By Tracy Laslop
North Vancouver Guitar School
I want to talk today about something that has been plaguing me my entire life as a musician, and I know it’s not just me, from teaching countless students that have the same problem!
I am confident that writing this article will make a difference to anyone with the perfectionism problem.
In my experience, perfectionism is a mental health issue. I don’t mean a disease, or something that you’re born with – but it is something you learned when you were young, and that is exactly why it is so hard to shake the habit.
When you’re a perfectionist, often you feel like you’re lazy because you’re thinking about a task that you need to do (let’s say practicing, being musicians, we all need to practice), and you just can’t get it done. You think about practicing, you go over and over it in your mind, but all that happens is you sit paralyzed, maybe even looking over at your instrument, and you just can’t bring yourself to play it.
So then you beat yourself up inside for being lazy, unmotivated, for all manner of other unkind words… when the problem wasn’t laziness to begin with, it was the words you are telling yourself, and the expectations you place on yourself.
So today I’m going to share with you 2 of the strategies that have helped me overcome my perfectionism problem.
When you overcome perfectionism, you can overcome injury, you can overcome rushing to meet deadlines, and you can start completing tasks on your to-do list, start managing your time better, and start living with a happier mind.
One. Make Lists… and I mean more than one list
I think the best possible thing that I can do when I’m overwhelmed and frustrated is to write everything down on a piece of paper in front of me.
This serves an immediate purpose, to get all of the overwhelming thoughts out of my mind, and onto a piece of paper that I can look at.
Human brains are not very good at understanding themselves. Expecting ourselves to untangle all of our problems while thinking about other problems on top of other problems just overloads the circuits.
I know many people who are musicians tend to resist writing things down, because you don’t want to feel like you need to refer to a piece of paper – you want to memorize things – and I’m here to tell you that’s a load of crap.
When you write the things down, even if it’s a messy list, with no rhyme or reason to it, or even an order, it doesn’t matter, it’s now in your visual field. It’s no longer a 10 pound weight sitting in your brain. Humans are visual creatures, and can interpret data differently when it is seen through the eyes. The list adds another perspective, and visually you can get clues about solutions to your problems that may not have made sense when you went over them in your brain.
You can also throw the list away so nobody knows you wrote things down, if you’re that worried about it 🙂
Now that you’ve made ‘the ugly list’, as I like to call it, you can rewrite it and make it clearer, and now you have an organized to do list. You didn’t just write a to do list – you cleared and focused your mind at the same time. I find I am in a 90% better place to work as soon as I complete this simple step.
Two. Rest when you’re tired.
Now I have been a student for many years, and also suffer from an injury that makes it impossible to play any instrument when it flares up. Funny enough I’m getting a lot of work done despite my injury at this moment in time, because I’m scheduling time to rest.
Sounds ridiculous right?
But it’s not. I would get less done back when I wasn’t injured, and more healthy – I would get less done because I never scheduled time to rest. I always thought I had to be working 100% of the time that I was awake. This is the belief that I grew up with, and after enough time following this belief, you realize that you’ve run yourself into the ground. When you create the expectation that you need to be focused 100% of your waking time, you consistently disappoint yourself. You then have no motivation to focus, and so you don’t focus at all, and lose hours to paralysis.
Sadly I had to get injured in order to learn that resting actually is something that needs to be planned into a day. It’s the only thing I can think of my injury for teaching me that if I work for an hour, take a break, then go back to it, and so on and so forth… I get way more done than if I tell myself I’m going to work for 8 hours straight without stopping.
I’m exaggerating only a little bit here, it’s amazing the crazy things we will tell ourselves when we’re perfectionists. About how if it’s not going to be done perfectly, we shouldn’t even try.
For me, there’s a direct correlation between the amount of tasks completed versus the amount of pressure I put on myself. The greater pressure I put on myself, the less I accomplish.
Chipping away at a task without the pressure of doing it perfectly is the healthiest place for a working brain to be. The more I remind myself of this, the more I get done.
Tracy Laslop of North Vancouver Guitar School is the only guitar teacher on the North Shore specializing in teaching children and youth, with a background in psychology. Her philosophy is to help her students grow throughout their lives, through the power of music.