Most of us encounter a time in our lives where we are challenged with willpower. Where ego-depletion sets in after having made a ton of critical decisions, and we just lack the ability to make another. We feel frustrated by it and sometimes overwhelmed, and begin to doubt ourselves–to question that after completing some tasks that aren’t exactly arduous, how can I begin to fall apart? What can I do to actually get done the things that I want to accomplish, and become the person I see myself becoming. This has certainly been a question I’ve asked myself multiple times, and recently, after consistently not writing regularly, and not reading with enough focus to identify some solutions to a good deal of the obstacles I was researching.
I realized that I spent so much time planning and idealizing a perfect outcome that I was missing an opportunity to simply do the work that I wanted to do. I became overwhelmed by my first-most desire to create something grand, resonant, and far beyond my skill. I was aiming to eclipse myself even with little time for study, and practice, and found that I hadn’t yet truly accepted that only the passage of time while engaged in steady self-improvement, will make me what I want to become.
I attempt to wrestle with my perfectionism and push back on it regularly. First, by being forthright with myself about my time limits, I acknowledge that I have the ability to perform discrete tasks within a certain allotted time. As a result, I set very straightforward, seemingly simple goals, to the extent that I almost feel like I’m settling, or cheating because I know that I will accomplish them. The difference between this practice and perfectionism is that it keeps me from becoming paralyzed by the grandeur of my imagination, and rooted in all of my possibility. I exercise 80/20 thinking by assessing the one or two major things I can work on that will generate most of the outcomes I desire, and I do them. I step outside of myself and write down what I really want, the whole truth of it, in black and white, and I focus on and outline what I should do in order to realize those desires.
Before engaging in the exercise of focusing on smaller actions that generate larger results, I was trapped by my own anxiety. I desired progress, believed I had all the tools for it, but was simply stuck, and felt it immensely. I would set an audacious goal of a high word count on Monday, and fail on Tuesday because I got up later than usual. I would get up on time Wednesday, but after working late Tuesday night and getting home and to bed later, I would feel too tired to concentrate despite making the effort to show up. I would be excited by setting my lofty goal, however impossible, and focus on the outcome, instead of remembering that I needed to build muscle to eventually be strong enough to bear the success that I desired. I was both overjoyed and overwhelmed at the idea of progress.
Thinking about progress in a vacuum is easy. To measure ourselves by how much we “should be accomplishing” in comparison to our peers or our best guesses about our maximum capacity allows us to create easy goals. This does nothing to help us work towards the actual progress we desire. Setting a goal for an objective that we are unlikely to achieve, simply for the sake of saying that we have set the goal, makes no sense. We might be emotionally excited by the commitment, but intellectually, when there is no intention or process to back it up, our subconscious recognizes this and acts accordingly (i.e. it determines that it is not important and we procrastinate or engage in other self-sabotage).
I was recently reminded by a friend of creating consequences for inaction. I scoffed at the idea, because certainly, I thought, if the benefit isn’t enough to motivate me, I have surely set the wrong goal. Perhaps I am unclear about my objective. Maybe I haven’t properly articulated my why. But then I reflect on all of the ways I have failed myself. All of my potential to act on something, however small, and all of my lackluster results. I remember that I expect much of myself, and think, why shouldn’t I, but then I look at my performance objectively, and I take note. And I realize that creating consequences for inaction is part of the equation, but that ultimately, maybe I should expect less and do more.
It might be more useful to envision my success less, and to take the steps, however small, to achieve it. I might come out of this with a greater respect and knowledge for myself if I work on my craft while scared, uncertain, unpolished, and imperfect. Perhaps I am a diamond in the ruff, and realizing and actualizing my best form is eons away. I will never get to the jewels, however, if I don’t dig for them, but stand to the side daydreaming, shovel in hand, because I’m so enamored with the end visual of my achievement. I am as guilty of this as all of us. I distract myself with the future or geek out on the tools designed to help make my journey easier. Or I become so involved in reading about how the experts use these tools to their benefit, or I listen to people talk about carving their own tools with their bare hands, and tapping into the gold mines of their own genius and imagination.
When I have more time, more money, more help, more energy, more success. When I am more I can do better. That’s a given but I will never be more until I force myself to examine why I think myself less, and whether question whether I actually get up and consistently do what I need to, to make manifest the things that I want. Until I put myself in an uncomfortable space and squeeze out as many answers on why I do not challenge myself or how my inability to produce is influenced by this idea of perfectionism, I will be at a standstill.
This very wrong idea of perfectionism “translated,” means that I am so skilled, that nothing less than perfection is acceptable. Perhaps if I take a step back and acknowledge that I’m actually not as dope as I want to be (yet), but that I can be with more time dedicated to my endeavor. Eventually, I can get to a place where my actual skill matches my best-imagined version of an awesomely-supreme self, then I can feel ok. Maybe that moment will never happen but if I work at it enough, perhaps I will have more moments of honesty and greater insights into where and how I can adjust, in order to do better. This is my hope. This is what I strive for daily–identifying the thing that gets me closer to my best version of self, and doing it, consistently, until eventually, I become better.