Many times, I’ll advise someone to clear their schedule so they can focus on their writing or another priority, and they’ll trim a bit here and there and then come back and say, “I followed your advice and it helped some, but not much.” I have to remind them that the goal is not to move from being “deprived” to “semi-deprived” of time, but to create lavish amounts of time for your priorities. And then they go back and cut loads more from their schedule – in many cases, more than they had previously even thought possible – and are later grateful they did.
We see a similar dynamic in antiperfectionism work. Perfectionists see themselves as constantly failing, and they also spend a lot of time putting themselves down for those perceived failures. (A good perfectionist knows how to even magically transform successes into failures.) So, one of the most important “cures” is to learn to recognize and reward even trivial-seeming successes with:
1. a tangible reward, such as a cookie, new DVD, bubble bath or some other indulgence
2. a physical reward–important especially for writing and other sedentary activities. Stretches and Snoopy dances are both great! And, most importantly,
3. an honest sense of accomplishment and pride. I’m not talking about giddy glee, which, unless it accompanies a real milestone, is misplaced (and signifies a perfectionist over-identification with the work)–but something quieter and more private. It still feels good, though!
People get hung up on #3 in particular because “first steps” often seem trivial. In the work of overcoming perfectionism and procrastination, for instance, the first step is often learning to sit and write nonjudgmentally for thirty seconds to five minutes at a time. That may indeed be a trivial amount of time for a prolific writer, but for one who hasn’t written anything for weeks or months it’s a legitimate, powerful first step, and one worth celebrating. When someone is reluctant to celebrate a small accomplishment, I always ask them two questions: (1) Why not celebrate? and (2) Whom does celebrating hurt? The answers, it always turns out, are: (1) No reason, and (2) No one. It’s your terror-fueled inner perfectionist who is afraid to celebrate because she thinks that if she’s not hyper-vigilant you will slack off. Trust me: celebrations don’t degrade productivity but reinforce it, and you should never listen to your inner perfectionist voice.
So, here’s what happens when you take things to the limit:
1) You’ll get a much better result than if you take things only partway.
2) You’ll internalize the lesson more. Often, when we take things halfway it’s because we get the lesson intellectually but not at the deeper level of emotions and values. Taking things to the limit helps you internalize and integrate the knowledge, and change your perspective.
And that means you’ll be poised for yet more growth and accomplishment.
Hmmm…all this gets me in the mood to do a Snoopy dance. Won’t you join me?