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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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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What is your boiling frog problem?

We’ve all heard that if you drop a frog into boiling water it will hop out immediately, but if you put a frog in a pot of water and bring it to a boil, the frog will boil to death. So a boiling frog problem is one that happens gradually over time, creeping, creeping, creeping getting slightly worse every time you turn around.

In my work as a health and wellness coach I help clients with boiling frog problems all the time. The professional working mother, who keeps thinking ‘yes, I should be taking better care of myself, but I don’t have time. I’ll do it when things settle down.’ Things never settle down when you are a professional woman with children. (I know this from personal experience!) The former weekend warrior who looks fondly at pictures of past running races, and wonders when did racing become a thing in my past? The middle manager who is bored at work, but the thought of making a change is too daunting, so he convinces himself that bored and secure is better than the alternative.   To the woman who knows she should go see the dentist, but can’t seem to find the time to make the appointment, until she cracks a tooth.  We notice the boiling frog problem, but the water is so nice and warm it’s easy to minimize it or convince ourselves that we’ll get to it later.  And the temperature keeps rising!

We are all busy. We all have many competing priorities screaming for our attention, energy and time. For many people the easiest place to find a bit more attention, energy and time is to steal it from the things we need to do to take care of ourselves. In doing so we allow what might be an 8 pound weight gain over the last two years to become a 23 pound gain in the next two years.  The time between dental visits expands from 2 years to 5 years, and now we can add embarrassment to our list of reasons why we don’t call and make an appointment.  And the temperature keeps rising!

When people think about changing their boiling frog problem they usually do two things. The first is they ‘should’ themselves. I should do this. I should do that. There a mountain of research into motivation that says ‘should’ should be the new ‘s’ word, because it is really shitty as a motivational technique. The second thing we do is we try to tackle the whole problem at once. Rather than just swimming to the side and looking up, we expect to be able to jump clear of the pot, spring to a lovely stream and have the problem behind us. We are just setting ourselves up for failure when we try and tackle the whole challenge at once. And the temperature keeps rising!

It’s time to hop out of the water before you boil to death.  What is your boiling frog problem? Is it at work? Is it in a relationship? Is it tied to your weight or fitness? Pick one thing where you habitually say, ‘I’ll get to it later’ and ask yourself why might I want to start working on this thing today? What would a change in this boiling frog problem give me, and why is that thing important to me? By connecting to what is valuable to you now is a far better motivational technique, and one that will serve you well as you swim to the side of the pot and reach for the lip.

If you have a boiling frog problem, but it seems too daunting to tackle or you don’t know where to start I would love to have a conversation about how I can help you out of the boiling water.

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