This post was written by Ann Burrish, an . She can be reached for consults and coaching at email@example.com .
A smart and hardworking client who is a full-time student and almost full-time employee shared this thought recently. A cause of her angst? She took a nap after getting more done in a morning than I do some weeks. It got me thinking about this particularly sneaky form of perfectionism and self-criticism. It’s a crazy-making Catch 22: I’m not doing enough, so I better do more, which still won’t be enough, so I can either continue doing more in an increasing frenzy or get stuck and avoid thinking, feeling, and acting because it all seems like just too much – at the same time it’s not enough. Just perfect. (Pardon the expression).
When I think I’m not doing enough, I often do less. When I believe I’m not doing enough volunteering/donating/ paperwork/exercising/de-cluttering/flossing/?, I can become immobilized or unmotivated. Or I do the opposite: way too much. I overhelp from an anxious, pleaser place, which doesn’t feel good. It’s also annoying to most and under-appreciated by the rest…of those whom I am trying to do more for.
Why do we do this? In my case, I think it goes back to basic human fears: I am not safe; I am not enough. The irony is that self-judgment and perfectionism create conditions for the perfect (!) storm of the fight/flight/freeze response. This creates feelings of being even less safe and less adequate. Closely related to its cousins, “I should be doing more,” “I should be doing it better,” and “I’m not doing it right,” it’s also a setup for distraction and procrastination. Nothing happens, except we get to beat ourselves up for not doing enough (or anything.) Those of us who experience mind/body pain, anxiety, emotional eating, and other symptoms courtesy of the stress trifecta also get an excuse to view our disconnection through the same self-critical lens, and the “beat” goes on.
How to free one’s self from this loop? Here’s the thought I am playing with: maybe it’s all true. Rationally, I know that sometimes what I’m doing is enough and I just need to hold that thought. It may also be true that sometimes doing more would be better, and I’m not doing as much as I could be doing and it’s still enough. It might be what my body, energy, time, and sanity have to give right now, so it’s actually perfect. And some days, doing more is taking a nap.