Perfectionism: The Voice of the Oppressor

Cover of "Bird by Bird: Some Instructions...

I don’t know that I could have picked two better books to read simultaneously.  If Kelly McGonigal’s The Willpower Instinct is the brain of the operation, then Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird is the heart.

I know everyone has already read Bird by Bird.   Most likely in 1994, when it was published. I was a little busy that year.  Plus, I have a stubborn streak and if someone says to me, Oh, you’ve just got to read this book! (or see this movie, or meet that person), I won’t.  Just to be stubborn.  It took me twenty years to see E.T. the Extraterrestrial.

Still, even if you loved Bird by Bird when you read it seventeen years ago chances are you’ve forgotten why. I’ll remind you:

Here are Anne Lamott’s thoughts on perfectionism:

Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people.  It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft.  I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die.  The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.

Meanwhile, back on the pages of Kelly McGonigal’s The Willpower Instinct we find studies that support Anne’s heartfelt commentary and advice on how to relinquish the desire to be perfect.  Kelly explains why offering compassion and forgiveness to ourselves instead of layering on the guilt for our missteps strengthens our ability to see the big picture. 

I didn’t expect Bird by Bird to make me smile as often as it has.  And I didn’t expect The Willpower Instinct to be so easy to take.  I expected an overly sweet Bird by Bird to have me in a literary sugar coma by page forty, but Anne Lamott’s practical advice is seasoned with just the right enough bite to balance the moments that bring tears to your eyes.

I thought Kelly McGonigal’s book would be like any other book I’ve read about goal setting.  I thought I’d be writing lists, repeating affirmations and by the end of the day – with few items on the list accomplished – calling myself a failure.

The truth is, Kelly’s book is about forgiveness. It’s about settling down.  Giving yourself a break.  And she has all the scientific evidence we need to see why this is important.

My intention was to break my Hulu habit by reading eight books in six weeks.  That’s not going to happen.  Why?  Because I chose an astoundingly unrealistic goal.  That’s typical of me and, according to McGonigal, typical for many of us.  But don’t blame Hulu. While I haven’t severed my attachment to Hulu completely (a once-a-week, twenty-two minute dose of The Big Bang Theory after a long day is medicinal) I’m certainly no longer sliding down a steep slippery slope toward a self-inflicted Hulu-lobotomy.

A more realistic goal is four books in six weeks.  Today Bird by Bird returns to the bookshelf.  The Willpower Instinct, however, is staying out.  Now that I’ve read it from cover to cover my intention is to go back and read it again – this time actively working through the exercises provided.  I’ll keep you posted how all that works out.

The book I’m beginning today is John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars. No, it wasn’t on my original list. I’ve chosen this young adult novel because I’m working on a young adult novel (yes, again). The book has a bit of buzz on it and I’m looking forward to digging in.

Next time:  An update on the meditation practice I committed to in January or A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Whole Food’s Meat Counter

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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