“A job started is a job half done.” “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Yes, we’ve all heard these clichés, yet when it comes to making real changes in our lives, we can’t even get out of the starting blocks. Fear of failure and anxiety hold us back and we get stuck in the wasteland that is the procrastination zone. So how do we escape?
Ditch the notion of “perfect”
Clinical psychologist and academic Gina J Hiatt, PhD warns that we need to watch out for the “three Ps”: perfectionism, procrastination and paralysis.
She says the “mediocre perfectionist” is usually the one to watch when it comes to making headway. “Ironically, the perfectionist often achieves a product that is far less than perfect. In contrast, those who aim at more realistic goals can outperform the perfectionist,” says Hiatt.
US-based business coach Bill Baren concurs, saying: “Imperfect action is better than no action.” In an article on his website titled How to Fire Your Inner Perfectionist, he writes that one needs to consider the baggage that comes along with the word “perfection”. “When we are attached to perfection, we spend a lot of time learning and not much time implementing. We procrastinate. And procrastinate. We spend too much time making it just right (and it’s still not perfect anyway).”
Author Anne Lamott has some strong words about the need to be perfect. She says: “Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life.”
Lamott is all for living a healthy, juicy life and recommends taking on the philosophy of “shooting for the moon” while being nice to ourselves along the way. Her new book, Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy (publisher’s name to come), underlines the fact that if we start out on any personal journey, mercy, compassion and self-love need to be our constant companions. She readily admits that this takes hard work and consistent effort.
For Lamott, there is no avoiding “messy” when it comes to being human, but as a creative soul, she says rolling about in the mud is where we find inspiration.
“Perfectionism means that you try desperately not to leave so much mess to clean up. But clutter and mess show us that life is being lived. Clutter is wonderfully fertile ground – you can still discover new treasures under all those piles, clean things up, edit things out, fix things, get a grip.”
You might delay getting started on the journey towards fulfilling your goals for many reasons, including fear of failure.
The trick is to get started, no matter how clumsy, disorganised or imperfect that first move might be. For Brown, the starting point is really all about “showing up”.
All too often, we place conditions on getting started: “I’ll go on diet on Monday.” “I’ll start paying attention to my spending after Christmas”, and so on. In their best-selling book Designing Your Life, Bill Burnett and Dave Evans (Stanford Life Design Lab) suggest that you “start where you are”.
However, they also suggest not fighting with “gravity” or “reality” or you risk setting yourself up for failure. “If it’s not actionable, it’s not a problem. It’s a situation, a circumstance, a fact of life. It may be a drag (so to speak), but, like gravity, it’s not a problem that can be solved.”
They advise letting go of dysfunctional beliefs, such as “happiness is having it all” and suggest “reframing” your way of thinking about things, such as: “happiness is letting go of what you don’t need”.
Expect glitches, move on
Local behaviour-change communication strategist Thulani Grenville-Grey says: “Taking imperfect action is a pragmatic approach to making a plan of action because it acknowledges – upfront – that in real life there are many elements out of the control of the planner, which requires an attitude to accommodate life’s glitches.”
He says that effective goal-setting requires deep, realistic and honest introspection as well as a good look at locating the emotions that are holding you back. It is also very important to dig down and get to the root of the feeling that is your personal stumbling block.
Perhaps as humans we need acknowledgement and recognition for the small victories. Programmes like Weight Watchers, Weigh Less and Run/Walk for Life are structured achievable milestones that eventually add up to success in achieving the health and fitness goals of losing weight and getting fitter. Many exercise apps on smartphones also apply this, and perhaps for this reason the apps are so addictive as they appease the ego on some level.
Be present and talk. To yourself
Letshego Zulu is a young woman who has shown incredible courage and tenacity. Her husband, racing car driver Gugu Zulu, died while climbing Kilimanjaro in July last year. This year, Letshego decided to conquer the mountain in honour of her husband as part of the Trek4Mandela expedition. Her journey wasn’t easy, but she said that “self-talk” really helped along the way.
“Not once did I think: ‘I’m not going to make it’. I’m that one person who’s headstrong; if I start something I have to finish it. So it’s literally just about constantly talking to myself.”
She also advocated the notion of “being present” every step of the way. “Tune into the moment,”, Zulu told a local radio host when chatting about summiting Kilimanjaro’s Uhuru Peak.
She also posted 10 Lessons from Kilimanjaro on her Twitter feed: In Lesson #4, she says: “Pole Pole, which means “slowly, slowly” (in Swahili). Rome wasn’t built in one day, but bricks were laid every hour.”
Make the choice, get unstuck
Self-help guru and best-selling author Dr Wayne Dyer says that being stuck is an awful place to be, but in the end it’s all about choice. “You are not stuck where you are unless you decide to be,” he says.
Taking small, perhaps imperfect steps along the highway of change is definitely the way to go, says Dyer, and there really is no time like the present, so begin. “Go for it now. The future is promised to no-one,” he says.