EPISODE 5 – PERFECTIONISM & WHY TO AVOID IT
On this week’s show, I will be talking about how PERFECTIONISM is NOT the way forward if you want to be PRODUCTIVE and HAPPY.
Before we start though last week I detailed the 5 a day for good mental health system which I had attached to the acronym ALIVE. I hope that it’s been a good topic of discussion for you and its helped a few people along the way. If you missed it you can access it right now on the podcast app of your choice or at filmproproductivity.com/episode4
Leo Tolstoy in AnnaKarenina says “If you look for perfection, you'll never be content.” so this is no new topic of discussion
In productivity terms, PERFECTIONISM, or dealing with the problems that arise as a result of perfectionism, could have been split over two episodes as it’s a huge topic. It is something that tied me down for years - I have found it a major hindrance in my life. Good was never good enough and good enough was rarely PERFECT. Now I’m ABSOLUTELY NOT saying here that we shouldn’t have high standards but perfectionism is a trait which will more often than not leave you frustrated and dissatisfied with your work even if it’s excellent. It can incapacitate you if you let it, create strain on your relationships, damage your health and leave you constantly unhappy and disappointed.
I used to think that my perfectionism was a strength, in fact at one point in my life it was on my Resume for like 2 years. I was obsessed with getting things right, I still am, to be honest, but I am no longer a perfectionist. International productivity author Stephen Guise wrote a book about this called How to be an im-perfectionist – That’s a far better description of how I see myself now. Stephen says If you don't manage to reframe perfectionism as a damaging and inferior mindset, the illusion of its superiority will thwart your desired changes.
Shortly after I made my feature film, I had a colossal breakdown and only then did I begin to realise that perfectionism was what had put me there.
I was diagnosed as having a dissociative disorder and PTSD – Yes PTSD – who would have thought that making a low budget feature film would lead to similar mental stresses to those returning from war zones?
During my recovery, I signed up for health classes the STEPS organisation, which I think are now called Wellbeing Glasgow. One was called Dealing with Stress – and every 6 weeks in Glasgow at that time 130 new people started with that class – stress today is an epidemic and it is killing people. In the hand-outs that we got with the classes, there was a list of things that led to stress, anxiety and depression. Top of that list was the word PERFECTIONISM.
I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.
The thing that I had always thought was a positive trait was, I suddenly realised, the likely reason that I had gone bananas. My obsession with getting things perfect, and rarely achieving that goal, had been destroying me. It’s not PC to say this anymore, but I was having a nervous breakdown. I couldn’t remember things, I had no confidence left, my perception of reality was skewed and I was frightened and totally burned out.
But the realisation that everything doesn’t have to be PERFECT is something that many people find hard to swallow - I mean what’s wrong with wanting things to be perfect right?
Well – wanting things to be perfect is normal, but becoming obsessed with achieving perfection can be paralysing. It cramps your life and leads to anxiety, depression, eating disorders, stress and other mental health issues - and all of that, in turn, leads to damaged relationships, a problematic work-life balance and ultimately loss of joy for life.
You see as a perfectionist.
- There can be no room for mistakes. They spend a crazy amount of time correcting tiny mistakes that ultimately don’t make a difference. They are hypercritical, taking the finish of what you are doing to a level far beyond that which others would deem excellent.
- Things have got to be done their way, and that’s a very specific way. They find it very difficult to find good people to work with and many people won’t want to work with them for fear of miss-footing and drawing their wrath. As a result, they disregard their health, compromise relationships, take on more and more and all of that leads to more and more pressure, lack of sleep and stress.
- Even if they delegate, they keep worrying about it. They micro-manage, even when things are going well.
- They become obsessed with the end result. They don’t care what it takes to achieve the goal, and if they don’t make it, they feel like a failure. They even get hung up on past perceived “failures” because they just can’t let go even years later.
- They can’t stop thinking about work, because they are afraid everything will fall apart without them.
- Their, what I would call, inner critic is forever trolling them and comparing what they are doing with what someone who has done it for years has done. So they are immensely hard on themselves.
- Because their standards are so high they become huge procrastinators– I don’t know the number of filmmakers out there that have made films and not even released them as they have lost faith in what they are doing. It’s not perfect so it has no worth. They become perpetually locked in a state of preparation, waiting for the right moment to proceed. For the perfect alignment of the stars which will result in the perfect product. It’s crippling.
- No matter what they do, it’s never enough. Success is never enough for that inner voice I mentioned earlier.
- It’s a motivation killer because they hold themselves to unachievable standards and much of the time they don’t even start. It is ALL or NOTHING.
- We're constantly worried about your work being judged – which is not surprising as in this social networking age we will be.
- And finally they leave themselves no room to get better – They have forgotten that we all need to make mistakes in order to learn.
SO LET'S TALK ABOUT HOW TO BEAT PERFECTIONISM
If you see yourself in what I’ve just been describing then fear not, WE CAN BEAT THIS ADDICTION TO PERFECTION, REPROGRAM OUR VIEW OF REALITY and STILL ACHIEVE BRILLIANCE IN WHAT WE SET OUT TO DO.
I beat my addiction to perfection with this simple premise - I asked myself in whatever it was I was doing:
- Is this perfect? NO
- Then I asked myself - Is it good enough? and my good enough is really very good btw – and if it isn’t good enough I will do more but if my truthful answer is YES - if it meets my minimum standard – Then I will give myself permission to move on. I just won’t allow myself to get hung up in a perpetual loop of micro improvement and I will proceed with imperfection.
I’ve seen that this is also the conclusion that many others in this field have come to. Stephen Guise’s solution is effectively the same as mine but adds another level. He has a floor and a ceiling to his high standards. His im-perfectionist lives between the floor, or the bare minimum standard for it to be ok, to be good, passable, and acceptable and a ceiling – which is a magical dreamlike perfection, the highest possible standard.
He explains that the perfectionist who seeks the highest possible standard makes that their floor, and in turn that makes their ceiling unachievable – On that basis, the PERFECTIONIST will NEVER REACH PERFECTION. Changing your standard from the unachievable to a very high standard frees you up from all the other problems that come with it. Try going for 80 or 90% of perfection. That’s a much more achievable aim.
Eliminating perfection from your life is NOT a THAT’LL DO philosophy. It allows you to set high achievable standards.
- As we embrace imperfection we need to kill the ALL OR NOTHING MINDSET by accepting that there is a natural progression to things. We can advance my question by asking - Is it good enough FOR NOW? Can I let this stand FOR NOW and improve it at a later date? Writers will do it in their drafts and redrafting process, gradually improving. Students will study to get better and as their understanding of a topic or skill broadens they will improve. The best analogy is perhaps the one of learning to ride a bike. You have to practice to get better and eventually the training wheels will come off. You can’t immediately achieve brilliance – You should work your way towards it.
- On that same topic, we must stop comparing ourselves to others. Applying constant pressure on yourself to meet the unrealistic standard that a competitor or mentor that has 20 years more experience than you sets is the ultimate route to procrastination. Fear of your work not being of a high enough standard will simply make you stop because you are holding yourself to an ideal they can't possibly reach. Yet.
- We also need to focus on the positive and on the things we are doing well. We can’t linger on our doubts and allow the inner voice to paralyse us. Switch off your negative self-talk.
- We must also make health our priority and stop sacrificing rest in the name of work. Care for yourself. Make fitness and eating priorities in your life and don’t let stress creep up on you.
- One that I am trying to figure out right now and I am having some success with is that we should embrace the process and not be so target oriented. Stay in the moment and enjoy the task. Don’t make your happiness depend on whether you hit a goal or miss it. Having goals is a truly great thing but if the bar is too high then it will just be demotivating.
- We must figure out our work/ life balance and not go down the slippery slope of obsessing over our work at the cost of missing our families or our partners. We must value our relationships and personal life. If you put 100% of your energy into work you will leave no room for anything else, including your own downtime.
- We must learn to delegate, and that’s something I’ve raised in earlier episodes of this podcast. You may feel that it’s easier and faster for you to do everything yourself but that’s not really the case. It may be done a little differently from how you would like it done, but if you find good reliable people to work with, and relay your instructions well, then whatever task you delegate will get done. Here’s a secret that I use to get great work done by others. I only work with brilliant people. You’ve got to hunt for them, but they are out there.
- We must prioritise our tasks and ignore the less important. A perfectionist will try to do it all and dissipate their energy. If you can prioritise, and I spoke about that in my last podcast, then you can focus on what is the most important without being hung up on the small details.
My all-time favourite quote on this topic is by ― Ernest Hemingway who said that “The first draft of anything is shit.”
I’ll balance that last quote with one by Lao Tzu who says that a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. I love this one as it captures the spirit of recovery.
When you understand the ideas that these quotes demonstrate, and realise that DONE is better than PERFECT, it opens the door for us to write that first draft, or make our first film, or record our first sound or paint our first painting or even – as I am proving here – create your first podcast.
I’ve spent a lot of time on my podcast but it’s anything but perfect. I know that, and I am releasing it anyway. I don’t compare it to the awesome podcasts that are already out there but I do allow them to inspire and educate me. I celebrate them as I put this one together. I silence my inner critic and release my imperfect Podcast to the world, and I do it with courage. No one is going to hear it if I don’t release it so here it is. Completed and out there. I’ve fought through my procrastination, launched with imperfection and know that I will get better as I create more and learn from my mistakes. For now, though I hope that it has been useful to those who have listened and that you will be able to take the ideas which I have presented forward and into your own life and work.
That filmmaker that’s frightened to release his film as it doesn’t compare to Spielberg’s latest masterpiece
CALL TO ACTION
How many of you have slaved over the wording of an email for example – working at it to be perfect? Was that email really that important that it deserved an hour or more of your time? Probably not. That’s a tiny example of perfectionism intruding on your time and mental energy. Spot this perfectionism and work round it. TEACH YOURSELF TO CARE A LITTLE LESS.
I just want you to stop trying to be perfect and start living your lives. That’s the homework.
If you want to tell me how you are getting on with the productivity concepts that I talk about here then I’d love to hear from you. Get in touch via the speakpipe recorder on filmproproductivity.com’s contact page or on twitter @filmproprodpod. If you can take a minute or two to tell me what is working for you and what you are struggling with then I’ll do my best to feedback in future episodes.
Thanks again for listening – This has been a big episode so Next time will be shorter – I’ll be talking to you about ALIVE - a simple acronym to improve your mental health.
But for now, just take control of your destiny, keep on shootin’ and join me next time on Film Pro Productivity.
- The music for this podcast and that you are listening to right now is Adventures by A Himitsu.
- You can view the show notes for this episode at filmproproductivity.com/episode5
- If you’re struggling with something you think I can help with or would like to tell me how you are getting on then please get in touch via the contact page on the website. Alternately you can get me on Twitter @fight_director or follow the show @filmproprodpod
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Sources: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g8pti-Swh_E&t=59s, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zAoakO64ixA, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/better-perfect/201611/9-signs-you-might-be-perfectionist