Escaping The Land of Stuck, Part 1: The Isle of Perfectionism

Kel Weinhold

So you’re stuck.

Welcome. We all spend time here now and again.

How about we toss self-castigation into the bin and try a different tactic in getting unstuck.

Step #1: Instead of being mad at yourself for ending up here, get curious.

Grab a piece of paper. Open a document. Or the Notes app on your phone. Doesn’t matter what writing device you use, just ask this question: What happened? Why did I get stuck in this spot?’  

Note: This is not the opportunity to pick up a club and beat yourself in the head for being in this spot. It is NOT an opportunity for more negative self talk. Instead, try to approach the question with genuine curiosity. “Why did I stop here?  Why did I fall off the path right at this location?” 

Step #2: Identify your location. As you start that exploration, you will probably find yourself stranded in one of three Locations of Stuck: The Isle of Perfectionism. The Sea of Change. The Quagmire of Failure.

This week, we tackle escaping the Isle of Perfectionism.

Academics are trained to pursue the A+, to be the smartest kid in the room. A scholar’s intellectual value, we are taught, lies in the ability to identify a weakness or problem…and only secondarily to solve it. And we get lots of credit for being critical. In no time at all, we start to aim that same search for weakness at ourselves and our own work. So, it should come as no surprise that we can get stuck when we can’t see the “perfect” path to our goal.

If you find answering the “why did I stop here” question with excuses about not knowing the “right” direction or the “best” path to the goal, it might be time to start the work on dismantling the false beliefs underpinning them: 1) You have to have everything in perfect order before you can go forward. 2) If you come to a spot, and you stop, it is a sign that you are less than or a failure.

Hear me now: Those are both lies. You do not have to be perfect in either your thinking or your process. All you have to do is be aware and respond with intention. In this case, be aware of the lies. When you spot them carrying out their nefarious deeds, challenge them! (Think of dismantling them as creating the raft that will allow you to sail away from the island.

I have found a very effective intervention in perfectionism is the question: “And?” Here is an example of how I might use that question if we were in a coaching conversation.

Me: Why do you think you got stuck?
You: “I don’t know what I want to say here.”
Me: “And, why did that stop you?”
You: “Beca
You: “Well, I might be wrong.”
Me:  “And?”
You: “People might point it out.”
Me: “And?”
You: “I would be embarrassed.”
Me:  “And?”
You: “I don’t like that feeling.”
Me: Ah, so you stopped writing out of a fear of embarrassment?
You: (Likely slightly annoyed): “Maybe.”

I would then ask you to write about that fear and how you could best engage with and settle it down in Morning Pages, being mindful not to write what you THINK you should need. Rather, really, what would support look like?

So, if you are stuck and the story you are telling yourself is that where you are right now is not good enough to continue, get out your literal or figurative pen and paper and get curious!

See you next week when we take on The Sea of Change and how we hate, hate, hate crossing into the unknown.

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