The Completionist Mindset
I want to start writing shorter posts where I lay out an idea that I think is important; one that I’ve either had personally or that I’ve come into contact with. Hopefully this will help me develop the skill of being able to distill something to its purest core making it clear and easily understood. So here goes! Attempt 1. One of my own!
The completionist mindset is excessively viewing life as a set of achievements to be accomplished. It’s when you read a book to say that you’ve finished it or to tick it off your checklist rather than for the insights or imaginations it will provide. Do you want to read Tolstoy for his observations on human nature and society or to get further through your list of “top 100 books to read!”?
For me and some friends I’ve discussed this with, the mindset has developed when we first realised the shortness of life. When you’re coming to terms with the truth that you’re existence will one day end you begin to think that every moment has infinite importance. This can be hugely positive and bring intense meaning to your life but the completionist mindset is taking this view to its extremes in an excessive way. You view your life in terms of a list of things you will have accomplished by the day of your death. And the more different, varied things on the list then the better the life that you have lived.
The completionist mindset has two fundamental problems:
It creates enormous paranoia and anxiety about making the best possible choice in each moment in order to add to your “life record”. Anxiety of this kind reduces the actual enjoyment of our lives and the things we choose to do. Living in the present moment is more important than always making the perfect decision. It’s impossible to bring presence when you’ve been captured by the completionist mindset.
The things we think are cool and important now are probably not the same as when we die. This article highlights what people who are dying actually care about: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2012/feb/01/top-five-regrets-of-the-dying They’re not about accomplishing things but living a life of meaning, allowing ourselves to be happy and having deep, honest relationships with our friends and family.
One way I’m experimenting with presenting ideas is in the form of metaphor’s or images.
I have an image in my mind of the completionist mindset as an avatar in an old online role playing game I used to play as a kid. Nerdy as fuck…. I know! But it helps me think about it. Your avatar has a series of achievements to meet in areas that have been built into the game. Visit all the places on the map. That sort of thing. Some then give you “titles” that you can present to the online world. My favourite started at: “Kind of a big deal”, passed through “I have many leather bound books” and finished at “God Walking Amongst Mere Mortals”. In life these sections are often set by our society and our environment. Like in the game often we don’t actively chose them. The achievement for our “real-life avatars” might be getting married, having a successful career, getting fit, trying out as many sports as possible or travelling to all the countries of the world. When you’ve achieved one of these you can then present the title to the world. Mr Davey, Your Honor, Judge whoever… or just when you tell people you’ve traveled to 35 countries and are an “accomplished traveller”. I hope this side metaphor helps you to understand the completionist mindset!