November 21, 2011

Book Review: "Present Perfect"

I am not sure where I found out about the book “Present Perfect” by Pavel Somov.  I read it for the first time a few months ago and so much of it resonated with me, I knew right away that I would write about it on my blog.  Since then, I’ve read it two more times, and I really feel like I could probably read it another three times as a good reminder, and a way to gain some inspiration and motivation.    

The premise the author takes with perfectionism is that it applies mostly to people with Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder.  This is probably the only thing about the book that bothered me.  Why is it that so many people – professionals included – assume that if you are a perfectionist, you have OCPD?  Why do people assume that we actually ENJOY being perfectionists?  Anyway – that was my small critique and rant.  Aside from that “miss” – I would say that Pavel Somov characterizes people with perfectionism very well.  At least he described me very well. 

“Present Perfect” is a self-help book that provides a mindfulness approach to letting go of perfectionism and the need for control.  The book discusses inwardly focused perfectionism, and outwardly focused perfectionism, and offers small exercises in each chapter. 

Here are some exercises and quotes that really struck me as being helpful:

For “approval hungry perfectionism” the exercise What’s Eating Me? With the quote:  Ask yourself: Whose stamp of approval am I striving for and why?.......Then ask yourself: Who promoted this person/these people to this special status?  How did they earn such clout, such influence in my life?”

By rejecting the perfection of the present, you’re also rejecting the perfection of the past.  When you reject what is, it’s because you think that a given slice of reality could have been better.  You believe that what happened didn’t have to happen and what didn’t happen should have.  This kind of thinking is a false vision of history in which you believe that there could have been two equally likely versions of events:  the one that actually took place and an alternative one, a better one that should have taken place.  As a perfectionist, you believe that this alternative version of history had the same (if not even better) odds of taking place as the actual version of history.  As a result you feel frustrated, befallen by misfortune, and unlucky.”

Guilt vs. Regret – Exercise: Shrug Off Undue Responsibility – Next time you feel guilty, do guilt check.  Rule out malice by asking yourself, “Did I do something that I wasn’t supposed to do, or did I not do something that I was supposed to do?”  Once you conclude that you didn’t do anything wrong (even though something unfortunate did happen as a result of your participation), shrug off the feeling of undue responsibility.  Think “It’s a matter of regret, not guilt.”  Remind yourself that you did the best you could in a  given situation.  If your best wasn’t good enough for a successful outcome, then that’s just how it is.  The situation is regrettable, but nothing more.  Say: “I regret that my efforts weren’t enough, and I’m very sorry that you’re upset.” (the sorry here conveys compassion, not an apology.)

As a perfectionist, you are guilt prone and thus vulnerable to exploitation.  A guilt-trip is when somebody sells you on a particular should or shouldn’t, and off you go on a journey of guilt avoidance.  Just because somebody else thinks that you should do something, that doesn’t mean that that you must.  You don’t have a responsibility to take their should and make them yours.  Let’s say somebody’s trying to shame you and guilt-trip you into helping them.  Tell them no.  Dispute any residual guilt by reminding yourself that there is nothing morally or ethically wrong with your own pursuit of well-being at the moment.  After all, your well-being is no less important than theirs.”

*The last sentence is HUGE for me.*

A choice is an act of conscious selection of one of two or more options.  The option you select is the one you prefer.  Thus, a choice is an expression of preference.  Any choice is.  Even if you are choosing between two very bad options. “

Each should masks a want.  Let’s say you’re examining the following choice: to read or to clean.  You think, “I know I should clean the house, but I don’t really want to do that.  I’d rather read a book.  But if I read the book and don’t clean the house, I know I’ll feel guilty later when I look at all this mess.”  As you go back and forth between something you feel  you should do and something that you want to do, you are actually choosing between two wants.  Your no pleasure/no guilt plus possible approval from others for being dutiful (if you clean instead of reading). “ 

Has anyone else read this book?  What did you think? 


  1. I am 14 years old and have recently found out that i have had pure o for about 7 years. The problem is, I don't know how to tell my parents about it, much less my docter, teachers, and coaches. Every day is a struggle, and i can't concentrate on my schoolwork. I know that you are going through a lot right now, and I think we can help each other get through this. Just email me at if you agree. I really hope you get better. I might not be of much help but i will try.
    Thank you for giving honest information about OCD.

  2. I, too have had a struggle with ' my well-being is no less important than theirs' In fact ocd has been helping me with that. Because i knew that my ocd/anxiety would be over the top, i was able to tell my parents that no, they couldn't camp on my site with me. It was easier for me to say it because i KNEW the ocd and my parents (who don't really get it) would not be a good mix.

    I am trying, tho, not to use ocd as an excuse not to do anything. :)

    I am hoping that after a while my 'no' muscle will be strong enuf that i can say it without having to have any excuse.

    Good luck with keeping yourself on your list of 'must care for'.

  3. I haven't read the book, but I think I need too! I am finding that being in the present can be pretty powerful--it's just so hard to do!