories out, which sounds like an easily controlled process, when in fact it is far more complex.
  • We are spoon-fed unrealistic expectations in the media from shows like the Biggest Loser to quick fix diets promising that we can lose 10 pounds in ten days winking at us in the checkout line at the grocery story.
  • This mentality speaks to a destination view rather than a journey mindset. Especially in weight management there is no destination, it is a journey and one that changes course throughout your life. Thinking that you’ll be done when you hit your goal weight is setting yourself up for failure.
  • This thinking smacks of the ‘shoulds’, which is just a sneaky way of judging ourselves.
  • We don’t seem to appreciate that the time is going to pass anyway; you might as well continue to focus on making healthy changes in your life, even if it feels like it is taking too long.

The real disconnect is mixing expectations for achieving an outcome goal, like weight loss with the ongoing experience of a behavioral change. There is no end date for behaviors. Make your experience easier and more enjoyable stop imposing some artificial timeline on your journey.

When that little voice pops-up and says “You should be doing this faster.” Please give yourself the gift of pausing and asking “Why?”

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A lesson in honoring choice

Pile of Candy

As a Certified Health and Wellness Coach one of my core philosophical beliefs is that people can attain their desired level of wellness when they make choices with intention and purpose. This philosophy came into my life at a very young age and I credit one event with planting the seed.

I was a Girl Scout, and around the age of 10 my Troop was working on our various merit badges, one of which (I have no idea which one) brought us to a retirement community in Boulder Colorado to spend time with the elderly residents. We were each assigned a resident and a nurse walked us to their rooms. As I walked down the hall the nurse grabbed my shoulder and said “Mr. Smith has diabetes, and cannot eat any sugar. If he asks you to go down the hall to buy him a candy bar, you must say no. Because if he eats that candy bar he will get VERY SICK!” I had no idea what diabetes was at that time, but her warning scared the hell out of me.

I can remember his room, his deeply lined face, and his soft kind eyes. He was 89, and wheelchair bound. He had been a hard working farmer his whole life on the eastern plains of Colorado. In many ways he was like my grandfathers and it was easy to talk to him. We talked about school… did I like it? No. I liked to swim and play with my dog.

After a little while he very casually asked me if I wanted a candy bar. AND I went on full alert. I was ready. I was not going to buy him a candy bar, and make him sick. I had a job, and the nurse had entrusted me with that solemn duty. I politely said ‘No thank you’ hoping that he would let it drop. I must have had panic written all over my face. He got this mischievous little smile and said ‘well I’m going to have one.’ He rolled over to his dresser, which I was sitting next to and opened the bottom drawer.  Tucked underneath an old jacket was a treasure trove of candy. Full sized candy bars, shining in their brightly colored wrappers. Like any kid of 10 I was astounded by this collection, but the rule follower in me quickly kicked in and I said. “You are not supposed to have candy, where did this all come from?” And he laughed, not a mean derisive laugh but a laugh of true enjoyment. He said “Sweetheart, I’m 89 years old and I love candy. It is one of the few joys I have left, and so I choose to eat it. My son brings it to me, because he knows I would rather enjoy my days than live to be 100 but totally miserable.” I told him I was worried it would make him sick, and the nurse had told me not to let him eat candy. I was upset and confused. And he took my hand and said. “Sweetheart this is not your responsibility. You are not responsible for other people’s choices. We are only responsible for our own choices. I choose to eat candy, knowing it might make me sick.”

It is amazing how frequently I think of this man. A profound lesson taught with kindness and for that I’m deeply grateful. It took me years to understand the importance of this conversation, and how deeply  it would influence my life. We are always at choice whether we choose to recognize that power or not. We are solely responsible for our choices, and no matter what we are making choices why not give ourselves the gift of making those choices with purpose and intention.

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