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Tuesday Tip: Be a Deeply Disciplined Half-Ass

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My perfectionism is still solidly in remission, but at times I’m a little anxious that I don’t feel guiltier for not constantly striving to earn myself an A+ in every little realm of my life.

For this reason and many others, I am totally in love with Liz Gilbert’s new book, Big Magic. In it, she clarifies: Success and happiness aren’t just about not being perfectionistic. They come when we actually allow ourselves to be mediocre, if that’s what it takes to complete a project or task. We don’t need to feel guilty about the areas in our lives where we’re half-assing it, she assures us, when we prioritize completing tasks and projects over perfecting them. She explains:

The great American novelist Robert Stone once joked that he possessed the two worst qualities imaginable in a writer: He was lazy, and he was a perfectionist. Indeed, those are the essential ingredients for torpor and misery, right there. If you want to live a contented creative life, you do not want to cultivate either one of those traits, trust me. What you want is to cultivate quite the opposite: You must learn how to become a deeply disciplined half-ass.

It starts by forgetting about perfect. We don’t have time for perfect. In any event, perfection is unachievable: It’s a myth and a trap and a hamster wheel that will run you to death. The writer Rebecca Solnit puts it well: “So many of us believe in perfection, which ruins everything else, because the perfect is not only the enemy of the good; it’s also the enemy of the realistic, the possible, and the fun.”

“Become a deeply disciplined half-ass” is some of the best happiness advice I’ve ever heard. And in a world where people begin loads of projects but are too busy (or afraid of not being good enough) to complete much of anything, completion is a strategy that will put you ahead of the pack.

Which part of the deeply disciplined/half-ass equation do you need to cultivate in yourself? Share in the comments below.

If you need more discipline, think about cultivating work rituals or developing some new habits. If you struggle with perfectionism, read Big Magic — you will be granted permission to become your most authentic, good-enough self.

Want more tips for conquering perfectionism, or developing discipline? Sign up to receive Tuesday Tips by email.

Photo credit: Austin Fraser-jones

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  • Karri Hall

    As a fellow recovering perfectionist, I absolutely LOVE this!

  • BeckiH

    I’m a procrastinator with a perfectionist complex. I will be somebody awesome someday. LOL

    • I have good news for you, sister: You don’t have to be a procrastinator or a perfectionist! Start by practicing just doing what you want to do. (Really! Make a list of things you really want, in your heart of hearts, to do. Now be disciplined about doing those things.)

  • Elizabeth

    Great concept — just started reading the book, love it!!

  • Andrew

    I like to think of this in the satisficing versus maximizing framework. We can accomplish so much more if we choose to satisfice rather than maximize in so many of our decisions.

  • Kim Koontz

    A former boss told me after I had my 2nd child and I was trying to do my job the same as before, that “it doesn’t have to be perfect”. I have always remembered this and try to embrace it. Rather than spend the extra time it takes to be perfect, I can get it good enough, and go home to my family. This was hard to swallow as it’s not in my perfectionist self, but it has served me well over the years.

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