Are You a Scanner or a Perfectionist?

In this review of Barbara Sher’s book, Refuse to Choose!, the concept of Scanners is explored and will help you idenify if you are one.

It has long been an axiom that perfectionism causes procrastination, which leads to paralysis in which the perfectionist can’t seem to do anything. So if someone has difficulty getting started on projects, or goes from one project to another without completing them, she may assume she is a failed perfectionist. She wants to do well but doesn’t do anything.

However, in Refuse to Choose! : A Revolutionary Program for Doing Everything That You Love by Barbara Sher, a best-selling author of six self-help books, you will learn than not all who are paralyzed are perfectionists. Well, they may have a bit of perfectionism in them, for in a perfectionism society it’s not surprising if there is a little of that in all of us.

Rather, Sher speaks of “goal paralysis” experienced by people who procrastinate because they can’t choose what to do from all the things there are to do in this exciting world.

Therefore, if you don’t experience yourself as having most of the characteristics of perfectionists, consider a new diagnosis. There is a chance you are one of the “smart, curious people who devour every new project or experience but are unable to decide, once and for all, on a single direction for their lives, and fear something is horribly wrong with them. Either they dread being labeled a dilettante— shallow, lazy, eccentric — or people in their lives have told them to ‘grow up’ or ‘make up your mind.’ ”

Sher calls these people “Scanners” and describes them by saying:

Intense curiosity about numerous unrelated subjects is one of the most basic characteristics of a Scanner. Scanners are endlessly inquisitive. In fact, Scanners often describe themselves as being hopelessly interested in everything . . . A Scanner doesn’t want to specialize in any of the things she loves, because that means giving up all the rest. Some even think that being an expert would be limiting and boring.

Our society frowns on this apparent self-indulgence. Of course, it’s not self-indulgence at all; it’s the way Scanners are designed, and there’s nothing they can or should do about it. A Scanner is curious because he is genetically programmed to explore everything that interests him. If you’re a Scanner, that’s your nature. Ignore it and you’ll always be fretful and dissatisfied.

It is clear that Barbara Sher understands Scanners (and considers herself one of them) as she discusses the “top obstacles for panicked Scanners” by suggesting that the reason these people “hear the clock ticking but can’t get into action” is:

  1. They fear critics.
  2. They’ve created a “See, it’s impossible!” list.
  3. They’ve inadvertently made the project too big.
  4. They don’t feel entitled to just do whatever they want.
  5. They think they’re the problem.
  6. They’re pulled in too many directions.

I am particularly impressed with the practicality of the advice Sher offers Scanners. For example, she suggests keeping a Scanner Daybook in which you write down notes about:
“. . . the sides of you that you may have neglected as well as undervalued until now. But the very act of considering your explorations worth keeping track of begins to change everything you ever thought about yourself.”

In other words, rather than being depressed about thoughts of “flitting” or “dabbling,” Scanners can, without any extra effort, find a growing respect for the way their mind works.

After you’ve read this page, you will have a good idea of whether you are primarily a perfectionist who needs to start recovering from your rigid personality style, or whether you are primarily a Scanner who needs helpful advice on how to stop “feeding your sense of panic like dry timber feeds a fire.” If you think you fit more accurately into the latter style, you would do well to buy Refuse to Choose! : A Revolutionary Program for Doing Everything That You Love.

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