The Paralysis of Perfectionism (How 5 Mins Changed My Life) + Things I'm Loving
(This is a post I wrote a while back for the Bloomtown blog, and it’s been so pivotal for me that I just had to share it here!)
I’m an “all or nothing” kind of person. I won’t clean my house for months, but when I do, I’m so obsessive about it that you might mistake me for someone with an OCD (albeit a strangely delayed variety).
Obviously this strategy is not an effective one because, 99% of the time, I’m hopelessly disorganised. And it goes beyond just tidying. I’m the same way with exercise, eating right, friendships and most other aspects of my life; rather than find a healthy balance, I catapult between extremes.
I’ve always chalked it up to the way I was raised, some defect of character that took root as a child and refuses to budge (when in doubt, blame your parents, right?).
But when I recently had the privilege of spending a few months living with my best friend while I waited for my UK visa to be processed, I was at once annoyed and in awe of her baby-step approach to not just cleaning, but life.
Everything Heather does seems to be in 5-min increments. She’ll spend a few mins doing the dishes, then sort some bills and fold a few shirts before taking her dogs for a short walk. And of course her house is spotless, her bills and clothes neatly organised, and her dogs are as content as dogs can be!
What was it about her strategy that annoyed me? I had to think long and hard about this one, and here’s what I discovered: I’m a perfectionist. So much so that I’d rather do absolutely nothing until I have the time and energy to do EVERYTHING. Consequently, I have piles of unsorted post, drawers full of clutter and an inch of dust gathering on my stationary bike.
Sure, once in a while, I’ll go nuts and do a mad session of heart-pounding cardio or spend hours eviscerating every drawer, but these blue moon events simply cannot measure up to Heather’s brief, but daily attention to all areas of her life. It may seem like “nothing,” but her body, home and overall sense of wellbeing certainly suggest otherwise.
We often think of perfectionists as being tightly controlled, obsessive neat-freaks, but perfectionism can also manifest itself as paralysis; the fear of failure being so acute that inaction seems preferable. If you’re like me, you probably have a long list of things you’ve rehearsed doing but can’t bring yourself to actually do lest the reality fall short of the idealised image in your head.
I even put off hanging a single picture in my rented bungalow for 2 years because I didn’t like the ugly brown carpets and pale yellow walls. The voice in my head said, “What’s the point?” Well, of course the point is I find joy in looking at the artwork I’ve collected over the years and the pictures of my travels and adventures. Should I deprive myself of this pleasure just because I don’t like the carpet? My perfectionism says, “Yes.”
Upon my return from Heather’s I decided it was time - no, not to take the bull by the horns and make the kind of sweeping life changes I’m apt to do now and then, but instead, to find a different approach. To be more like Heather.
My first step in overcoming my demons was to start a bullet journal; if you haven’t heard of these or seen them on social media, they’re basically planners you make yourself, from scratch, which makes them highly customisable.
Naturally, the examples you see on Pinterest are gorgeous, filled with lush hand-lettering and careful doodling. It took every ounce of willpower I had not to start mine over several times.
Instead, If I don’t like something, I just improve it the following week. Thus, my bullet journal serves as a record of my mistakes and small improvements; it is, like me, a work in progress, perfect because, not despite, of its many visions and revisions.
I then made a list of the areas of my life that I struggle with the most in terms of consistency and decided, for now, to dedicate just 5 mins a day to these areas. These may seem obvious, but as a business owner, I can count on my hands the number of times I put down my laptop and actually did these things!
5 Mins of Meditation / Gratitude / Reflection
5 mins of Exercise / Physical Activity
5 Mins of Tidying / Organising / Cleaning
5 mins of Connecting with Friends and Family
5 mins of Self-Care / Pampering
Of course, the nagging voice in my head said, “But doctors say you only that reap the benefits of physical activity if you do at least 10 mins at a time!” Yes, that’s true, but a) this is an exercise in consistency and developing lifelong habits, not fitness, and b) 5 mins is a trick just to get me started, which is really the hardest part of motivation. Once you begin something, it’s really quite easy to keep going. What I’ve found is I usually do all of these activities for longer than 5 mins, but it’s a relief knowing I only have to do each for 5 mins in order to colour in the box in my bullet journal.
Essentially what I’ve done is break my perfectionism into manageable chunks. Now to be “perfect” I don’t have to clean the whole house, do high intensity interval training, or fast for 7 days. I just have to do my 5 mins. I can’t tell you how much this has changed my life. I still veer at times toward compulsions and extremes (for example, I sometimes feel like abandoning the whole thing if I miss a day), but in general, this new strategy has worked wonders for me. I’ve lost weight, become a better friend, felt more grounded, and - miracle of all miracles - managed to keep a tidy desk and home.
Are you a perfectionist? What techniques do you use to live a balanced life? Comment below!
And a new feature I’ll be doing once a month, called “Things I’m Loving”:
Knitting: When I was back in India, I received a pair of knitting needles that belonged to my late grandmother, which rekindled my love of knitting! I am currently trying out a cool stitch called “seed stitch” to knit a super soft blanket in “duck egg” - the colour I have chosen for my blog! I will show you pictures once I’m done!
Gousto: I have tried all the cookery boxes in the UK, and none are as consistently mind-blowing as Gousto. I can’t get enough, and I never stop raving! This is not a sponsored post (I doubt they even know I exist, all I have is an affiliate link, which all their customers get!), I just love, love, love it.
We have been customers for a year and a half and can’t believe how easy and delicious the recipes are. In 30 mins you can create a crazy good meal for two. We have always considered ourselves to be pretty good cooks, but like many busy people, we tend to make the same dishes with the same flavours using the same techniques, over and over again.
With Gousto, we get to try completely new dishes and techniques! They are healthy, too, and easy to tweak to your liking. Plus you can use the recipe cards to recreate the dishes, which we do all the time. Oh, and you pick your recipes and order each month, no automatic charges, no subscription!
My only gripe, which I did complain about in one survey they sent out, is unnecessary packaging, but they have recently reduced that, too, so I feel they are a company that responds to customer opinion and tries their very best to deliver a high quality service.
(If you do decide to try to Gousto, pretty please use this link to get 60% off your first box, and I will also get a discount off my next box: https://www.gousto.co.uk/join?promo_code=PREYA228766)