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Day 29: Perfectionism

Yesterday we discussed the distractions that may hold you back during November. If NaNoWriMo is your Hero’s Journey, then distractions can be thought of your test of trials.

I left one species of dragon off the list yesterday: yourself. One of the biggest challenges in Nano is to overcome the potentially derailing voices inside our own heads. These dragons can manifest as perfectionism.

We are all onboard that perfectionism is a distraction, right? It just creates an unreasonably high-performance expectation that does not need to be achieved (and is often impossible to achieve). It pushes one relentlessly toward this elusive standard and it can never be satisfied. Its non-stop striving only serves to create stress and disappointment and, often inferior, work due to the unceasing pressure.

One cure for perfectionism is to turn it upside down and embrace its opposite: imperfection. Shame researcher Brené Brown advocates this approach in her book The Gifts of Imperfection. Brown wrote this book before her fame skyrocketed on the strength of an extraordinary TED talk and the book Daring Greatly.

In The Gifts of Imperfection, Brown articulates ten traits that we must cultivate to embrace our imperfection. I won’t go into all of them here, but here is a sampling.

Cultivating Authenticity

Brown defines authenticity as being “the daily practice of letting go of who we think we’re supposed to be and embracing who we are. Choosing authenticity means cultivating the courage to be imperfect, to set boundaries, and to allow ourselves to be vulnerable; exercising the compassion that comes from knowing that we are all made of strength and struggle; and nurturing the connection and sense of belonging that can only happen when we believe that we are enough.”

I am reminded of the Gospel of Thomas which states: “If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.”

Both of these statements are exhorting you to be uniquely you. They come from the assumption that we do our best by being ourselves. Not only do we do our best, but there’s a crushing mandate pushing us toward authenticity. Perfectionism, with its externalized standards, pushes us in the opposite direction—toward a conformity that benefits no one.

Notice, too, that one of the demons that haunts our efforts to be authentic is the feeling of not being good enough. You can refer back to the article on Limiting Beliefs for strategies to address this.

Cultivating Self-Compassion

According to Brown, “Perfectionism is, at its core, about trying to earn approval and acceptance.” So, extrapolating from that, we can see that an antidote is to develop self-acceptance and approval. Finding a way to internally give ourselves what we need is a way to cut off the incessant outer drive to attain approval and acceptance.

Dr. Kristin Neff has created a tool to assess six dimensions of self-compassion. You can take her evaluation here.

The dimensions are:

·      Self-Kindness

·      Self-Judgment

·      Common Humanity

·      Isolation

·      Mindfulness

·      Over-Identification

I’m abysmal at self-compassion, so I don’t even want to talk about my scores, though I will confess that Self-Judgment was my lowest item. I can attest that making even small tweaks in your ability to show yourself compassion can result in exponential returns in mood and confidence.

Here are a couple of practices to improve Self-Compassion:

·      Brown wakes up telling herself “Today, I’m going to believe that showing up is enough.”

·      Neff recommends treating yourself as you would treat a friend. I mean, really, would you lambast your best friend with all the negative talk that spew at yourself? No, you wouldn’t. So cut it out.

Cultivating Meaningful Work

In her research, Brown found the following qualities to be connected to the concept of meaningful work:

·      We all have gifts and talents.

·      Squandering our gifts brings distress to our lives.

·      Sharing our gifts and talents with the world is the most powerful source of connection with God.

·      Using our gifts and talents to create meaningful work takes a tremendous amount of commitment.

·      Like our gifts and talents, meaning is unique to each one of us.

A practice to help you cultivate meaningfulness in your work is to define for yourself what “meaningful” is.

My definition would likely include the following elements: Impacting others, soul-nourishing, and creative, in the sense of putting out something unique and original. Brown defines meaningful work as “inspiring, contemplative, and creative.” How do you see it?

Presumably, you write because you find it to be meaningful work. So, on the surface at least, this appears to be an easy one. I believe that the trick to leveraging this insight is to be mindful about how your writing brings you meaning. We’ll be looking more closely at that tomorrow when we explore why you write.

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Table of contents for other articles in the series.

Be sure to also check out the 5 Epic Clues to NaNoWriMo Success webinar


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