I bet you thought you would never see the end of my series on perfection and how it plays complete havoc with your life (I know that I never thought I’d see the end of it!). Over the past few weeks, I have shared with you how there have been times I have become so paralyzed by my need for perfection that the only thing I was able to do was ingest massive quantities of food and pretend that I wasn’t gaining weight as a result (c’mon, there’s a little creativity in the little white lie, isn’t there?)!
For better or for worse (yes, there are a few measly benefits to mild perfectionistic pathology, somewhere), being a perfectionist and allowing it destroy your creative process through procrastination, creative blocks, or other kinds of self-destructive passive aggressive acting out is one thing. Knowing it and owning it is another. But sit tight, sister, because trying to ‘cure’ it, by confronting your demons, while trying to get the upper hand with the very issue that put you in a slumpity slump in the first place, is a whole new ballgame.
For most of us, being a perfectionist is not so debilitating that we can’t try to deal with it on our own, using ideas and motivational tips to get moving. For others of us, however, the degree in which our perfectionism affects our day-to-day lives can be both painful and serious. Why cramp your creative style? Get some help!
I am not a psychotherapist. I have no idea what your issues might be, but I can tell you this: if your procrastination and all of the issues I have written about over the past couple of blog posts regarding procrastination and perfectionism is literally driving you to distraction, then you might consider consulting with a professional. Frankly, there have been times in my life when that one hour a week on the couch was the best hour of my week!
I promised you that I would give you some strategies, actual tips that I use myself, to motivate my creativity beyond the paralyzation of my perfectionism. Today’s the day I deliver on my promise.
Here are 10 ways I deal with my perfectionism and all of the crap it sends my way.
- Embrace Action. One of the reasons perfectionists become sabotaged by their needing to be perfect is out of fear. There is fear that their project won’t be good enough, that people will think are not very talented, that their needlework or knitting won’t look like something bought at Macy’s, etc. Action cures fear. Let me say that again: ACTION CURES FEAR. When I find myself paralyzed and at the bottom of a creative bankruptcy, I have learned that I need to do something – anything – to prime the pump of my creativity. The more you do, the more you get done. The more you create, the more creative you become. Was it Isaac Newton, who said “a body in motion stays in motion”? Well, the guy who invented Fig Newtons can’t be all wrong. Get in motion, and stay in motion. Don’t give up because your stitching isn’t going exactly the perfect way you perfectly imagined it. Stay with it. Be with it. Embrace it. Action, dude!
- Take a Walk – Through Fire. I often write lists about what I want to achieve, and not the just kind of lists that remind me of what tasks I want to complete during any given day. Seeing my creative blocks and procrastination on paper, in black and white (or, in my case, purple and white because I like to think that I have a flair of sorts), forces me to confront what I’m missing and to step up. Sometimes we just have to face the uncomfortable feelings and creepiness that surround our creative blocks and procrastination and literally walk through the fire to the other side. I say literally because when you push yourself to do something that you don’t feel like doing and have put a lot of time and effort into stalling on, pursue creativity that scares you to death because it may backfire in your face, or the reality that you are pushing yourself to finally face the fact that it’s now or never. Well, it feels like you are walking through fire – naked. Stare down that fire. Feel your discomfort and fear. Embrace your uneasiness. Name it! Yes, name it. Say, “Hello, Pain in my Butt,” and then forge on. In the immortal helpful words of Miss Nancy Sinatra, “Ready boots? Start walkin’.”
- Start Simple. As stitchers and creative types, our fantasies can often get us into big trouble. It’s no secret that when men visit a quilt shop or cross stitch store for the first time, they choose the biggest project as their first ever! Those of us who have some knowledge, expertise, and experience with technique in certain stitching discipline know exactly what we would like to do, and then we plan for the all of the greatness and kudos that comes with our artistic success and fantasies of a perfect and exemplary work d’art… but that’s not very realistic, and most of us have been down that road before. Don’t set your sights too high when you’re trying to break out of a creative drought. It is better to start stitching something very little, a very small or simple stitching project, and complete it (and feel good and productive about having completed it), then by starting yet another larger, more complicated, project that you most likely will not finish.
- Stop Isolating. Starting a creative salon, and getting to know the other creative stitchers in your local area is one of the tenants of The Slow Stitching Movement. One way to take care of yourself, put your perfectionism at bay, and kick your procrastination to the curb, is to surround yourself with successful, slow, stitchers. Seek them out through local guilds and groups, or even consider putting a note up in the local supermarket or running an online ad on your local Patch or other social media venue. By the way, if you’re going to go to the trouble of organizing a group to support you in your creative pursuits, make that group diverse and allow the people in the group to be different than what you are! Do you really want to sit in a room full of procrastinating perfectionists who were wound so to tight that you could sharpen a pencil in their… never mind.
- Get Into It. When you pick up your knitting needles, crochet hook, embroidery hoop, or rotary cutter, be mindful of what you’re doing. When you concentrate on the process (including seam ripping. un-sewing. and frogging) instead of the result or the time your project is taking, you will naturally begin to open up creatively and worry less about the perfection of your project and concentrate more on the benefits of the process and what your process is gifting you physically, emotionally, financially, and spiritually. Stitch in the moment and with focused intention. Focus.
- Don’t Enter the Competition. When you pick up your stitching projects you have to stop the competition. ‘What competition?’ you might ask. The competition with yourself! Once you begin to realize that your focused and intentional stitching is for you, and will benefit you, and is all about you, then you will begin to understand that you are not in a race with anyone else for the most spectacular result, or with yourself, for that matter. Stop beating yourself up, get off of your self-defeating treadmill, and jump into the process and enjoyment of your stitching.
- Celebrate Who You Are. For those of us who have lofty dreams of perfect stitching, international fame, or even a compliment from our gnarly teenager for stitching work well done, we can often get caught up in the excitement of the result (which we never seem to finish, by the way, because it will never meet our personal standards) rather than the process, constant education, and practice of our stitching work. Here’s the deal: be who you are. Learn to love yourself, show some compassion for yourself, and celebrate the process of your creative output. Yes, I am a victim of loving the adrenaline that comes with big dreams, but I also know that boring little old me, has the potential for peace of mind and overcoming any and all creative blocks and procrastination, if I just accept who I am day-to-day, as opposed to whom I aspire to be, without putting in the craft practice, or the stitching work, or the time in swimming in my creative process.
- Explore 50+ Shades of Grey. No, do not read the cheesy book. What I am asking you to do here is recognize, through your own life experience, that life is not black-and-white. I can think of very few examples of an absolute black and white experience in either my day-to-day life or creative life. Everything is some shade gray… 50 shades, 350 shades, or 5875 different shades of gray! Perfectionists and procrastinators get caught up in the perfection of the neatly stacked black-and-white experience and result. Look at your work and family life and your creative stitching life in a multitude of shades and kick the absolute of black and white to the curb. It will serve you well.
- Turn in Your Badge. If you wanted to be a policeman you should have been a policeman. You know, you were not put on this Earth to control everyone and everything. Perfectionists do that. I don’t know whether this will be helpful to you or even appropriate to talk about, but here goes… A few years ago, discussing some family issues, someone who didn’t know me very well (OK. she met me one time), suggested I might get a lot out of attending Al-Anon meetings. Now, I do not have an alcoholic or drug abuser in my family, nor was I a child of an alcoholic, nor do I drink or do drugs myself. That said, I could not be a bigger control freak or have displayed more of a ‘child of an alcoholic’ personality, due to my own issues with being a perfectionist, my perfectly controlling and intrusive narcissistic mother (and all that goes with it) than if I invented the phrase myself! I went to meetings. I went a lot. I went so many times that the meetings actually replaced any kind of time I might have used for my creative pursuits. And it worked. I learned so much about myself and my control issues, and my issues with perfectionism, and my issues with procrastination, and my issues with feeling not good enough to be an artist or creative, and my issues with self-esteem, and my issues of control… and the list goes on. When the pain of your perfectionism, the lack of motivation, and the feeling that your creative life is passing you by, becomes too hurtful, you will seek desperate measures. I can’t even remember the name or face of the woman who suggested I start attending meetings, but I will be forever grateful (as will my family) for the lessons I learned there.
- Pretend. Yup, I’m asking you to play. Yes, play. Pretend you aren’t a perfectionist. Pretend you are getting into a meaningful and intentional and rewarding stitching process. Pretend everything you do is perfect. Pretend you do not have a creative block or anxiety about starting, continuing, or finishing your stitching or your legacy project. Pretend and keep pretending. Soon this game will become a habit. This is how you fake it until you make it.
Now grab your stash and start stitching … the slow way.