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Creativity coach, writing and creative process instructor, speaker, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want (Penguin/Tarcher 2012) and Dancing in the Dragon's Den (Red Wheel Weiser), Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center.

Don’t Let Perfectionism Sneak Up on You

I saw my dental hygienist, Nan, last week for a routine cleaning. She noticed that I had more build-up than usual and asked if I was using my electric toothbrush.


I’d had a feeling Nan was going to ask me about that. So I’d thought about why, after consistently using my electric toothbrush for years, I stopped. I realized that I’d gotten out of the habit for a ridiculously simple reason.

“It’s silly, I know, but my old electric toothbrush beeped every thirty seconds to tell me to shift to a different quarter of my mouth. You know, from upper outside to upper inside.

“The new toothbrush doesn’t beep, so I have to have my watch on to know when the thirty seconds is up. Because I never wear my watch when I brush my teeth in the morning, I tell myself I’ll use the electric toothbrush later in the day. But I never do.”

Nan was a model of self-restraint. She didn’t even roll her eyes. She patiently suggested, “Your life is already complex enough. Make this simple. Just use the electric toothbrush and brush all your teeth. Don’t worry about the thirty seconds. You’ll do a better job with the Sonicare in two haphazard minutes than you will with a conventional toothbrush, even if you don’t brush every tooth for the same amount of time.”


Of course! I’d let perfectionism and the expectation that I had to do it “right” get in the way of doing it all. Nan was telling me what I tell my coaching clients and students: Show up, put in your time and don’t worry about being perfect. Just do it.

An imperfect something is always better than a perfect nothing. And the more often you do something imperfectly, the better you get at it.

For writing, 15 Magic Minutes will break perfectionism’s hold. For teeth, it’s 2 Magic Minutes.

How does perfectionism trip you up in your writing or some other area of your life? How can you simplify your expectations?

If you’re not sure how to start in your writing life, consider my new single-session class at the Loft: 15 Magic Minutes: From Writing Wishes to Writing Results. If you’re not how to start with your dental life, I can recommend an excellent hygienist.


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2 Comments on “Don’t Let Perfectionism Sneak Up on You”

  1. Joel D Canfield June 11, 2014 at 12:03 pm #

    Super picture of the statue. Is it entitled “D’oh!” ?

    Balance: there’s a broad spectrum between garbage and perfection. Finding the right distance from either end comes mostly with experience, but partly from the wisdom of others.


    • rosannebane June 11, 2014 at 8:43 pm #

      Experience = Learning from others + Enough Time to forget who you learned it from


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