Might as Well Screw Up

I remember back when John Bradshaw was all the rage– Healing the Shame that Binds You, and so on. He  got to be one of those speakers that they put on Public TV during pledge. One of the things that he said at the time gave me pause for thought– “Anything that’s worth doing is worth doing badly.”

When I first heard this, it sounded wrong. But then he went on to explain that perfectionism can be a huge stumbling block.  We avoid trying because we can’t do it well. But we’re all subject to the basic law of learning– nobody starts off knowing how to do something. We can watch videos, we can read books, we do things to prepare, but then we have to actually attempt– well, whatever it is that we’re attempting.  And we’re not good at it. Why should we be? We haven’t tried it before. The real barrier is frequently imagination, as much as I hate to say it. I love imagination and creativity, but these powers of the mind work best when disciplined, albeit in a friendly, gentle way.

So why pin a bad rap on imagination? Because undisciplined imagination allows me to imagine doing something perfectly. Maybe I’ve seen someone dance on Dancing With the Stars, or seen a sports figure doing it perfectly. I can imagine myself doing it perfectly, too.  The problem arises when I compare my newbie performance to their smooth professionalism. Ain’t gonna match. As they say in the 12 step rooms, I’m comparing my inside to their outside. In this case, their outside has spent years practicing the behavior that my inside is imagining for me. WHOOPS!! There’s research that says I can improve by imagining myself doing it well, but I still have to actually perform.

This is an application for mindfulness. When I focus on doing the new skill with my senses in the moment, letting go of judgment, this allows me to practice and improve. When I accept that I am subject to the laws of learning like every other creature that walks, swims, or flies, then I can relax and practice whatever it is. They say the first ten thousand times are the hardest.


About jamesmatter

Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT) in private practice in San Francisco. I work with adults, adolescents, and couples, with focus on substance use and abuse and co-occurring disorders (having both a mental illness and an addiction).
This entry was posted in behavioral health, choices, mindfulness and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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