#5: How to Conquer Perfectionism as a Creative

The enemy of productivity is perfectionism.

#5: How to Conquer Perfectionism as a Creative
Photo from Tenor

I’m no expert in the field of psychology or philosophy but I’m well-acquainted with the stress, the drama, and the doubt one feels when agonizing over a creative task.

When your standards are way above the ceiling and nothing short of unreasonable, the hardest part is not only to complete a project but to actually begin.

Overthinking all the ways it can go sideways is no doubt paralyzing. Why start if your mind believes you’re doomed to fail?

Are you a perfectionist?

The non-perfectionist doesn’t need to be right all the time.

His security doesn’t depend upon having a spotless record or being viewed as the ideal person. But when he does achieve a goal or overcome an obstacle, he feels gratification, fulfillment, even joy.

The perfectionist, on the other hand, is apt to experience any given task or interaction as a test that will reflect his adequacy.

So it’s always important for him to do things correctly, know the answer, make the “right” decision…

To perfectionists, being wrong isn’t something negligible. It’s a threat to the very essence of their self-image…

Excerpt from Too Perfect: When Being in Control Gets Out of Control
by Jeannette De Wyze

I never thought of myself as a perfectionist until I’ve read that excerpt. At the cadence of every sentence, my mind kept nodding and saying, “Hey, it’s you!”

When I was still practicing copywriting, I discovered that the pressure I feel when writing for myself is amplified when writing for clients. It used to take me almost an hour before I can come up with a decent caption for a piece of social media content!

But here’s one thing I’ve realized after one of my journaling sessions: the things I do with fear don’t end up as good as those I do with unadulterated delight.

My Recipe for Toxic Perfectionism
Pour 1 cup of self-doubt mixed with unrealistic standards, sprinkle it with insecurity, garnish it with people-pleasing, and let it stew in a bowl of fear and shame. Voila!

You can now serve it with a side of your choosing: discouragement, overthinking, and perhaps a pinch of self-hate.

Here are the steps I’ve been taking to overcome perfectionism. This list is not a cure-all, but if it works me, it might for some, and I’m taking that chance.

1. Don’t anchor your worth to your work.

Your value as a person shouldn't be dictated by your performance.

On some days, we can create with ease and we are productive. On some, we may hit a snag or get too caught up in a Netflix TV show. To tie our self-worth to our fluctuating performance — our highs and lows — can be cruel to our sanity and self-esteem. As Amy Morin writes in 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do,

"No one is immune to making mistakes and having bad days. There will be times when your emotions get the best of you, times when you believe thoughts that aren’t true, and times when you engage in self-destructive or unproductive behavior. But those times will grow fewer and farther between when you’re actively working to increase your mental strength."

Interestingly, Elizabeth Gilbert tells her readers in her book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear how she doesn’t believe that people are geniuses. Rather, she sees great artists and makers as people who have geniuses. There's a difference.

By not tying our worth and identity to our craft she notes, “the vulnerable human ego is protected. Protected from the corrupting influence of praise. Protected from the corrosive effects of shame.”

Research says perfectionism is a sign of a problematic relationship with our sense of self. “It’s not a way of thinking, but a way of being in the world,” says Paul L. Hewitt, from the University of British Columbia, as quoted in Gustavo Razzetti’s article.

Hewitt’s research reveals that “perfectionism isn’t about perfecting things — a project, job, or relationship — it’s about perfecting our identity. The obsession with being (perceived as) perfect is an attempt to perfect our imperfect self.”

Application: Set realistic goals, expectations, and standards for yourself. Write it all down and assess which feels attainable.

A helpful article published on Pocket has helped me a lot in overcoming toxic mental habits. One of the cited examples has been my go-to reminder when feeling the urge to measure up the impossible standards I’ve set for myself.

Irrational Thinking: To be worthy and have self-esteem, I have to be competent and successful in all respects.

EQ Counterpart: I can’t expect myself to be perfect in all respects; it’s okay to fail and make mistakes.

Identify the values that resonate and matter for you. Build yourself up by striving not to be perfect, but to be always progressing. One day at a time.

2. When you're tempted to compare yourself to others, celebrate them instead.

Comparison can be a catalyst for perfectionism.

Some people feel the need to outshine others, therefore carrying the burden of unnecessary pressure to perform. This mindset often leaves us helpless and stuck on a blank canvas.

But someone will always be better and worse than you. Although wallowing in comparison and self-defeat can be as enjoyable as eating junk food, it’s also as unhealthy.

Application: Remind yourself of this: there’s plenty of room for everyone. The next time you find yourself comparing, find the courage to celebrate other people and their works. Learn what you can and get inspired — that’s more productive.

3. Create for the sake of creating.

“Perfectionism is self-abuse of the highest order.” ― Anne Wilson Schaef

It’s completely alright to have high standards. To strive for excellence and give our best. What’s not okay is to forget that we are human and leave no room for improvement. Growth is messy, and to embrace that process is enough. Progress not perfection, as the Pinterest-worthy wallpapers say.

So, if you’re still reading this, I’d like to ask: what are you scared of?

What stops you dead on your tracks, holds you back, and makes your voice crack?

Perfectionism is rooted in fear.

Great writers have been stuck at their pinnacles because they were afraid to fall from grace, scared to create anything lesser than their past masterpieces. That’s sad.

But what’s more saddening is how a lot of potential has been planted in thousands and perhaps millions of hearts but was never fulfilled, maximized, or acknowledged at all.

A lot of great voices are still unheard and held back by fear.

Fear of not being good enough.

Fear of rejection.

Fear of being ignored.

Fear of failure.

Their creative ideas are dormant. They lay sleeping while Self-Doubt, Perfectionism, and Comparison have been ruling their lives.

What masterpiece could be birthed into our world if you let the magic unfold before your eyes? If you dared to make mistakes?

What wonder could you usher from an idea into reality if you pursue Creativity instead of hanging out all the time with Fear?

What if the magic can come from the messy parts, too?

Application: There are times when you should scrutinize the tiniest details of your work—making sure every rhyme, every thought, and every line flows splendidly like the water rushing over the Niagara Falls.

But there are times when you should ship your work when it's good enough—not good enough as in "we intentionally half-assed it because we got lazy" but good enough as in "we did the best we could with the time and resources we have right now—we can further improve later if we have to."

Pressing pause on perfectionism may just help you have more productive days.

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