I’m bad at perfectionism

[Tips at the bottom of the page]

You know how it is when you hear yourself on a recording and cringe at what you’ve said or how you sound?

And then you hope that nobody hears that recording?

That’s how I felt listening to the first fifteen minutes of my interview with Dr Patricia Zurita Ona, host of the Playing It Safe podcast.

Thoughts went through my mind like:

  • people are going to think, ‘who does this guy think he is?’
  • Everybody else Patricia has interviewed can just rattle off the names of books and authors. Why can’t I remember names that I know really well?
  • That was nowhere near as good as I thought it would be.

In other words I engaged in the very same mental processes that I mention in the interview – prediction, comparisin and evaluation. The same processes that lead us to worry, to procrastinate and to avoid things through perfectionism.

But so that I can share this interview with you I’m holding these thoughts lightly and asking you to listen to this episode and the upcoming one where Dr Z and I get to the heart of how we hold ourselves back.

Jump straight to the podcast here:

Tips for how to deal with perfectionism

  • Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Done well enough is better than perfectly planned and unstarted. Get started before you feel ready and embrace the feelings that come with being daring.
  • Be kind to yourself and your imperfect attempts. Self-compassion has been shown to be more effective with productivity than self-criticism.
  • Be scientific. Experiment with doing tasks imperfectly and see what happens. Often, you’ll find that the consequences are not as dire as you imagined.
  • Use the right measure. You’re going to evaluate yourself no matter what I say. But at least make sure you use the best scale for the job. That scale is found in the answers to questions such as “How faithful am I being to what is most important to me?” and “What would someone who wanted what’s best for me suggest I do right now?”

Tips for how to deal with social anxiety

  • Stop struggling. When you’re in a social situation that you’re worried you can’t cope with, it can feel like sinking in quicksand (but at least with actual quicksand the earth really does open up and make you disappear!). But you know the advice for being stuck in quicksand is “first stop trying to climb out”. Same here. Feelings of embarrassment and awkwardness in social situations are quite normal – maybe more for you than for other people, but others still have them too. But comparing yourself to others doesn’t help – you don’t get to have their feelings and they don’t have to cope with yours. So embrace those feelings as just a normal event that will happen in some social situations. When you drop the struggle, you have a bit more room to be you.
  • Park your thoughts. Thoughts are like cars: they can help you get somewhere, but you don’t have to carry them around with you when they’re no longer needed. You don’t insist on bringing your car into the living room of the party do you? Likewise, you can leave thoughts like “I’m awkward” or “They’re all judging me” at the door, or even better at home. I know some of you will say, “But my mind has a mind of its own. Those thoughts follow me everywhere!” (Soon cars will do that too). So like an autonomous car, you need to…
  • Self-direct – out, not in. That is, tell yourself “I’m having the I’m awkward thought, but for now I’m going to focus on what is interesting about this person in front of me and what they’re saying. I can check back in on that thought at home.” Dismiss your thoughts like this and soon enough it will get the message. You’ll also meet interesting people – interesting because you became interested in them. Which also makes you interesting to them.