Now this blog was a little confronting to write. However, having been on a journey of challenging perfectionism myself it felt really positive to share the exercises and techniques that have really helped me. I've seen a real shift in my approach to work and life because I have tried these creative ideas and I hope they offer you a starting point for your journey.
Perfectionism is described by many as a striving for flawlessness, often experienced by the individual as incredibly high standards that are never quite reached. This can result in a fear of failure accompanied by the continuous belief that one is failing. The opinion of oneself as well as being concerned of what others may think also jumps into the mix. Sounds fun right - 100% exhausting more like.
This highly critical outlook on yourself can result in setting unrealistic standards that focus almost completely on results, usually missing the value in the process or journey. The overwhelm caused by the enormity of such goals can stop you in your tracks and you end up procrastinating leading right back to, you guessed it, being critical of yourself.
This existence is not a fulfilling way of life. It is crippling, exhausting and not rooted in truth. But sometimes, because it looks pretty, hard working and conscientious on the outside we don't address it. Gary Vee (entrepreneur, businessman, internet personality) describes perfectionism as:
Blunt and challenging to read, you might even think - that's a bit harsh. But when I read this quote I remember thinking "Wow! that's true, I've got to do something about this."
I realised that what I had achieved in life so far had been driven by the wrongs things, fear of people's opinions and self doubt. Then I thought, "IMAGINE WHAT I COULD DO IF I BELIEVED IN MYSELF?" A good friend once commented years earlier, "you'd be unstoppable if you believed in yourself" which is potentially a bit far, but I get the point she was making.
So let's get to it. Let's think about ways to disrupt the thought cycles of self deprecation and fear by implementing some truth, reality and maybe even positivity and self belief.
As I often say in blogs, this list is not exhaustive and there will be some ideas that don't work for you, but hopefully they will get you started.
There's a gentleness to challenging perfectionism creatively, so don't be afraid of giving the below a try. I want to offer you, your mind and your (potentially very tired) body some a space to relax and practice new experiences and how they feel without judgment or an unrealistic end result to strive for.
This is about slowing down, and being more present so it may feel a little uncomfortable at first. Be patient if you can, and kind to yourself when you feel you have slipped up - remember you are challenging a lifetime of behaviour patterns and in-built responses which cannot be changed overnight.
As perfectionists we can end up spending a lot of time within our comfort and skill set zones - we know how to achieve and demonstrate our abilities. This doesn't leave much room for experimentation as it's riskier and may include failing.
We can challenge this by choosing to try something creative we haven't before. It is helpful to choose something that someone else has to teach you as this shifts the focus from the end result to the process. Also you are removed from the position of expert which is equal parts humbling and relaxing as you don't have to be in control. Allow someone else to guide you.
I chose to go to a pottery wheel class, I was flung out of my comfort zone, but I was in a beginners class with others so I didn't feel alone. I noticed I was able to listen and the class wasn't long enough for me to perfect anything, I just had to play and experiment.
I left smiling from ear to ear.
2. Practicing 'failing' (or just not being the best)
Following on from above, putting yourself in more scenarios where you have to experiment can feel exposing as the risk of failing is increased, but this can be a really useful thing. Now this can feel really uncomfortable, but the art room or art activity is a safe space where we can practice failing and show ourselves that we can survive it. By experiencing 'failing' and surviving it we remind ourselves of our strength and grow our resilience each time. Also, failing isn't a dirty word, but it is quite a heavy one, I like to think of it as something not working this way or time instead of 'it was a failure' - see the difference?
For me life drawing is a big help for me in this area, I am not naturally gifted at it and I find it really hard. I can do it alone via zoom classes or with others in a pub or art centre if I'm feeling brave. I've noticed that over time being in the room with others who are much better drawers than me began to matter less and that the enjoyment I experienced as I drew was more present in my mind than the comparison with others.
Also, you can opt for feedback in many life drawing classes, receiving this in front of others can be sweat inducing but also you realise quickly that no-one is laughing at you or judging you. You can take the feedback, improve your drawing or just continue as you are. Either way, you survived and you just challenged the shame voices in your brain telling you that your worth is connected to your ability to perfect your drawing (which it isn't), so well done you!
3. Preventing burnout
Inserting a creative exercise that has no purpose other than to be enjoyable is a great way of interrupting the striving cycles which can lead to burnout.
As perfectionists, what we need to try and do more regularly is find things to engage in that aren't linked to strict goals or deadlines. It breaks us out of the cycle of - set task - complete task perfectly - repeat and introduces time for us in our day to simply enjoy ourselves for enjoying ourselves sake. You deserve that you know.
For me, you guessed it, I collage. I do it in my sketchbook for no purpose other than to play around. I remind myself before I start that the outcome doesn't matter and give myself some free making time - like playtime at school but creative!
4. Surviving burnout
Let's be honest, we may not always be able to interrupt the cycles which lead to burnout so having some survival tools is important too. When you realise you are in burnout, or about to crash, try practicing mantras such as "It's okay that I didn't prevent burnout", "it's important that I take care of myself now". It's helpful to enter burnout gently instead of punishing ourselves immediately. Gentler self-talk is a practice worth investing in too.
I find when I'm burned out I like to do something super easy and repetitive that brings moments of joy. Marbling inks work wonders for me. They're easy to set up and the results are different, colourful and pretty darn beautiful every time. Being engaged in a creative task occupies the mind, leaving it less opportunity for critical self-talk.
5. Self validation
Now this can be really hard. But for perfectionists, demonstrating our skills can sometimes be our primary method for feeling valuable or worthy. In the demonstrating we invite external validation or approval from others - we receive it - we feel valuable - repeat.
Learning to experience our own praise can be really hard for perfectionists, but it is possible.
A great way of leaning into this creatively is when you spend time art-making give yourself a congratulations for turning up and doing it. This may sound weird, but learning to be proud and grateful of and to ourselves is so important and we may need to be a little more obvious or explicit about it at first till we get better.
I remind myself that making time for free art-making is supporting me and my future and this makes me smile and feel calmer as I rest in the knowledge that I'm investing in me.
Give yourself a little pat on the back and know that your worthy of your time.
I hope that this blog has been helpful in giving you some pointers for creatively challenging perfectionism. Please remember that these are ideas and not another goal by which to measure yourself against.
Essentially in disrupting our patterns of striving for external validation we are inviting ourselves to be more vulnerable which may feel super uncomfortable at first. Stay connected with friends and reach out if you find any exercises cause you to feel overwhelmed or upset.
Perhaps practice the above with someone like minded you trust and share your experiences?
Remember, go gently and take each step at a pace that feels safe and helpful for you. Let me know if you have any other creative tips for challenging perfectionism - I love getting your feedback, I'm grateful to this fabulous community.
Love always and keep collaging.