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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