In the flute world I know a lot of us struggle with being perfectionism. We are told we need to play perfectly in a lesson or in an audition or in a recital to get anywhere in this business. I have personally developed this perfectionist mindset throughout my years in graduate school and endless auditions. I would get excited about making practice plans, work out plans, and to do lists. I loved writing things down for the sake of writing things down, and planning, and over planning. I always thought this is how I stayed organized and on top of things (which, largely, I have).
This is until last weekend. I was listening to a podcast about something called the “perfectionist fantasy.” I thought it would outline the basic idea that perfection is a lie and nobody is perfect (things I still struggle to believe, admittedly, and have heard before). But that wasn’t what it was talking about at all. The “perfectionist fantasy” was describing the feeling we get when we make a big plan and write it all out. Usually the plan is too big and not completely manageable but we don’t care, because we can see ourselves at the end of it: Perfect. *cue dreamy fantasy music*
I do get a lot of joy in planning. When I get to buy a new planner for the year I get supper pumped. Now, I know why… In the past I’ve said,“I’m going to practice 6 hours a day.” I plan it all out, even what I’m going to do each half-hour, thinking about how accomplished I’ll feel at the end. Maybe I will stick to it the first day. Then, when I can’t reach it the second day because something came up, I think: well, the streak is ruined soooo, no more 6 hours a day. —For real?? Yes, this has happened countless times, because if I don’t complete my plan perfectly, I think: what’s the point? This was an insightful realization for me, and it happens on so many levels.
Just a couple of days ago I found myself getting excited to write down a list of emails I needed to send, but caught myself. I had 5 minutes to do those emails right then! So I did them. No need to write them down and cross them off. I have to say, the sensation of having them done rather than just writing them down was much nicer and felt even more productive.
What I have realized:
Done is better than perfect.
A couple of years ago I was running intervals (alternating sprinting and jogging) with a specific app and I had planned it all out. I had bene sticking with it for a little while, but one day I only had 20 minutes to run instead of 40. My first thought was: well I guess I won’t run today then. Good thing I said this out loud because someone was there to snap me out of it and say: Wait, so you’re not going to run at all then? — This is honestly hard to admit, but it hadn’t even occurred to me that I could just run for 20 minutes instead.
I think this applies to practicing in so many ways. If we say we will practice for an hour, but only end up having 20 minutes because a meeting ran long or we got caught up in emails, our perfectionist brains will chalk it up to a fail before we even start. We may not even practice at all, because our goal was to practice an hour, not the practice itself.
There is a difference between a goal and a fantasy.
Goals are things we set and are pumped to do the work for. One of the goals I don’t give up on has been training for a half-marathon. Though it is only the 2nd one I have done, I find myself motivated to do each run, and making up the miles during unplanned days of the week if I miss a day. When I have a fantasy about a perfect work-out plan, I don’t make up the day when things go wrong, I give up. I’m not willing to put in the work, because that wasn’t my goal in the first place, it was to do the work-out plan perfectly. When I make a fantasy perfect plan, I’m not thinking about the work, I’m thinking about the result. When I set a goal, I am thinking about the work involved.
All of this is not to say that you shouldn’t dream big, or write down a to-do list, or start a new plan. I think those are all amazing things, but if we think they’re all going to go perfectly, we really are just fantasizing. Things are bound to go wrong, of course we are going to get a flat tire on our way to the gym. Of course we are going to be stuck in a meeting too long or have too much homework to practice for that specific time we had set aside. Instead of starting over tomorrow (omg how many times I have thought this), do something anyway. Five minutes is better than no minutes.