Outwitting Your Inner Perfectionist

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If you have children you know that they can sometimes be unflattering reflections of yourself.

“Put your pants on, Luke”, I often tell my 6-year old son, adding “Put down your Transformer and put your pants on”.

“Put your shoes on, Luke”, then “Set down your biscotti and put your shoes on.”

Oftentimes I have to explain to myself what I explain to Lucas: you save time by doing one thing at a time.

For children, of course, saving time isn’t a priority because it’s one thing they have in abundance. For adults, though, this tendency to do more than one thing at a time is a result of run-of-the-mill perfectionism.

I call it “run-of-the-mill” perfectionism because many of us think perfectionism is an attribute solely of artists or surgeons. Worse, many of us think of perfectionism as a positive thing, spurring us to higher and higher levels of achievement.

Real perfectionists know that the most-common side-effect is difficulty getting anything done. Those truly in thrall to perfectionism try to do everything at once because, well, what’s the point of trying to do one thing at a time when perfection is always beyond reach?

Blogs, as a medium, have helped me to see that if you take something seriously, doing it consistently is infinitely more important than doing it perfectly. But only by doing it consistently was I able to learn this.

Even on the most popular blogs, after all, it isn’t unusual to find misspellings, grammatical mistakes, etc. We readers don’t interpret such mistakes as failures as such. Blogging has evolved into a conversational medium, where the most successful ones tend to be personal, helpful and free, none of which requires that every i be dotted and every crossed.

What does this mean for you? It means that people – readers, audiences, bosses – respond to openness and authenticity more than to perfection and panache. (I learned this the hard way).

It means that if you’re intimidated by the prospect of writing book, commit to writing three books. Instead of updating your resumè, consider replacing altogether with your story. What do you wish to accomplish? What have you started? Captaining your high school chess club is pretty cool.. Founding your high school chess club is even cooler and tells us something about you. (This is great advice to give your children, by the way. If your child’s school has no German club, encourage him to start one and help him every step of the way. Imagine how transformative it is to be reminded of your power – even as a child – to start things).

So take a chance and start something, finish it and send out it out into the world. If you can do that, you’re ahead of the vast majority of others who wish they had the courage to do the same but substitute it with the unfulfilling rewards of anonymity. 

Will your thing fail to set the world on fire? Probably. But you’ll learn firsthand that you had much less to fear than you thought.

But what if everyone hates it? That’s the perfectionist in you again, telling you, in effect, that you’ve got one shot and that it has to be perfect. But you don’t have one shot: you have a new shot everyday. In fact, each moment provides you with an endless supply of new opportunities to say “Let’s see what happens”.

When you fail, tell yourself “Well, at least I got that out of the way”. You’ll find that your inner-perfectionist, for once, has nothing to say.

So use both your hands, pull up your pants and see what happens.

Did this blog suck? Let me know in the comment section below and I promise you, there will be a lot more.

Return to www.daviDDeeble.com or watch me fail on stage in front of hundreds of people.

Eyes On The Prize: How Best To Avoid Distractions

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Many years ago a head injury caused neurological damage to my right arm, costing me my ability to juggle. This would have been hilarious to me, too, were I not a professional juggler at the time. Instead, I became preoccupied with regaining my lost ability.

Years passed with no progress. I tried everything: doctors, strength training, a makeshift rubber sling. Toward the end I was attempting to juggle by simultaneously pinching a throw pillow under my armpit.

It was then that my friend stepped in.

An accomplished performer and also a trained pilot, my friend printed out for me the transcript of the last conversation between the doomed pilot and co-pilot of Eastern Airlines flight 401. Like me with my arm issue, these pilots had allowed themselves to become distracted with something which ultimately had no bearing on their objective (the bulb of the landing-gear indicator had burned out).

If the pilots had focused on the task at hand – landing the aircraft safely – they would have noticed that the autopilot had been disengaged and that the plane was losing altitude.

My friend had taught me a profound lesson which has served well me ever since: by thinking of myself as a juggler, I had lost sight of the fact that I still had every tool necessary to do my real job, which is to entertain.

Similarly, if Smith Corona had realized in the 1980s that it was in the word processing business rather than the typewriter business, they may not be making thermal barcode labels today.

It was this realization that allowed me to greatly expand my skill set to include stand-up comedy, catching olives on toothpicks and even slow-motion juggling with plastic grocery sacks, to name three things which turned out to be more hilarious than anything I had dreamt up before my injury.

Sometimes keeping your eyes on the prize is simple. Shooting out a flaming candle with a gun at night is impressive to the layman, but an experienced shooter knows it’s actually quite easy because the flame is the only thing there is to see.

Oftentimes, however, distractions abound. And the best way to ignore them is by focusing on your objective. This sounds axiomatic, but too often we fixate on distractions in our attempts to avoid them. During an emergency landing it’s tempting for a pilot to focus on the myriad things she must avoid: water, telephone wires, mountains, other planes. But experienced pilots are always focused on one thing: the runway.

What is your runway? Focus on it incessantly and don’t let distractions like fear of failure cause you to come up short.

Do you have thoughts on avoiding distractions and achieving goals? Leave the in the comment section below.

Return to daviDDeeble.com or watch me kick a coin into my eye socket.

Achieving Goals and the Magic Question “What should I be doing right now?”

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We’ve seen it so often it’s practically a ritual: an athlete who just lost the SuperBowl or the Wimbledon final is asked what it’s like to come so far only to fall just short.

“It is what it is” the athlete replies.

The following day the athlete is chided in the media for the banality of his comment.

I don’t doubt for a moment that many of those who utter this phrase are simply parroting what they’ve heard others say in similar circumstance. But wisdom is never banal, no matter how often it is uttered.

The Stoic philosopher Epictetus advised that one say precisely those words when, for example, you break your favorite mug. “It is what it is” is a magical phrase which reminds us that most of what we think of as tragedy is really just that: thoughts.

Instead of thinking “I got turned down from the prom – I’m a loser”, tell yourself “I got turned down from the prom”. Facts aren’t nearly as scary until we begin characterizing them.

One book that made a very strong impression on me is Bunkhouse Logic by Ben Stein. Bunkhouses are the humble structures in the middle of nowhere which cowboys stayed in while transporting cattle from one part of the vast western frontier to another. Successfully delivering the cattle to their destination on time is the cowboys job: if he doesn’t succeed he doesn’t get paid.

Stein describes a scene in which a cowboy brakes his leg while goofing around or otherwise doing something he probably shouldn’t have been doing. Being a cowboy, he sets the broken bone straight, creates a splint and then repairs to the bunkhouse, starring up at the stars against the jet-black sky between the cracks in the ceiling.

His thoughts naturally turn to the fix he’s in. “Well, this is just typical”, the cowboy thinks. “When will I ever learn? I’m a fool. This is hard enough work when I’m able-bodied. What am I going to do now?”

Sound familiar? If you’re like me, you probably have a similar sequence of thoughts yourself on a daily basis. But only one of those thoughts is free of characterization. Re-read the paragraph and see if you can guess which one it is.

“This is too hard” or “I’m a loser” are characterizations. “What am I going to do now?” is the question asked by those who get things done 

We can hem and haw all day about how it’s too late to save for retirement or get married. About how we seem to be on a treadmill while others go from success to success. But success begins with a radically pragmatic question: “What should I being doing right now to accomplish my goal?”

When you find the answer that question, the next question is exactly the same ad nauseum, until you accomplish your goal.

When you become familiar with this tendency to characterize events, it’s not uncommon to vilify yourself for for doing so. But remember: doing so is just another form of characterization. Simply follow-up such thoughts with the “magic” (read: pragmatic) words “What should I be doing right now?”

For more about the philosphy of Epictetus, I recommend The Art of Living translated by Sharon Lebell. Another excellent book on the importance replacing characterization with action is the the incredibly simple (not simplistic) Who Moved My Cheese? by Spencer Johnson, M.D.

Do you have thoughts on accomplishing goals? Leave them in the comment section below.

Return to www.daviDDeeble.com or watch something go horribly wrong for me at private party performance.

Positive Resolutions

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Happy 2015, everybody. On New Years Day everyone seems to be either hungover or jogging: so stay off or on the sidewalk, respectively.

If you made resolutions, I hope at least one of them was affirmative (like becoming more honest) rather than a litany of no-longer-can-do’s (like giving up smoking or drinking). When you resolve to quit smoking or drinking it’s very easy to look around and see nothing but people having fun smoking and drinking.

Of course, much depends on how you phrase your resolution. “Quit sleeping around” is very different from “Be loyal to my wife”. If you can formulate your resolution as a positive rather than a negative you find that doing so gives you to strive for, rather than striving against.

Nearly everyone benefits from having a little wind to their back.

Return to www.daviDDeeble.com or watch me deal with a 3-year old heckler.

Perfection: The Enemy Of The Better

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I enjoy minimalism. I’m also an advocate of it when it comes to personal growth – a little bit better at something or other over the course of your entire life and you’re doing pretty darn good.

Many people are impatient with small improvements over time because they have a perfectionist inside them whispering “If I can’t do a thing perfectly right now, what’s the point?” Whether the issue is saving enough money for retirement or getting married, the attitude is “It’s far too late for me”. And then a decade passes and you look at a photo of yourself from the present and think “Man, I looked great. If only…”

Perfectionism is ultimately a form of nihilism which allows it’s practitioners to say “What difference does it make?” And so your blog goes unattended for weeks (or months), you fail to finish anything you start, etc.

In a post-internet world in which the appetite for new information is constant, the costs of stinking up the place on a regular basis have never been lower. The world isn’t even riding on your success. That the world doesn’t care about your failures is a great consolation.

So you wrote what might be the worst serious attempt at a blog post in the history of the internet. (Consider describing it as such and posting it to Tumblr). So what? Life – and your work – go on.

When America’s Got Talent! invited me on their show I thought “Sure, why not?” I did entirely on my own terms, what more could I ask? The audience at the taping seemed to be mostly 13-year old girls. Not exactly in my wheelhouse. I went on to become the only performer on the history of the show to be buzzed off by merely describing my act.

The point is I don’t regret it: I don’t have time to.

Return to www.daviDDeeble.com or learn more about my corporate presentation on YouTube.

Seek Growth, Not Change

Screen Shot 2014-12-25 at 8.12.03 PMSpeakers too mediocre to talk about virtues talk about values; speakers too mediocre to talk about values talk about change.

Presentations about “obstacles to change” are nothing-burgers because “change” as such is neither good nor bad. Becoming a father constitutes change, so does infanticide. Being neither good nor bad, change as such is the seemingly-safe route for the speaker who lacks the courage or qualifications to talk about growth.

Obstacles to growth (be it personal, professional or organizational) is a legitimate topic because growth, unlike change, is a virtue. Speakers tend to avoid talking about growth, however, because it is verifiable, measurable and has an aroma of free-market competitiveness which the corporate world is desperate to avoid.

Change, conversely, has a patina of virtue which affords organizations the opportunity to engage in moral exhibitionism while avoiding a naked exploration of new ways to increase marketshare.

Do you have thoughts about change? Leave them in the comment section below.

Return to www.daviDDeeble.com or learn more about my corporate presentation here.