My husband called me a perfectionist the other day. I was taken aback. I’ve never really placed myself in that bracket before, thinking instead that I am simply bad at prioritising, too easily convincing myself that there is something more important that I am avoiding, and that I am focusing on the wrong thing, the easier thing. I had been complaining to him about my own procrastination on things that I have good intentions of doing, and then finding that somehow they remain undone, or partly done and unfinished. This kind of constant second guessing about what to do and when, leads to time wasted as I pause in doubt of what I should be doing with my own adult 55 year old time. It feels strange sometimes that this adult who studied yoga and yogic thinking for years, who has taken comfort from and offered comfort in maxims like “Just go with the flow”, so easily slips into that insecure space where making a simple choice just feels so hard.
But he may have a point. my husband, that is. Perfectionism can be debilitating, especially when you believe you lack that boldness, that flourish, that ability that is required to tackle the job perfectly. The sad thing is that one then ends up feeling stifled, reluctant and even unable to move on and try, and instead finding it easier to stick with things easier or more familiar. Fearing a lack of certainty, a lack of perfection, one misses out on the chance to aim for the stars (and if you miss, you may just shoot the moon instead ;)) In constantly awaiting perfection, or waiting for that perfect moment to try something, one misses out on life. So yes, perfectionism can cause procrastination, and I have at times been frozen into inaction by my own reluctance to try something that may turn out less than perfect.
It takes me back to my days as a yoga instructor. From time to time I would have a brand new student say to me ahead of class “I can’t do a headstand or a shoulderstand yet, will I be OK in this class?” assuming that they may be at a disadvantage if they can’t do these things. These things, bear in mind, are postures (asanas) that no yoga beginner should be expected to master, and in fact can cause serious injury if attempted too soon. Being prepared to embark on a journey toward self-mastery is part of the wisdom and beauty of yoga. True yoga (not the yoga that belongs in glossy magazines and inside sweaty gyms) requires patience, perseverance, self-compassion and the willingness to take the necessary steps towards a desired outcome.
It’s the same with any task: for instance, I have decided to refurbish the second hand, vintage wrought-iron table that I bought for my bedroom, and I have come up with 3 options:
Do the research on doing a thorough renovation. This involves sanding down the metal to remove the old paint, and then priming, painting and finishing, using materials specifically intended for metalwork.
Sand down the table a bit, leaving some old bits of paint visible, giving the table a deliberately distressed and aged appearance.
Use some of the leftover paint that I used to paint a small cupboard in my bathroom to paint over the table, leaving some old bits of paint visible, giving the table a deliberately distressed and aged appearance.
You may agree that option 1. is for the perfectionist, whereas 2. and 3. is for the casual crafter with little time on her hands, and a budget to stick to.
My life as it is right now dictates that option 1. is just not on the immediate horizon and that if I want a pristine job done, the perfectionist in me will take it to the specialists who are paid to do such things. But then my budget tells me that paying more for the renovation than what I paid for the table in the first place does not make sense, so I have decided to go for option 2 or 3 instead. I’m still deciding. Either way, I can accept that sometimes perfection is just not on the cards and that good enough is good enough.
I find there is something immensely satisfying about crossing off completed tasks on a to-do list. Whether it’s something big like finally completing a passport renewal, or making that difficult call to someone I’ve been avoiding, or else a small matter like clearing out a shelf in the garden shed, that sense of personal satisfaction is always there. My feeling on completion can vary from a simple pat on the back to one of immense relief and even of validation and accomplishment, especially for one of those really frustrating, painful or time-consuming tasks that we sometimes have to face.
I have learnt to acknowledge that allowing myself to fall behind on my task lists is just not good for me. I end up dealing with some level of discomfort, whether its mild irritation at myself or (on a bad day) questioning my ability to deal with even simple things decisively and without procrastination. The Free Dictionary.com defines procrastination as “to postpone or delay needlessly” and more specifically “To put offdoing something, especially out of habitual carelessness or laziness”. (Obviously not a good thing… 😦 )
Completing my listed tasks and ticking them off allows me to clear the way forward, from where I can (guilt-free) move on and give my attention to things that I would rather be doing. My task lists can be a great way for me to feel that I have structure in my daily life, but on the flip side they can also become a kind of mental and emotional clutter if I fail to give them attention (aka procrastinate)
I have learnt to not underestimate the importance to complete the tasks on my to-do lists. I have realised that they may symbolise something more significant than simple ‘tasks’. I know that I end up feeling anxious and disorganised if I have too many ‘things on my plate’ no matter how small and simple these might seem at a glance. Completing my listed tasks and ticking them off feels like a way for me to clear a way forward for myself, from where I can (guilt-free) move on and give my attention to things that I would rather be doing. My task lists can be a great way for me to feel that I have clarity and definition in my daily life, but on the flip side they can also become a kind of mental and emotional clutter if I fail to give them attention (aka procrastinate)
Something as simple as completing tasks on a list can represent something powerful, such as the acknowledging and respecting of the commitments you set for yourself, respecting your time and respecting yourself in general. Respecting the fact that your preferred way to spend your precious time and energy is on the things that you really value and probably include quality time with the people that you care about.
If you’re an avid list-maker like me, here are a few points that I try to abide by:
Remember that you don’t have to write down Every Single Little Thing. Try and get into the habit of doing things as they cross your mind. Example: dialing my dentist takes about the same time it takes me to write down “make dental appointment” for the umpteenth time! Sometimes it really is simpler and better to Just Do It.
If you are looking for inspiration for something like a home decorating task, you might find yourself week after week writing out “choose paint colours for kitchen wall”. Commit yourself now to starting a Pinterest board, and then go online and start pinning those pretty pictures Right Now as we speak, to get the ball rolling. Or if you prefer a hard copy, make sure that your next weekly shop includes stopping at the hardware store or the paint wholesaler where you can pick up a few paint swatches to bring home.
Are you including things on your list that you end up regretting later? Are you taking on someone else’s task, so that every time you see it pop up on your list you find yourself wondering why you agreed on in the first place? Remember to be careful of over-commitment, especially if it’s a favour for someone that you’re about to agree to.
Love your Lists♥! Or if not, at least do your best to honour them. Just take that first step.
Important to remember: 1-Its YOUR list, and 2-Your time is precious, and so is your Peace of Mind.