On Being a “Good Enough” Parent

We live in an age of perfectionist parenting, but one mom was smart enough to bow out: I wish my new-mommy-self had been familiar with the philosophy of the “good enough” mother. Donald Winnicott, a British psychoanalyst coined the term in the 1950′s while studying the interactions of mothers and their infants. He believed mothers did not need to be perfectly attuned to the needs of their child but just “ordinarily devoted” or “good enough”. He explained such a mother strives to protect her child from overwhelming extremes of discomfort or distress. “Good enough” goes beyond mediocrity. It involves making rational choices when faced with challenges and then striving for improvement. It does not include the compulsive behavior that results when driven toward an illusion of perfection. … [Read more...]

David Foster Wallace: Perfectionism as Paralysis

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“My life…was often lived as performance art for invisible Simon Cowells”

A moving and wise essay on how one woman's becoming less perfectionist helped her when she had to face cancer: Around 13 years ago, a confluence of events revealed to me how soul-sucking perfectionism was, and how much the futile striving for it was costing me in stress and anxiety. I began to understand that my zealous pursuit of knowledge was feeding arrogance, complacency and flawed answers that left me empty in crucial ways. Control was a deceptive illusion and my life, though not fake in any way, was often lived as performance art for invisible Simon Cowells. So I forsook perfectionism, knowledge for knowledge’s sake, and the insecure need to control and be right, and the world began opening up to me in surprising ways. Coloring outside the lines led to more happiness and optimism, my character flaws became just a part of all I am, and “just OK” became permissible. In mystery, no longer a source of anxiety, I found wonder and satisfaction, even amusement. I began to value the questions, finding an … [Read more...]

Why Rodin’s “The Thinker” Should be Renamed “The Perfectionist” (Plus, Bonus Balzac!)

Auguste Rodin's famous "The Thinker" statue (1902) is, all by itself, probably responsible for many cases of perfectionism and procrastination. It's such a forceful statement that some, looking at it, probably think, "So THAT'S what intellectual work is supposed to look like! A grinding inner struggle! I'd better aim for that, and if my work comes too easily--or, if it's actually fun--I must be doing something wrong." The problem is, very few prolific people really work that way: most "think" via doing. So, most mathematicians work out their math problems through the act of doing math, most sculptors work out their sculptural problems through the act of sculpting, and most writers work out their writing problems through the act of writing. Another problem is that The Thinker looks pretty miserable. Check out his deeply furrowed brow, tense muscles, and utter lack of joy. His seat also doesn't look very comfortable. Even if we could think our way through problems, most of us can't tolerate prolonged … [Read more...]

Compelling Links: Racial Profiling, Rhino Sanctuary, Hillary Clinton’s Image Inspires Women to Speak Publicly

A really eloquent essay on how it feels to be racially profiled your whole life. Inspiring obituary of Anna Merz, who founded a rhino sanctuary. A new study finds women give longer and more confident political speeches when they are exposed to images of female role models. "Female role models eliminated the gender gap, though. Women gave longer speeches and evaluated themselves more positively when they were primed with with images Hillary Clinton and Angela Merkel than when they saw Bill Clinton or weren't primed at all. The outside observers also rated their speeches higher." (ht: Annie Paul Murphy's Brilliant Blog) … [Read more...]

Academic Success Catalyst Program Begins This Wednesday 4/24 at 3:30 Eastern. Enroll now.

The ASCP is for graduate students, postdocs, junior faculty, and other junior academic researchers who would like to: • get more productive in their writing and other work • finish their thesis, papers, or other projects • have an easier time finding a job • have better relationships at work and at home, and • be more strategic and effective in building their career. Not to mention…feel less stressed, more optimistic, more revitalized, and more connected with their work! Four one-hour calls, with a lot of individual attention for $125. (Includes a free copy of The 7 Secrets of the Prolific!) Only a couple of slots left; enroll now by PayPalling $125 to [email protected] More info, including conditions, here. … [Read more...]

Lyrical Guy Embodies Perfectionism (Now With More Hemingway)

Someone posted an entertainingly macho/perfectionist take on writer's block. I'm not going to link to the original, in the interests of protecting the misguided, but it does provide us with a valuable teaching moment, displaying as it does such vivid examples of perfectionism as: Harsh Judgements ("Those who complain about writer's block are just looking for an excuse to not write.") Macho Grandiosity ("There are times when you hit a perfect phrase--just two or three words that sing, that shine in the darkness, that illuminate a dark area where the monsters come from. And when you do find those two or three words that sparkle in the fog of the mundane existence of an everyday routine, you create magic, and life is really worth living all over again.") Overidentification With the Work ("Writing is life and life, writing.") Hyperbole ("Writing for some of us is just as vital as the blood that runs through our veins.") And he illustrates it all with a picture of the patron saint of grandiose … [Read more...]

Mayo Clinic Poll: Half of Americans Would Consider Donating a Kidney to a Stranger

Great news. And here's the link to my kidney donation story. … [Read more...]

Interesting Links: Critical Thinking, The Internet and Democracy, 70th Anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising

A Great Overview, in plain-sense language, of How to Read and Write Critically, and why you should. The Internet is Catalyzing Democracy and Freedom It's the 70th Anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. … [Read more...]

The Importance of Daily Rituals to Writers, Artists, and Other Creators: What Would Flaubert, or Beethoven, or Balzac, or Edward Gorey Do?

An entire chapter of The 7 Secrets of the Prolific is devoted to the topic of resources and requirements needed to be a prolific writer. It's not a trivial topic, as abundantly resourcing yourself can mean the difference between being and being blocked. Here's an excerpt: Writers, like other artisans, tend to be fascinated by the work habits, tools and techniques of their successful colleagues in particular. John Gardner wrote, in On Becoming a Novelist, “The single question most often asked during question-and-answer periods in university auditoriums and classrooms is: 'Do you write with a pen, a typewriter, or what?'” (This was in 1983, so computers weren't part of the scene.) Fortunately, many successful writers are generous with that kind of information. The Paris Review editorials are a treasure trove, as are The Guardian series on Writers' Rooms and Rules for Writers. Pragmatic descriptions such as the above are antiperfectionist and ungrandiose: they generously support other writers' … [Read more...]

Just Because…

Boston is on lockdown this morning, so here's a yellow bird. … [Read more...]

“Minecraft” Creator Blocked

Markus Persson, the creator of the megapopular game Minecraft, is blocked on his next project. Sounds like a classic case of situational perfectionism to me. SP often follows a huge success or an early success. (See, also, this.) He sounds like a genuinely nice guy (among other things, a supporter of the Electronic Frontier Foundation) and I wish him well. … [Read more...]

Feeling Powerful Makes You Think Better

I'm turning into a big fan of Annie Murphy Paul's Brilliant Blog. The advice in this article on thinking more effectively by locating your centers of power nicely complements The 7 Secrets of the Prolific's thesis that procrastination is caused by disempowerment. I particularly like Paul's advice to find a role in which you feel powerful (as opposed to struggling for your power in a role that's not a good fit), and to pay attention to your posture and physical bearing, as some postures help you feel empowered while others disempower you. The posture thing also has a gender dimension, as nicely illustrated in this New Yorker cover featuring former vice president Dick Cheney and his "boss" George W. Bush in an apron. It's from yet another great Annie Murphy Paul post … [Read more...]

How to Spend Your Weekend

Some great suggestions from Laura Vanderkam author of What the Most Successful People Do on the Weekend: I like her #2 and #3 best: 2. They Don't Go Limp. If you spend your workweek running -- or worse, flying -- from place to place, you may think you want to collapse on the couch all weekend. But resist the urge: First, it’s impossible to do "nothing." Second: Think of the logistics. Want tickets to Cirque du Soleil? So do other people. Need a babysitter? She won’t show up on a whim. Finally, research into human happiness is finding that anticipation accounts for a major chunk of the mood boost associated with any activity. One well-known Dutch study of vacationers found that holiday-goers were happier than people who weren’t taking vacations, but the increased happiness largely happened before the trips, as people anticipated the fun to come. Compare it to opening Christmas presents: The act only takes an hour, but seeing wrapped gifts under the tree stretches out the joy for weeks. If you make a … [Read more...]

Prolific Robot

An artist did this for me a while back at a science fiction convention: … [Read more...]