Monday, August 23, 2010

3 Lists that curb "Paralyzing Perfectionism" from Transcendental Meditation

It may take a few weeks. But it WILL be perfect!
Godfather—film director Francis Ford Coppola and Apple CEO Steve Jobs are said to be "perfectionists." That means they fret every detail until they see precisely what they want before releasing a final product.

High standards may lead to long-lasting achievement. AND they can lead to anxiety so great we can't get projects done.

Or even start them.

It seems a fair number of spiritual-abuse veterans experience Paralyzing Perfectionism. Perfectionism so severe it cripples their life emotionally, in relationships, or career-wise. Sometimes we really up the ante by calling ourselves "procrastinators." Just to make sure we feel so bad we can't get out of bed.

"Lazy" people may not like work or care enough to do it. Paralyzed perfectionists care too much. Anything less than the "best" or "perfect" result just isn't bearable.

Our motto may as well be: If you can't be the best at something, just don't do it. 

I always had high standards before getting involved with Transcendental Meditation in my late teens. They led to high grades and ambitions. For the first few years of my TM career, those high standards led me into higher levels of the Org. I threw all my energies into advancing enlightenment and world peace. Secure in the "knowledge" I was achieving the most for myself and the world. And I was doing the right thing.

But in my later TM daze and especially after leaving the Movement, I found it gradually harder to finish projects. There were always tweaks that needed doing. And one more. And then one more.... Which led to slipped deadlines. And eventually to deadstops.

I'll write more about Paralyzing Perfectionism soon. But I suspect readers here are no strangers to the phenomenon. So I'd like to offer an easy trick that curbed these tendencies. And let me get on with my life.

I keep three lists with me always: Things To Do Now, Things To Do Later, and Things That Can Wait 'Til Next Lifetime.

Now means everything I have to attend to that day. Later means anything to do from tomorrow through my Bucket List things I want to do before I kick the bucket.

Now I have articles to write, errands to run, a support group to facilitate, and a new Now list to create for tomorrow. Later I have more articles to write, counseling clients to see, projects to plan. Next Lifetime? Wow. The longest list of all.
An example. I've always struggled with my weight—in fact, a hundred pounds would look better anywhere than on my body.

I know contemporary society judges fatness harshly. I know it holds me back in the world. I know it's bad for my health. I know it causes my family worry. But I have a lot I want to accomplish before my final curtain call.

Losing weight? Just not a high priority. Given my limited time, energy, health, and resources. Maybe next time....
Naturally, I require a tad more organization than that. (David Allen's Getting Things Done is my system.) But these three lists are necessary prerequisites before I can even begin to prioritize.

And I find them extremely freeing. Rather than frittering away limited time and attention span—as well as making Distraction and Confusion my new threesome—I always know what I need to focus on. More often than not, I do it.

There are so many things in my Next Lifetime list: playing piano, studying obscure physics, achieving financial comfort, projecting to the Astral Plane, trekking to Easter Island.

Oh, yeah. And attaining Enlightenment? That might as well be a thousand lifetimes down the pike!

If I have time to sneak in a few of my Next Lifetime goals this time around, hey, so much the better. But I ain't gonna sweat it.

Try this simple exercise.
  1. Set aside an hour with no distractions—soon.
  2. Whip out a sheet of paper and an erasable writing implement.
  3. Start sorting everything you want to achieve into these three lists.
  4. Optional: Enter them into a computer file where you can rearrange them to your heart's content.
I suspect many of you will find your anxiety level drop as you see a growing list of accomplishments day by day.

Just don't let this list project become so elaborate, so perfect, and so tedious that it keeps you from getting your true priorities done!


Crossposted on TM-Free Blog and Facebook.


John M. Knapp, LMSW said...

I'm kind of giggling here, John. I don't know much about perfectionism. I try to get the commas and spelling and words right, but I don't obsess about it. But, having spent time with Mahesh, I have observed how he'd obsess about getting things just right (while ignoring other things).

I have before told the story of Alliance for Knowledge. This was the first project I worked on in Seelisberg after the La Antilla course. To go along with the SCI course, Mahesh wanted a one-page fold-over to hand out. A rough draft was drawn up, then the fiddling began. in about a month, the one-page fold-over had turned into a 40-something page booklet in five different versions (one for medical professionals, one for educators, one for legal professionals, one for the general public and I don't remember who the fifth one was for). These were printed on glossy paper with Mahesh's usual leaning toward guilded Victorian bric-a-brac.

It was quite a production. Then all 5,000 copies were boxed up and forgotten. The more highly evolved amongst us opined that Mahesh was teaching us how to work together. I only learned a lesson about waste, as it happens.

John M. Knapp, LMSW said...

I should add (and should not write in haste) that Mahesh could be an arch perfectionism and simultaneously be hours late, keeping hundreds of people waiting. He could fuss over this word or that phrase or the colour of his peculiar taste in Victorian curlicues and gold decoration whilst completely missing the point that this was not the sort of thing that impressed the audience for whom he was concocting this charade.

Earlier (I have no idea where), I mentioned that Mahesh seemed to have a fixation for being as well as appearing busy, a constant fixation, a constant need for this. Perhaps he was more gobbled up by this peculiar personality trait than by actually being inclined to perfection.

If a child grows up constantly having to prove her or his worth to a demanding parent, perfectionism tends to become a life-long problem. But Mahesh was in his early 20s by the time he met Guru Dev. Although Mahesh mentioned that Guru Dev was very hard on him (and he would never be as hard on any of his students), it doesn't quite compute that he, at 22 or 23 years of age, developed this personality characteristic as a result of trying to please Guru Dev. But, I think we're all accustomed to being presented with a conundrum by the likes of Mahesh.

John M. Knapp, LMSW said...

Hi Sudarsha, to repeat what I wrote in another thread about 1/2 hour ago: assuming MMY's characteristic busy-ness started before age 22 in an attempt to win GD's praise, M could have tried in his childhood to be busy and perfect to win his brother's or father's approval. That's just armchair psychotherapy, but it's a place to start. There are some fun books showing photos of famous people at age 2, 5, etc., that fortend their future lives.

John M. Knapp, LMSW said...

I have heard that Mahesh felt he was mistreated by an older brother and went to live with his uncle ("Dr" Varma, his mother's brother) apparently when he was still fairly young, so what I have heard seems to coincide with what you have just said.

I met "a" brother (I don't know if he was older or younger) when I was in Rishikesh. Sattyanand introduced him as this is Maharishi's brother xxx. I used "xxx" because I don't remember his name. What I remember is that he, like many other Indian people I met, used initials. He could have been J.B. Shrivastava ... but I don't remember.

It would be very difficult to argue that Mahesh had nothing to prove. All of his action seems to have been in proof of something, even if it only seemed to be proof that he could always be busy.

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