Monday, June 18, 2007

The Antidote to Perfectionism... living in the present.


If I look around me at all I need/want to do, and I put it off (procrastination), I simply move the problem into the future. What needs to be done still needs to be done. What I want to do may change, but it also remains undone.

If my goals and values are clear then I should be able to accomplish them now; or in the case of long term goals be making steady progress through current action). If I am not accomplishing the things that I say I want to do, then perhaps I need to decide if they are things I really want to do. If the answer is no then I should let them go, no matter what baggage is attached. If the answer is yes then I need to figure out why I am doing other things in the present, and whether the things I am doing in the present are things I really want to be doing.

For example, I say that I want to scrapbook. I have enjoyed scrapbooking in the past, and I like the scrapbooks that I made. I've invested some cash in scrapbooking tools and supplies (okay, it is not an investment; I spent past dollars on future projects). I'm still not scrapbooking in the present. I scrapbooked in the past, and I have what I need to scrapbook in the future. But I am waiting. What do I say I am waiting for? For time, and space, and printed out pictures.

For being a hobby that I am not currently involved in, scrapbooking takes up too much storage space in my home, and honestly is the source of too much guilt. When I look at it clearly, I'm not sure I want to scrapbook. I do like some of the things I have, but I've had them for a decade and haven't used them, so perhaps I like the things more than the actual scrapbooking. It is well known that for most people, scrapbooking is at least 50% shopping hobby.

Why haven't I gotten rid of my scrapbooking supplies? Because of guilt. I spent money on things that I am not using; to get rid of them proves that I wasted money. Now, the funny thing is that I know I spent the money when I shouldn't have; I just don't want to face it so honestly

Other mothers scrapbook their children's lives; I feel guilty for not having even finished my boys' baby books. What will they think when they leave home and I haven't done a full scrapbook for every year of their lives, plus vacations, sports, and holidays?

So I put it off until the future. I put it off because I believe that I can be perfect in the future; I can do all of the things that I am supposed to. I can use supplies and therefore not have wasted money. I can redeem my image as perfect mother in the eyes of my children.

Wait a minute.

I can't. I will never be perfect. I will still squander money, I will still make parenting mistakes. Worse yet, I will have been dishonest with myself, and that dishonestly will carry through to my children. They will believe that they can be perfect, and they will believe that I expect perfection from them.

No, the best thing I can do is live in the moment. I don't want to scrapbook. I do want to document my children's lives somehow, but not with patterned paper, stickers, and eyelets. I spent too much money on scrapbooking supplies in the past; I need to own up to it, forgive myself, and let it go. I started this process about 5 years ago, when I stopped buying any scrapbooking supplies.

Living in the present also works against perfectionism, because you can only be doing what you are doing now. You still have goals and values, but you are forced to act on them immediately rather than waiting for the perfect time, enough money, or whatever excuse you use to not do things.

Thus, if I am working to reduce my emissions, living in the present means that I live with those goals and values within me right now. I don't wait until I can afford a rain water capture system, or solar panels, or a house in the country with clean air and room for a big garden. Living in the present means I work with what I have now. Sure, hanging laundry takes time and only reduces my natural gas consumption by a very small amount; but it is something I can do now.

Now here is where it gets tricky. When I add up everything I could be doing right now, and expect myself to do it perfectly, I stop living in the present. I have to focus on the small picture; as soon as I think I have to be perfect I am living in the future again, overwhelmed by what might happen, afraid that my children will have very hard lives. There has to be room for error, or I stop enjoying now in my effort to create tomorrow.

I think this is one reason people decide that they can't reduce their own carbon emissions. The future looks so bleak that it is overwhelming. We can't imagine that the little changes make a difference; we're hanging on for big changes, whether personal (installing solar panels or wind turbines) of technological (there has to be something in the future that will take away the problem and our personal responsibility for it). We're not living in the present, we're waiting for something that may not happen. We're procrastinating, with the hopes that we will then find the perfect solution.

It is far easier to stop and say, Right now I am using more than my fair share of the earth's resources. What can I do right now to reduce my emissions?


  1. You hit the nail right on the head! And I like your choice of scrapbooking as what's bogging you down -- I can relate to all the reasons you listed.

  2. wow. i loved your post! i just discovered your blog today and look forward to reading your other posts.

    i particularly enjoyed the part where you said, "I need to own up to it, forgive myself, and let it go." how often do we hold onto things (tangible or otherwise) simply because we don't own up to it and forgive ourselves. we carry with us those burdens, which not only doesn't accomplish anything, but precisely cripples us from accomplishing anything!

    good blog!!