Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task. ~William James

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

. . . By Any Other Name

Beating The Little Hater

December 18, 2007

My son the hip hop blogger sent me this, from ill Doctrine--"a hip-hop video blog hosted by Jay Smooth, creator of the hip hop music blog and founder of New York's longest running hip-hop radio show, WBAI's Underground Railroad." And though I'm not as videogenic, or as hip as Mr. Smooth, I identify strongly with what he has to say here about the relationship of perfectionism to procrastination.  And why my standards for writing have grown over the years of not writing, until they loom like furies as I sit at the keyboard.

Every day, I understand more about the scourge in my life that is perfectionism.  And it is not just a stumbling block to creativity.  It comes into play in virtually every arena.  This past weekend, I was upset with myself for not being a perfect grandmother, who, in my "little hater's" view, would relish every minute in the sandbox, never tiring of pretending to be a front end loader, or of the incessant conversation of a three-year-old with a sophisticated vocabulary rendered partially unintelligible by the enunciation idiosyncracies of his age.  And yesterday, it was my mothering, life-partnering and household maintenance whose subpar results gave me grief.  I really need to rein this guy in.  Jay Smooth calls the actions of "all these little haters" a conspiracy, and appeals to all creative people to work together to beat them.  He asks us to share strategies.

Therese Borchard, author of the hit blog Beyond Blue, refers to perfectionism in a recent post as her personal "brick wall."  Her strategy? 
getting up at 5:30 in the morning to begin my day in prayer. Because if I go to God first thing each AM I'm less likely to hit that wall so hard.

Gretchen Rubin includes this advice in her post "Ten Tips for Being Happier:"

There are two types of decision makers. Satisficers (yes, satisficers) make a decision once their criteria are met. When they find the hotel or the pasta sauce that has the qualities they want, they’re satisfied. Maximizers want to make the best possible decision. Even if they see a bicycle or a backpack that meets their requirements, they can’t make a decision until they’ve examined every option. Satisficers tend to be happier than maximizers. Maximizers expend more time and energy reaching decisions, and they’re often anxious about their choices. Sometimes good enough is good enough.
Apparently, I may have gone a bit overboard yesterday, when I spent an hour an a half "maximizing" my choice of personal checks, though I think you'll agree that the results were excellent. 


But I see what Smooth means about all those open tabs. . .

Turning to another source of wisdom, I learned of the Buddha's perfectionistic (if occasionally homicidal) cousin, Devadatta. His story and its meaning are summarized in The Psychology of Mature Spirituality: Integrity, Wisdom, Transcendence, by Polly Young-Eisendrath and Melvin E. Miller.

The story of Devadatta shows that perfectionism is the enemy of perfection.

Of course, Devadatta was a moral perfectionist, caught up with rigorous rule-bound practice. Not really my issue. But still, the cushion recommends itself to me as a place to start befriending my imperfection. And it just might help, too, with what begins to look more and more like adult ADHD--which I am starting to think is a cultural artifact of our times.

I am taking away from Jay Smooth's video blog the "little hater" terminology. It is more evocative than the "internal editor" nomenclature I have been using for years to identify the voice that stops me from writing. An editor one might deal with rationally. A hater should just be tuned out for the killing influence he is.

So I will work on turning a deaf ear to "It's too late to make your mark," "You don't really have anything to say," "What the world doesn't need is another hatchet job of a manuscript in search of a drawer to die in," and their ilk. And just get on with it, already.

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