First and foremost: HAPPY FRIDAY!
It’s been a nutty week, but in the wake of Tuesday’s post on perfectionism, the wheels in my brain started turning. The wave of responses made me realize that a ton of us are doing battle with the demon of perfectionism — and if our collective misery with this motif is any indication, the perfectionism seems to have the upper hand.
Once I realized this, I had a little epiphany: I want to figure out why so many of us feel an overwhelming need to be perfect.
I want to get to the root (or roots, since it’s probably a pretty complex thing) of this and figure out how to de-claw the beast. To mix my metaphors, it’s probably not possible to slay the dragon and make perfectionism go away altogether, but it might be possible to at least mitigate it.
So, I started doing some research. (What can I say? I’m both a nerd and the daughter of a professor — so I’m fairly certain that a love of research is woven into my DNA.)
While there are probably many, many things that factor into causing perfectionism, the first thing I read about is the issue of mindset. What’s mindset, you ask? Well, my friend, you’ve come to the right place!
First, it’s an awesome book by Carol Dweck. (Here’s the Amazon link. You should buy it. Seriously, it’s worth every penny.)
As Dr. Dweck discusses in the book, after years of both teaching psychology and basically doing a metric ton of psychological research, she realized that there are two fundamental mindsets that people tend to have: the fixed mindset and the growth mindset.
I’ll get to the growth mindset in a moment, but here’s a compilation of quotes on how she describes people with the fixed mindset:
Believing your qualities are carved in stone — the fixed mindset — creates an urgency to prove yourself over and over. If you have only a certain amount of intelligence, a certain personality, and a certain moral character — well, then you’d better prove that you have a healthy dose of them. It simply wouldn’t do to look or feel deficient in these most basic characteristics.
[For people with a fixed mindset] Every situation calls for a confirmation of their intelligence, personality, or character. Every situation is evaluated: Will I succeed or fail? Will I look smart or dumb? Will I be accepted or rejected? Will I look like a winner or a loser?
In the fixed mindset it’s not enough just to succeed. It’s not enough to look smart and talented. You have to be pretty much flawless. And you have to be flawless right away.
[In the fixed mindset], it’s crucial to be perfect right now…because one test — or one evaluation — can measure you forever. … That’s why they must succeed perfectly and immediately. Who can afford the luxury of trying to grow when everything is on the line right now?
Ok, so after reading the first few chapters of the book, I basically felt like Dr. Dweck had spent untold hours hanging out in my head and recording snippets of my inner monologue. I’m a classic case of a fixed mindset person, and holy mother of God, is it ever exhausting and effing miserable.
The growth mindset, by contrast, is
“based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts. Although people may differ in every which way — in their initial talents and aptitudes, interests, or temperaments — everyone can change and grow through application and experience.”
Que the lightbulb going on over my head. I’d never thought of it this way. Never. I’ve spent the bulk of my life being deeply entrenched in the fixed mindset, and it never occurred to me to focus on growth, cultivating new skills (I’m one of those people who, if I’m not immediately good at something, I get frustrated/righteously pissed off and walk away), or, y’know, cutting myself some slack.
But ehrmagherd, y’all: once I started reading more about the growth mindset and the growth-focused approach to life, I felt like a huge weight was starting to lift off my shoulders. A burden I’ve been carrying around for 32 years started to lighten. It was pretty astonishing.
With tall that being said, I’ll obviously write a lot more about the growth mindset, other sources of perfectionism, and how to overcome it — and, in fact, I plan to do a whole series of posts on this. So, here’s to a) the weekend, and b) the upcoming Overcoming Perfectionism series!