“Progress, not perfection,” I remember hearing this in the Denzel Washington film, “The Equalizer.” It has stuck with me since and, while the thought is comforting, it is actually very hard for me to digest.
You see, I grew up a perfectionist. I’m still a bit of a perfectionist now. I am diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and, for me, things always have to be aligned, uniform, even-numbered or divisible by two, and precise.
Anything less or more is unacceptable. So unacceptable, in fact, that it stresses me out and the stress manifests physically, either as hives or as swelling (sometimes red and itchy) or as an upset stomach or hyperacidity.
It sometimes feels like my brain is its own enemy, and this is most evident when I go through analysis paralysis. I can only liken the feeling to being petrified as it is demonstrated in “Harry Potter” where one turns into stone, unable to move.
That’s how analysis paralysis feels like: you’re stuck, unable to move, and — way deep inside your mind — you are desperate and crying for help (confession time: I went through it right before I started writing for The Daily Mind).
The Scientific Explanation
It took me a while to learn that what I would go through before I have to write a piece was called “analysis paralysis.” In my head, I knew what to do, what to write, how to structure it, what my sources would be, but my fingers could not seem to want to hit the keyboard.
It is different from writer’s block because the thoughts are there and the mind is ready. But, somehow, the mind is also thinking, “Maybe I’m not ready” or it’s asking itself, “But what if I fail and disappoint? What if I don’t get another chance?”
Analysis paralysis is defined as “the state of over-analyzing a situation, or citing sources, so that a decision or action is never taken, in effect paralyzing the outcome. A decision can be treated as over-complicated, with too many detailed options, so that a choice is never made, rather than try something and change if a major problem arises.” (Freebase)
Yep, analysis paralysis (AP) is the enemy of perfectionism. It is counter-productive and can worsen cases of depression.
Robert Taibbi LCSW, in an article for Psychology Today, connects AP with anxiety. It is constant crippling anxiety; constant walking on eggshells; constant fear of making a mistake and causing an unpleasant outcome.
AP has caused me opportunities and possible friendships with wonderful people because I was terrified of being unable to learn something new or terrified of seeming to try too hard, of being unqualified, of being incompetent, of being stupid.
So how does one overcome it?
Here are tips I have personally learned as I meander through life with OCD and AP — and coming out on the other side often unscathed and, more often than not, victorious.
1. It begins the night before
I usually map out my week one week ahead. I am a big believer in mind-setting and psyching myself up so setbacks don’t make me falter or cause me to panic. If I have a “terrifying” task the next day, I meditate on it during bedtime. I pray about it, bless it with good vibrations, and imagine wrapping the space or the scenario in white light or positive energy. This way, no matter how bad or wrong things may turn, I had already decided to accept it and stay in my light. I have already decided that I will come out alive and I will be okay.
2. Jump out and jump up
When I have a task for the day that petrifies me, I set two alarms: the first alarm is for me to wake up from sleep and stay in bed to continue the mind-setting I started the night before. The second alarm is for me to jump out of bed no matter how I feel, and to jump in place at least 50 times. I find that it raises my heartbeat and gets my blood pumping. It keeps me from trudging through my morning ritual and instead move like clockwork towards the task that, if I had a choice, I would rather pass, but can’t.
3. Just do it
Sometimes, as a writer and editor, I feel like — at this point — I should already have mastered the art and discipline of writing and/or editing no matter how I feel. Easier said than done, and easier to shame 20 years of writing experience rather than appreciate this moment where I am now, about to write a new piece to add to my rich portfolio of helpful, published pieces. And it’s not because I don’t have the words inside me; they are all there.
I realized that this commitment entails letting go; leaning in, going into it with your whole mind, body, and soul but letting go so they can do their work. And they magically do. Before I know it, I would be done, step out of my “trance,” and the piece is done. I read and reread often in disbelief. Did I really write that? And my soul says, “Yes. Give yourself some credit for a job well done.”
4. “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”
Another quote from another movie: “The Fifth Element” starring Bruce Willis and Milla Jovovich. If I could, I would personally thank the scriptwriter of the film for having comforted me through many episodes of AP, helping me soldier through them and often coming out successful on the other side.
I realize that what scares me is my own mind; that my perception of things is because of the way I am, not because of the way they really are. This is the definition of subjectivity at its finest, and I have come to accept that my perception could be wrong, and I have come to be grateful when it does turn out to be wrong — because it actually means that things are better than I think they are.
5. Practice gratitude
Big wins, small wins — all are wins that must be celebrated. Even mistakes and failures can be celebrated because they teach us lessons and change us for the better.
And when we do this, each time AP rears its ugly head, we can look back at the many times we have faced it head-on, survived, and did well (or did better than expected). The point is to be thankful even for the opportunity to try or do something new or to learn something new.
It makes you a better person, and that’s certainly better than being stuck in the same “place” all your life.
Analysis paralysis is a reality for a lot of people, and it is also a reality that it can be managed and overcome. It will always be there, looking for a chance to keep you immobile, but one has to remember that he has the power to break free — each and every time.