What if you just…didn’t? The art of doing as little as possible, the opposite of perfectionism, and an argument against working your ass off

Leonardo da Vinci said, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” Would you not agree?

Why then—even despite understanding the cultural and societal expectations and measurement and definition of productivity—do we keep finding ourselves constantly adding more to the to do list, even when those things won’t get done?

While this can indeed be chalked up to “society,” I’m looking at it from a perfectionism lens. Perfectionism herself says “do do do. Be be be.” Do it all and be everything to everyone, including yourself.

On a really micro level, I’m talking about the pressure to do something with every goddamn email that comes across your inbox. I’m talking about the thing you think you have to do because you see others doing it or because you were taught to. PEOPLE, WHAT ARE WE DOING?!

After a session with dude therapist, a blog title popped into my head: “What if I just… didn’t?”

I can honestly say I had never considered just…not doing something. For example, bringing it back to my school experience – not doing a reading for class. I’d never considered skipping it. If I did skip it for that class, it’d be with the intention of definitely reading it within the next week. Or now, Not responding to an email I feel I should respond to. Why doesn’t it occur to me to just not respond? Perfectionism, I’d argue.

Since this session, I’ve been more discerning with what I allow myself to do, especially things that are unnecessary or I feel I “have” to do. Here are some examples: replying to cards from VERY distant relatives, doing anything “extra” on an assignment at work, reading all of my emails, sorting all emails, doing something with all emails. (I have a problematic relationship with email that needs healing.)

To back up this (radical) idea, there’s a strategy in DBT therapy that suggests doing the exact opposite of what you feel like doing. For example, instead of lashing out at someone, think of something you admire about them. So, if perfectionism tells us to do everything and do everything perfectly, what would happen is you didn’t do it… or didn’t do it well? Nine times out of 10, nothing at all. Literally nothing happens. No one cares, and you get over it (as long as you close the loop – meaning you throw the card away, delete the email, etc.)

Feeling that you must do all of the things you think you should do is a heavy burden to carry. You walk around thinking of everything you haven’t done and should. Yet you find yourself not doing the “shoulds” anyway because the “must dos” take priority every single time.

In short, cut the fat and nix the shoulds: You are still doing the must-dos. Again, you are still doing the must-dos! The must-dos-to allow you to function well in your life, job, relationships. But you’re eliminating the burden of the things you think you should be doing but aren’t going to do (you just won’t admit it to yourself).

It sounds terrifying and it takes practice, but you’ll soon find that it’s so, so worth it.

This strategy/mindset/philosophy applies in the workplace, too. In the words of my therapist, “say no to as many things as you can at work.” By being discerning and not taking on other peoples’ jobs, you maintain healthy boundaries and mental health and get really good at your job.

The workplace sector of this strategy is difficult when you believe that you should do everything in your power to max out your job and support your employer, even at your emotional expense, so it takes some time to reflect and convert that belief.

With this method, you maintain the following values at work:

  • Do good work. (But not at the expense of you.)
  • Do the right work. (Not any work thrown your way.)

Not doing the thing sounds entirely radical. Maybe entirely unlike yourself. To me, too.

Over time I’ve subscribed more and more fully with little to no actual consequences of not doing the thing. In fact, I have a calmer mind and a more self-accepting lifestyle. And for that I am grateful.

P.S. in case we haven’t met…

you seem normal is a mental health medium run by 24-year-old communication professional (hello!) who… well, seems normal.  Turns out, my roommate is mental illness. Actually more like my unborn, and non-conceived baby. Because it’s like, inside of me. This is getting weird already. Topics of focus: self-awareness (we love it), mood, anger management, perfectionism, relationships & boundaries.

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