Learning to do things differently is a funny old business.
I imagine it’s slightly different for all of us, but here’s how I think it works:
- Make conscious effort to change behaviour
- Make progress
- Think you’ve cracked it
- Out of the blue, old behaviour sneaks up when you’re looking in the other direction and hijacks things for a bit
- Enter Vale of Despond
- Lick wounds and return to 1
- Notice that actually you’ve made lots of progress – it was just a blip
- Laugh at the ridiculousness of it all
It’s happened so many times now that I’m beginning to recognise the pattern much quicker than before, which makes it a great deal easier to manage. Even so – old behaviour still takes me by surprise on a pretty regular basis.
This week it happened with perfectionism. There I was, happily imagining that I didn’t do ‘perfectionism’ any more. Skipping along cheerily.
And, exactly on cue, like a wily cartoon villain tiptoeing up behind me, came a debilitating attack. Kapow.
It was only when I found myself sitting in the Vale of Despond, thinking that I would never do anything again because it wouldn’t be ‘good enough’, that I realised.
I’ve been here before.
I know this feeling.
And I know not to trust it.
At which point, the feeling seemed to evaporate. On turning around, there was no cartoon villain. Just a cloud of dust.
So rather than never doing anything again because it won’t be ‘good enough’, I decided to do a bit of reading about perfectionism.
I discovered that it’s on the rise. That there are two types: adaptive (or excellence-seeking) and maladaptive (or failure-avoiding). That, if you’re going to be a perfectionist of either kind, the former is the one to go for – but that neither kind actually results in better performance.
It can be tempting to use perfectionism as a badge of honour – a sign of how hard we’re trying, how much we care – but research suggests that it doesn’t actually help us do things better. More often, it simply slows us down and leaves us burned-out and miserable. On reflection, I’m not sure that’s a badge worth wearing.
So, having done enough wound-licking for now, I’m back off to learn a bit more. Laughing – definitely laughing – at the ridiculousness of it all…
This is a great article, if you’d like to explore the subject further…