Navigating Motivation as a PerfectionistOct 15, 2021
Let’s talk about perfectionism.
A few weeks ago I was asked to bake a cake for a friend’s birthday. This cake is difficult. It takes 3 days to bake and there are so many steps. After the first day I took a look at this monstrosity in the fridge and it was awful. I immediately threw it away and started on another cake.
I most certainly identify as a perfectionist. I often criticize my own pursuits if they don’t end up how I picture them in my head. I usually wait until the last minute to start certain tasks...this blog for example… and worst of all, some things I won’t even try because I am unsure I’ll get to the finish line.
Motivation for Perfectionists
Motivation for a perfectionist can be filled with negative self talk and catastrophic thinking. We often find ourselves assuming others will think poorly of us if we make an error. This in turn sometimes leads us to not starting in the first place. Or worse, when we finally do start, we can’t stop until we get it just right. This often leads to staying at work late, putting off sleep and neglecting self care.
Remember what Annie said about what motivation is?
For those of us who like things to be just perfect, our endgames are our motivations. The outcome is what we pursue, no matter the cost to get there.
The Science of Motivation
Okay my fellow workaholic stress-balls, let me introduce you to the science of motivation and some simple ways to get over your procrastination, stand up to your fear of failure and advocate for yourself by giving yourself a break.
Let’s start with a quote from Andrew Huberman, a professor of Neuroscience at Stanford:
“Celebrating the win more than the pursuit actually sets you up for failure in the future.” - Andrew Huberman, Ph.D.
This is called Dopamine Reward Prediction Error and you know this. Think about the finish line, your big goal, your big dream and think about how amazing it will be when you get there. You can practically taste how happy you are at that moment. That celebratory moment has an expectation.
Now what if reality doesn’t quite live up to the expectation? Even though you achieved the goal, you got to the finish line, you now feel as if you lost. Which then leaves you with less motivation in the future.
If we constantly think of the reward, the end, as the thing that we seek, and it doesn’t meet our standards, we often lose interest and seek elsewhere. How many of you self-identified perfectionists start and stop pursuits on a whim? Me too. Or perhaps you start criticizing yourself, demoralizing and demotivating yourself in the process?
Three Motivation Tips for Perfectionists
So what do we do about this? How can we stay motivated if we have these tendencies to strive for satisfaction at the finish line?
- Set boundaries for work. Once we start it’s hard to stop until we get things ‘just right.’ It’s often easier for perfectionists to put forth ‘more’ effort at work and see it as a good thing. Having a good work ethic, putting in longer hours and ‘fixing’ the work of others. See this for what it is, micromanagement, workaholism and procrastination in home life. Believe me. I know this. I spent 10 years of my life devoting 60+ hours a week to managing restaurants. I look back at that time and regret not taking that weekend off for a wedding. Or that day off to see a friend who’d come into town. Work will still be there tomorrow.
- Recognize the signs of catastrophic thinking and offer an alternative, positive outcome and/or positive self talk in response. Now – I teach this to 9 and 10 year olds, and if they can find something good to say about themselves, so can you.
- Let the pursuit be your happy dance, not the end. Celebrate the steps of your task more than the finished product.
Until next time,
Forest Coaching Breathing and Running Expert
Follow her @amanda_willrun4cookies
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