Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Loving My Inner Perfectionist

I came to an interesting conclusion today. There's a lot of talk about our "inner child," and how he or she can sabotage our well-intentioned efforts to lose weight, eat well, stay within our budget, or even get out of bed in the morning.

The theory goes that instead of beating this inner child into submission, we need to embrace her (or him), reason with her, and allow her the occasional treat. And we need to learn to love her.

Folks who do this say it really works. They've managed to control the urge to overeat, overspend, and oversleep that comes with the simple immaturity of their inner child, all without feeling the grief and anger that comes with beating their inner child (who is really them) up.

I can see the wisdom in this approach, and practice it myself on occasion. Athena is the fun, kiddie part of me. She's important -- she allows me to be silly, to enjoy kiddie entertainment, to relax. I can control her the way I controlled my own flesh kids when they were little -- by being aware of her needs and not exceeding her capacity for endurance or understanding, by giving her the occasional treat, and by explaining in simple language exactly why we need to exercise control. I control her with love, not fear.

But when it comes to "perfectionism," we tend to have a different attitude. FLYLady in particular is against our inner perfectionist. When we find our inner perfectionist gaining control, instead of treating her with love, we treat her like a dirty rag. "The 'P' Word," she calls it. It's a swear word!

FLYLady's the most recent example (for me) of this attitude that I've come across, but certainly not the only one. "It doesn't have to be perfect!" we say.

And we're right to say that -- most of the time.

Look at it this way. If I'm a student, and I score 95 percent on a math test, that's not "pretty good," it's excellent! If, however, I am a surgeon, and 95 percent of my operations go well, and in 5 percent I make a serious mistake, that's 5 out of a hundred patients who are facing serious medical problems, because I, the surgeon, thought 95 percent was good enough.

Or if I, as a writer, only spell 95 words out of a hundred correctly in the book I'm writing, it will be rejected out of hand by any professional editor, and scorned by critics and readers alike. That's one reason why self-published books aren't highly regarded -- the folks who write them are so in love with their own writing that they don't see its faults, and are in too much of a hurry to get published to deal with the perfectionism that is part of producing a truly excellent book. (And I've read a couple of good self-pubbed books that could have been outstanding had the writers gone to the trouble of getting them professionally edited and published.)

We as writers need our inner perfectionist (which the NaNo folks call our "Inner Editor," and who gets locked away during the whole month of November) as much as we need our inner child.

If it's wrong and counter productive to beat your inner child into submission, it's just as wrong and counter productive to beat your inner perfectionist into submission. The way to deal with her, I think, is to give her a name, love her, and explain why she can't always have her way. Give her a chance on occasion to express herself, but set firm limits.

Just as you do when you're dealing with your inner child.

This morning, my inner perfectionist (I'm pretty sure that this is the real Yeshanu, by the way) helped me clean my living room. I started out only wanting to sweep and mop the floors, and realized that I had the time, the energy, and the will to do a bit more.

So I set the limits (we will NOT patch and paint the walls, refinish the coffee table, or buy a new lamp or TV cabinet!), and let her run wild.

The floor got swept. Then she decided to dust (I know, it should have come first and we did end up having to sweep again after). Straigtened out the pillows on the couch. Took down some tacky pictures. Loaded the broken stereo into the car to take to the dump tomorrow. Decluttered some stuff, and put up my creche. Tidied up the toys and hid them behind the TV cabinet (the little kids don't visit very often). Cleared out the old magazines. Mopped the floor.

And the living room looks fantastic! After we finished up, we sat down for a break, and were truly able to relax in our lovely living room.

November is a hard month for my inner perfectionist. NaNo means she's got to be quiet about a whole lot of writing going on, and the pace of everything else in my life means I don't really have time to listen to her. But allowing her out, for a limited period of time and to deal with a single, well-defined project, was a wonderful experience.

I feel a real sense of accomplishment right now, and we had fun, albeit in a very adult kind of way.

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