Do you have “banging your head against the wall” syndrome?

In his book The Perfectionist’s Handbook, author Jeff Szymanski talks about the difference between persistence and “perseveration” – or what I like to call “banging your head against the wall” syndrome. 

Bang your head syndrome

Persistence is that dogged determination of working on a challenging task that you know you can accomplish: the long, slow grind of marathon training. Its alter ego perseveration shows up when you keep applying yourself to a problem without results. You might start to feel anxious because it’s not working and you’re wasting time.

Think about bloggers who insist on getting their introduction perfect before moving on to the rest of the article – and end up staring at a blank screen (guilty!). Or startups who insist that their idea is the right one, even though no customers seem to agree. Or working mothers who exhaust themselves peeling potatoes and chopping vegetables after a long day of work, day after day.

Often, the problem is falling into the trap of “The Right Way.” The writer assumes her introduction must come first; the entrepreneur believes that his original idea must be the winner; the mother feels that all dinners must be made from scratch. We get so obsessed with details and doing things properly that we forget about the overall goal: writing an article, making money, or having a family meal.

It reminds me of an infographic I saw by Yang Liu about attitudes in the East vs. the West: it turns out Eastern societies know that some “problems” really aren’t problems at all – and you can just step around them.

East vs West

Not sure if you’re banging your head against the wall or slowly chipping away a tiny hole through it? Ask yourself these questions:

  • Am I making progress?
  • What is my emotional state?
  • Do I have alternatives?

In other words, be flexible. Be faithful to your goal, but creative about how you get there. There isn’t one Right Way.


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