Part three-self-discipline module 10
“I Must Be Perfect” & Reward Systems
“I Must Be Perfect”
Earlier we explored a subconscious goblin called Fear of Mediocrity. Now we are about to examine the belief system underlying it: “I Must Be Perfect.” Perfectionism, as we established during our exploration of Fear of Mediocrity, reigns as one of life’s greatest anxiety provokers. Its consequences include: procrastination, insecurity, alcoholism, drug abuse, broken relationships, and more. We all occasionally suffer bouts of perfectionism, when we find ourselves in terror of an error. But some persons find themselves in a continual wrestling match with this self-defeating belief.
- “I must win this contest”
- “I must perform this job perfectly.”
- “I must be the best”
Please notice that lingering behind such perfectionistic self-talk is the word “must.”Even when the word “must” is unspoken, the implication is there nonetheless. Whenever you feel you “must,” you’ve climbed into a pressure cooker. You’ve fallen victim to the attitude that says “Any performance short of perfection is unacceptable.” But human perfection does not exist. A part of you realizes, of course, that the concept of perfection is only an ideal to motivate you to seek the best in yourself. Indeed, this part of you wants to develop ideas, plans, and goals then turn them into reality. However, another part of you, the part chained to perfectionism, refuses to let the ball get rolling.
Your logic tells you that no matter what you do, most likely it won’t be perfect. For someone hung up on being perfect, the psychological pain, humiliation, and self-loathing that result from falling short of this impossible standard is too much to endure.
The consequences? Whenever the part of you that desires achievement begins to walk toward the door of self-discipline, the perfectionist part of you greases the doorknob. This behavior is an attempt by Hyde to avoid the impending anxiety that you have connected to imperfection.
The point: You will generate a lot more self-discipline and accomplishments by accepting that the “I must be perfect” attitude is a hindrance, not a help, regardless of your endeavor. “If you don’t do it right, don’t do it at all,” usually means that it will not get done at all. But if you dispute this irrational belief whenever it arises, you will quickly come to realize that: The reality of getting it done is more satisfying than the dream of getting it perfect.
Caution: Hyde will try to keep you tied to perfectionism and away from self-discipline by telling you that, “You don’t want to write a poor report, do you?” “You don’t want to do sloppy work, do you?” You don’t want to be called incompetent, do you?” Don’t allow yourself to be tricked. Different projects, of course, require different amounts of attention, time, and effort. Trust yourself to know the necessary and appropriate level of effort you wish to put toward any given project.
Perfectionism weakens perseverance. And perseverance produces more achievements than talent, smarts, or luck. Indeed, the path to accomplishment lies in perseverance.
“Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: Nothing is more common than unrewarded talent. Education alone will not: The world is full of educated failures. Persistence alone is omnipotent.” Calvin Coolidge
Here is a simple, enjoyable, productive exercise that you can use to teach your subconscious, which is where it really matters, that absolutely nothing bad happens if you don’t do a particular project perfectly.
Try this: During the next few weeks purposely write a few mediocre letters to a few different friends. Do not try for wit, genius, or perfection; but do not say in any letter that you are just dashing it off. In other words, in the body of the letter don’t make excuses for being less-than-perfect. You are not writing a Great Novel. Do not tie your self-esteem to the act. Do not spend much time being methodical; the point is to write a quick, mediocre letter—and live. Any considerations about content are yours. Regarding length, keep it short. Again: By no means are you to acknowledge your purposeful mediocrity in the body of the letter itself.
As you do this exercise, you actually are reprogramming your attitude, both conscious and subconscious, about perfectionism.
Power Tool: Reward Systems
Have you ever used a thoughtfully constructed, systematic reward system to help you get your projects started and finished? If not, then you will need to develop one. You are about to learn a simple system that will motivate you to action. This system will also reduce the conflict between you and Hyde when the time for action arrives, when you are actually faced with doing the steps that lead to your goal. But first, a word about rewards.
In the human behavior field rewards have been historically used to support desirable behaviors. Tons of research underscores the benefits of using rewards. A systematic reward is the golden key that opens the door to your self-discipline, painlessly. With that said, let’s quickly address some of Hyde’s mind tricks before they get started here. One of Hyde’s favorite tricks is to start saying things like: “I don’t deserve a reward for doing something that I should be doing anyway.” “I don’t feel right about giving myself a reward, it feels like a bribe.” “A job well done should be reward enough for me.”
Don’t buy into it. Hyde uses such deceptive lines to prevent you from using the power of rewards to fuel your self-discipline. Do you feel bribed when you collect your paycheck from work? Of course not. And, unfortunately, “a job well done” will not reinforce your positive actions enough to insure that you repeat them. For that, you need the psychological motivation that only tangible rewards can provide. Successful self-discipline requires that you learn and systematically use the benefits of rewards. Believe me, rewards are the easiest, most effective psychological motivators available to get you started and keep you going until you complete your projects.
People who have attended seminars, workshops, and classes on self discipline greatly benefit by using a personalized reward system that includes: Private Praise, Contracts, and Gradual Steps.
1. Private Praise: Every time you perform even the smallest step toward a large goal, immediately follow you action with private praise. That’s right, immediately congratulate every positive thought, feeling, or action, no matter how small and seemingly insignificant, with supportive self-talk.
ü“It makes me feel good to get this done.”
ü“Congratulations! You did it!”
The beauty of this technique is that you can do it any time and any place. Over time, these little supportive phrases will begin to weaken your resistance to doing things that you need to do but don’t really want to do. Give it a try. Soon you will begin to feel more and more comfortable when you take a step toward your goal. And by immediately patting yourself on the back following a completed step, you are boosting your self-esteem, which is a key ingredient in the self-discipline recipe.
Tip: Try to use the words of someone from your past who once gave you support for your accomplishments. Try to hear the sound of that person’s voice. This will give you added subconscious power when dealing with Hyde, the side of you that does not want self-discipline. But remember, this technique is only one third of the reward system that you will be using. So do it a lot, but keep the words short and simple. Quick phrases like “Good work!” “Don’t give up!” and “You can do it!” said in a strong, solid, supportive voice will work psychological wonders. This technique is too easy not to use constantly.
Important: If you slipin your self-discipline, do not berate yourself. Don’t call yourself stupid, lazy, or stubborn. This type of self-talk is counter-productive, it’s a subtle form of punishment and works to lower your self-esteem. Punishments do not change behaviors as well as rewards do. So when you slip, and you will slip because you are human, say to yourself, “So I slipped. No big deal. I’ll do better next time.” That’s right, let yourself off the hook. And even though you might feel that you should be harshly criticized for slipping, the real truth is that you will be much better off in the long run if you do not punish yourself in any way. So, when you hear Hyde’s put-downs, immediately replace them with a soothing, understanding word or two for yourself. And be sure to smile when you do it, so your subconscious mind will know that you really are not angry with yourself.
2. Contracts: Self-contracts are powerful psychological devices that you can use to reward yourself for every step you make toward a goal. You contract with yourself just the same as you would with another person. When you contract with yourself always be specific about your actions and the reward involved. Sometimes translating the agreement into numbers helps.
“Every time I complete an assignment, I will reward myself with thirty minutes of guilt-free, junk television, because I like it.”
“For every time I clean up my room, I will go for an ice cream”
“When I finish writing an assignment, I go for a long walk.
“Every time, I finish writing an article which I have planned, I go for a ….”
Tip: Simple written contracts with yourself will give you more self-discipline power than verbal ones. The act of writing involves you in your agreement physiologically as well as psychologically, thus adding even more power to your efforts.
3. Gradual Steps: This might just be the most important element in any reward system. Remember that all of your self-discipline projects need to be based on a step-by-step approach, and each step needs to be rewarded. This holds true no matter how small the step or how small the reward. Because the first few steps of a project might seem too small to deserve a reward, many people make the mistake of withholding rewards until after they take the bigger, more visible, difficult steps of their project. This approach is counterproductive because it overlooks the psychological benefits of having a solid reward system that operates throughout the entire project.
In other words, use rewards at the beginning of the project, then when you hit the middle and end stages you will get a psychological boost from knowing that the entire project has had enjoyable benefits for you, not just the outcome. This can keep you going when you hit the parts of your project that are outside your comfort zone. It will also help you get started on your next project.
Rewards give you extra power to negotiate with Hyde. You, more than anyone else on the planet, know what your Hyde likes. Use
this knowledge to get Hyde working for you rather than against you.
Exercise: Design a reward list
Now it’s time to put together an easy reward system based on your personal innocent pleasures. Don’t just think about this exercise, write it. You will need it later. All you have to do is grab a sheet of paper and a writing tool. Then you need to list all the things you can think of that you would like to do for fun, I repeat, for fun. Think of movies, travel, classes, television, conceits, clothes, small indulgences, big extravaganzas, etc. The longer the list the better.
When you initially run out of ideas the list is not done. You’ll want to keep your list active. Add to it whenever you think of additional pleasures. Always add to your list as soon as you think of things. Make sure that each item on your list has a number on the left side. Don’t concern yourself about the order that your reward items appear on the list. The important thing is that you keep each item short. One word, such as “Movie,” works great.
Keep this exercise simple, don’t make it a chore. You are talking about rewards here, so make doing the list fun! Generate a list of affordable, realistic and life-congruent pleasures. Each reward on your list will be a powerful tool in your negotiations with Hyde. So, do not take this tool lightly. Your reward list is as important to self-discipline as any to-do list. Moreover, it is important for you to actually write your rewards down, rather than just think about them. We will be using your list in combination with the Action Plan that comes later. I repeat: A reward system is a key ingredient in your self-discipline recipe. Choose the rewards proportionate to the work done and the time spent on important assignments. So, use rewards generously and self-discipline will taste much better.
Example: Rewards List
My Guilt-Free Rewards
- 1.Go to a movie
- 2.Watch a video.
- 3.Go for an ice cream
- 4.Enjoy a pizza
- 5.Visit an old community member or a neighbour
- 6.Dinner at a special restaurant
- 7.Fifteen minutes of long distance talk
- 8.Do a service to a companion
- 9.Join for cooking
- 10.Help in the garden
- 11.Dumb TV, with popcorn, one hour,
- 12.Weekend outing to visit a friend
- 13.phone call to a dear person
- 14.An hour in the garden
- 15.A distant call to an old friend
- 16.See a play
- 17.Fluff novel, one chapter
- 18.Read magazine
- 19.Play a music, one hour
- 20.Go hear live music
- 21.Prepare a special dish
The rewards need not be always physical pleasures, but something that you enjoy doing leisurely for the pure joy of doing it. There are mental and spiritual joys which, when a person begins to discover and enjoy them, he/she may no longer be very much attracted to physical comforts and consider them a reward. Therefore, each one has to design his/her own reward system. All the same, the capacity to enjoy small pleasures of body and mind is proper to an integrated person. Reward is not to be seen as an external dividend for which you force yourself to do something. In that case, your action loses its intrinsic value. Here we mean reward in the positive sense of allowing yourself to enjoy simple pleasures and joys of life consciously in order to celebrate your successes.
Apply the reward system nowto your current program. You are in the 3rd part of the program of self-discipline. Now on after finishing every module (or every two/three modules), reward yourself with one of the items from your list which suit your present context. Observe its effects on you.