Perfection Paralysis. As soon as you read the words, you know what I’m talking about. We all suffer from it to some degree or another and around the Jewish holidays, it seems to get worse. We know there’s something we need to do, but because we want to do it excellently, we put it off until the last minute.
Its like the very idea of starting such a task is so scary that we just become immobilized, hoping that at some point we will have the energy or time, or both, to do the job and do it well. The reason we become immobilized, no matter how irrational it may seem as we try to figure out what’s going on, is not only completely rational, its explainable – by science!
Without giving you a whole lesson on neurobiology, let’s just say that when we encounter a thing, event or task that threatens our well-being in any form, our flight, fight or freeze response is initiated. The logical part of our brain shuts down and the primal part of our brain takes over. Its about self-preservation. It’s about survival.
We like to think that perfectionism is a positive thing, no matter how difficult it sometimes makes our lives. We’ve come to equate perfectionism with quality – not just in our work, but in our worth. A perfectionist is a quality person. Or so we think. At least externally.
But the truth is that there is a very dark side to perfectionism that we don’t want to admit. Perfectionism is a coping mechanism for a fear of failure. We are perfectionists because we are scared. We are scared that someone will lose respect for us, that people will think less of us.
But why are we afraid of failing? Because we have these voices in our heads that tell us we are worthless, and we are driven by two instincts in order to survive. The first instinct is to prove that those voices are wrong because who wants to live with the idea and the identity that we are worthless?
The second instinct is to prove that these voices are true. You may not think, based on the previous idea, that we would want to do such a thing, but we do. Because Human beings have a drive to understand, to know why, about pretty much everything. Why did this happen? Why did he get sick? Why did she die? We want so much to place blame, so we have an answer to the question, “why?” that we are willing to even take the blame ourselves just to satisfy the question.
So, when it comes to those voices in our heads, we subconsciously figure that if they are true, then at least we have an answer to the question, “why?” Proving the voices correct allows us to blame ourselves and we can move on.
Everyone is a perfectionist, really. We all want to prove those voices in our heads wrong. People who appear to not be perfectionists have simply given up the fight and resigned themselves to the “fact” that the voice in their head is correct. The rest of us are just still in the fight.
So, how do we break perfection paralysis? We have to create new language in our head. We have to first of all understand that our worth as a human being does not come from being better than anyone else. A brand-new baby is worthy of love simply because she “is” and not because of anything she has done. When did we lost that? At what point does that baby stop being worthy simply because he exists? When does our worth become based on what we do instead of who we are?
The key to breaking the perfection paralysis is to recognize that that precious baby doesn’t lose her innate worth simply because she has grown up. We need to be ok with being good enough. This Rosh Hashana we need to make a resolution that we will be less perfect, and that’s ok, because that’s not where our worth comes from.
L’shana tova u’metuka,