Be productive first, perfectionist afterwards – Live A Great Life Podcast by Dr Prem – Chapter. 74


Here is a quote –  One ofthe symptoms of an approaching nervous breakdown is the belief that one’s work is terribly important.

—Bertrand Russell

Whether it is about business and management, sports, personal development or art, we have idols in front of us who embody certain perfectionism. This is the perfection that we want for ourselves. However, in our admiration, we often forget our own individuality and start believing that we, too, can become like our idols. Unaware of the reality, we start our journey, and when our enthusiastic efforts bear fruit, we are disheartened. We find that we are nowhere near what we want to become. Our idols have attained their position in society after years of effort, and to find out whether we can become like them or not, we would have to put in the same amount of effort. Until then, we would have to bear with our mediocrity, with the sting of perfectionism making us restless.

Why do so many of us want to be perfectionists?

A famous theory by the renowned French psychologist Jacques Lacan might help us in better understanding our situation. This theory is called ‘The Mirror Phase’53. It tells us about one of the most important phases in the life of a child. It is about the time when the child looks in the mirror for the first time. Before seeing its reflection in the mirror, the child has no fixed conception of its individuality. It identifies itself with its thoughts and thinks of itself as formless, chaotic and infinite. Nevertheless, once the child looks in the mirror for the first time and identifies itself with the form in the mirror, its conception changes. The child realizes that it has a figure, and that figure is what others perceive of it. Moreover, it also becomes painfully aware that others would never be able to see the oceans of wonders that it hides within itself.

People are bound to judge us by our looks, actions, and words. We are doomed to be misunderstood. It is a great tragedy of life. This is one of the reasons that motivate us to achieve. We think that through our achievements we might be able to show the world what we have in the depths of our souls. That by writing a path-breaking novel, by becoming a successful entrepreneur, or by excelling in sports, we might be able to impress people. Any lack of perfection, on the other hand, would reinforce their false judgments about us. Hence, perfectionism becomes a necessity for us because we falsely believe ourselves to be perfect.

How to overcome perfectionism

We are developing measures to judge everything. We have charts for music, rating sites for movies and books, and likes and shares for the content on social media. Moreover, as is the norm, the majority is of those who fail to get any type of attention. The situation is becoming very sad and stringent day by day. It has become necessary for us now to have a check over it if we want to keep ourselves free from anxiety. Perfectionism might lead us to despair and lack of productivity. But there are ways of taming it and utilizing it in a more productive and satisfying manner. Let us see what they are.

  1. Don’t label yourself too early

When we were young, people often asked us one question, ‘What do you want to become when you grow up?’ Because of our ignorance, we usually responded with stereotypical answers. We wanted to become like our dad or our mum, or like some actor or some famous personality that we knew about. Most of us changed our view as we grew up, realizing that life is much more complex than what we had earlier thought.

Our choices as children were nothing more than fantasies. No one looked down on us because of this change in plans; everyone knew that as children we are liable to make mistakes. However, it’s a different ball game when we grow up; while making decisions as adults, we are expected to stand by our choices. This is something that adds to our responsibility.

Therefore, your admiration for a certain movie actor or a sportsperson isn’t a reason enough to make a career choice. You must explore multiple fields first and then make a well-informed decision. Don’t worry, by doing that you are not wasting your time. The experience that you thus gain will help you in discovering more facets of your personality. It will be of immense value irrespective of what you ultimately choose to become.

  1. Have a reality check

Talent and hard work are two aspects that determine how well we can do a certain task. Though hard work is of the highest importance, we cannot completely ignore talent. Not all of us are gifted in the same way. Just like expecting a handicapped horse to win a race is just plain stupidity, a prodigious lack of talent will come in our way when we attempt something that we are simply not born to do.

However, if your interest is too genuine, you could try looking for something else related to the field. For example, if you cannot become a creative writer, you might be able to become a critic or a scholar. If you cannot become a sportsperson, you might do well as a trainer or a physical instructor. These jobs, though not as glamorous as their counterparts, are equally important. The world needs all types of people. Though you may not be talented, yet you might prove instrumental in bringing forward others who possess genuine talent.

  1. Don’t be deceived by the media

The media has reached its current state after years of evolution. What we see now as the media is heavily customized to the taste of the viewers. Life is not how the media projects it. It only shows successful scenes; it doesn’t show us the millions that failed or even the struggle that the successful few underwent. Therefore, do not base your decisions merely on what the media has generated.

If you really want to make a well-informed decision, acquaint yourself with the ground realities first. If you want to become a movie star or a director, go and see a film shooting; you will probably find it exacting and tiresome. Rather than watching something for entertainment, watch documentaries, read books based on real experiences, talk to people and ask them about their struggle. Life isn’t a bed of roses. If you want to reach the bed of roses, you must go through a valley of thorns first. Letting yourself be deceived by the dreams of starlight will in no way be of help in realizing them.

  1. Use the Internet wisely

What you cannot get from the media can easily be found on the Internet. You cannot control what you see on the television, or what you read in the newspaper, but you can control the information that you get on the Internet. That doesn’t mean that the Internet can’t lead you astray; beware, it can be far more harmful than the media if you are not watchful enough. However, if you use it with full awareness, you have nothing to worry about.

It’s okay to follow your favorite celebrity on social media and to allow a couple of humorous pages in your feed. Just make sure that it is not all that is there. Always look for trusted pages that provide you with valuable fact-based information. Be a part of communities that discuss issues that directly affect your life. Though the Internet is a world in itself, don’t allow it to become your world. Learn from it so that you can adjust better in the world outside.

  1. Change your definition of perfectionism

If you are suffering from a severe lack of productivity because of your perfectionist attitude, it is time you changed the definition of perfectionism. Perfectionism isn’t all about creating something flawless; it could also mean creating something within a limited amount of time. The latter will involve selecting less ambitious projects and doing away with overanalysis and revisions. Learn tips and tricks of your trade that will make your work easier. Finishing projects within a time limit will boost your confidence, and once you get hold over the quantity, you can change your strategy and start focusing on quality.

  1. Direct your perfectionist impulse elsewhere

Many of us feel that if we are not doing something grand and important, we are not being true to our life. This is a great attitude. But if this seriously affects your productivity, you should consider changing it slightly. You could divide your time into two slots. Dedicate the first slot to doing simple things that you can finish quickly and devote the remaining time to your grand and ambitious projects. By doing so, you will be finishing tasks on a regular basis, which will motivate you as well as give you an income. Moreover, even if it is taking you too long to finish your ambitious project, or if in a rush of emotion, you feel like abandoning it altogether, you won’t have the feeling that you have wasted all your time.

  1. Find pleasure in ‘being’, not in ‘becoming’

After making an initial plan, don’t think too much about the result. Divide your project into manageable chunks, and make it a priority to finish each chunk within a specified time. Try discovering ways of making your work entertaining – it will keep your mind off the future.

Make sure you don’t make your initial projects too ambitious. Begin with something simple and start introducing complexity only once you have gained mastery over the craft.

We spend most of our time doing things. The joy of achievement just comes and goes away. So, make sure that you select something that you love doing, not something where you are only concerned about the result.

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