“I can’t clean the house today. It’s just too messy, and it will take me ages to get it all done. I ll just give it until tomorrow when I have more time.”
Being a life-long perfectionist has, mostly, served me well. I excelled in school. I have loads of interesting hobbies that I love. My brushing and flossing habits are pretty stellar.
Sometimes, though, insisting on perfection can create its own obstacles. If you are constantly trying to get everything just right, you create real obstructions to productivity, motivation, and psychological wellness.
It was Voltaire who said it best: “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” Actually, he said “le mieux est l'ennemi du bien.” Close enough.
The transition to motherhood was not a smooth one for me. Before motherhood, I had worked in a fast-paced job, and kept a wickedly neat-and-tidy house.
My mantra had always been “a place for everything and everything in its place.” Perfectionism was permitted to run wild back then.
But, new motherhood has no room for unessential mantras. My internal perfectionist spoiled so many of the early days with my newborn, as I fought to carve out the time to get my house back in perfect order.
With the realization that you can’t do everything just right can come an unintended consequence: you do nothing at all.
When the odds seem stacked against us — a massive pile of laundry, the mountain of Christmas knick-knacks that need to find a home, the endless organizing and packing that comes with moving — we often decide not to do anything at all. The job is too big, too hard, too undefined. It needs to wait until we have more time, more money, and more resources. More…..
“Over and over, I’ve heard patients describe being frozen into inaction by the awesome imperative to do a task not just perfectly, but in a way that truly impresses or astounds — in other words, to be “great” said Dr. Allan E. Mallinger in his book When Being in Control Gets Out of Control.
Just one thing
I won the battle with perfectionism when I truly let go, and took this to heart:
I accepted that my need for perfection was actually inhibiting my doing anything at all. So, I let go of my expectations for how something should be done just right, and decided to start with just one thing.
Pick one drawer to de-clutter.
Just make your bed.
Decide you are only cleaning items that use Windex today.
Accomplishing just one thing will put you one step forward. And, if there is time, do one more thing.
This is license to do away with a to-do list, and just start doing. It’s as close to anarchy as a recovering perfectionist can get.
The Secret to Getting Ahead
Mark Twain said, wisely, “The secret of getting ahead is getting started.” He followed that with “The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and starting on the first one.”
Letting go of my perfectionist mantra doesn’t mean I’m letting things slide in the housekeeping department. It means I’m learning to set realistic goals, and to accomplish just one thing instead of fretting about the enormity of a long list of never-ending to-dos.
Today, put down your alphabetized list of lists. Turn off the domestic strategist in your head. Embrace your inner pragmatist and accept it. Not everything will get done today. Some of it will roll to tomorrow. And that is ok.