brightwanderer: Ariel from The Little Mermaid (Ariel)
So I'm listening to this really awesome podcast called The Black Tapes. If you like paranormal/horror stuff, I highly recommend it. One of the characters is in the habit of investigating paranormal reports from the point of view of disproving them, and has a "normal" explanation for everything he comes across. He's also massively condescending, which often goes hand in hand with that sort of mindset. He is often referred to as the foremost "paranormal skeptic" in the series.

Here's the thing: he's not actually very good at skepticism. People use skeptic to mean someone who automatically disbelieves something that other people believe. Tell a skeptic a ghost story, describe a miracle, or express your belief in the immortal soul, and the skeptic will tear your narrative to shreds with cold, sarcastic logic.

That person is failing at being skeptical. )


(... but seriously, go listen to The Black Tapes. Just... possibly not right before you go to sleep.)

Edited to Add: Re-reading, I feel like this topic should come with a "full disclosure" type statement, so: I do not believe in gods and I do not believe in ghosts. I am absolutely the person who in my head is responding to ghost stories with "Ooh! Sleep paralysis! The Cotard delusion! That weird thing where staring at your face for too long messes with your brain! The permeability of memory and the astounding ability of the brain to hallucinate convincingly!". Which is why this particular characterisation bothers me, I guess. I don't see why anyone has to be an asshole about it, and besides, we're always learning new things that would have sounded crazy a few years previously!
brightwanderer: Ariel from The Little Mermaid (Ariel)
I expect there are other names for this behaviour, but I call it "optimising". I think it's distinct from general perfectionism; it manifests in a specific way.

It's when you look at a task or goal and think that there must be one "correct" way to do it - one "optimal" solution, like fitting all the pieces correctly into a jigsaw puzzle.

It is not, in itself, a problem, necessarily, if you are someone who follows through on that thought, finding the optimal solution even if it takes a bit more time and energy than normal. It might be irritating for other people who just want a solution, any solution, and are, for example, quite happy to just buy that TV there rather than exhaustively compare all available TVs to find the "right" one, but for the optimiser, it's not particularly a handicap.

Where it becomes problematic is if you are someone like me, who has the first half of the behavioural pattern - wanting to optimise a solution - but not the second half - the ability/desire to actually do it.

It's a problem then because the process becomes:

1. A Task needs completing / A Solution needs finding.
2. There must be an OPTIMISED SOLUTION for this!
3. Finding the optimised solution requires more effort, time, money, or a better sense of spatial awareness than I possess. (Or - spoiler - there may not in fact BE an optimised solution.)
4. ........ so I can't start this task, ever, because if I do it WRONG and NOT OPTIMISED then something something something DISASTER CATASTROPHE RAIN OF FROGS.

One of several things I have had to consciously train myself to do as an adult is to identify that pattern and short circuit it by just picking a solution, any solution. Sometimes I lie to myself by saying this solution is "just temporary" and I'll find the OPTIMISED SOLUTION later.

For me, the things that tend to trigger it are often things that involve literal space. Tidying up the house, for example (which is why I'm thinking about this today, as I unpack after moving); I feel like there should be a RIGHT way for me to put things away in the bathroom (should I use that drawer for soap and so on? Or is there a MORE OPTIMAL USE for that drawer?!?). Should I divide my important documents this way, or that way? Is one of them MORE OPTIMAL? Packing to go on holiday - I can't put anything in the suitcase! I don't know what the BEST WAY is to put things in! RAIN OF FROGS!

I notice it as well when trying to draw out plans, diagrams etc on paper - timelines, tables, floorplans, maps. I hesitate to put a mark to the paper because WHAT IF IT TURNS OUT THAT MARK SHOULD HAVE BEEN MADE THREE MILIMETERS TO THE LEFT?! And in writing lyrics and poetry; sure, that line rhymes and fits, but what if there is a MORE OPTIMAL LINE that could be there?! What makes one line better than another? And in planning and plotting fiction (not in the actual writing of it; I don't agonise over which configuraton of sentences to use) when I'm trying to decide exactly where and when things should happen: I become paralysed by the conviction that there's an optimal solution to my plot elements, and that committing to any one part of the whole will invalidate everything else or break it or something something something RAIN OF FROGS.

For me, the solution is the same whether I'm putting things in drawers or plotting fiction: just shove it in there, for heaven's sake, and if it turns out there is a MORE OPTIMAL thing you could be putting there, guess what? You can take those things out of the drawers again later! And put them somewhere else! Or move that plot element over by a couple of chapters!

And the interesting thing is how rarely, really, those things do get moved later; how rarely it turns out that there truly is some sort of optimised solution that would be better than "just put it where you think it would be okay to go", how rarely it is necessary to repack the suitcase or rewrite the plot arc. And even when those changes do happen, it's usually not because of some overarching optimised solution; it's usually the result of small-scale, organic alterations that make it obvious, suddenly, that your life will be slightly improved if you put something else in that drawer, or the story will flow better if you move that plot element back by a day.

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brightwanderer: Guardian Sol from Celestial Chronicle (Default)
Helen Bright

January 2017

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