I have struggled for weeks to post my about me page and write a first post. I could come up with the excuse that I’ve been busy (I kinda have) or say that I just didn’t have the words (I kinda did). But the truth is I’ve been writing and rewriting and trying to come up with the perfect words for my about me page. The perfect first post. My perfect authentic voice (oxymoron, much?).
And even now my inner critic is telling me that there are too many parentheses and that all of this is nonsense, and I should just backspace all up on this jibber jabber. And, honestly, I’m considering it. However, if I delete all of this and once again try to write the perfect first post, I’m not sure I will ever get the first post finished… which means, I may never officially launch this page. And that is not what I want.
I’ve played this game for as long as I can remember — especially when writing papers in school. I would be all nerdy and stoked about my topics on neuroscience or mindfulness and PTSD, and I would absorb the information like a sponge. I highlighted all of my research, and I would have it all spread out in front of me. But when I would stare at that blank word document and start to write the first paragraph, I choked. I would start out with a line, delete it, start again, delete… and eventually I would just end up in the kitchen eating junk food and distracting myself with Instagram or a pile of books that had nothing to do with my topic.
So, the result was writing a research paper in 2 days, not sleeping, stressing that I may not get it finished, and then writing that last paragraph like a madwoman 10 minutes before it had to be submitted. Forget editing. Ain’t nobody got time for that. Except that I did have time. I had had PLENTY of time, but I shat it away trying to be perfect.
To be fair, I always did well on my papers, which only served as reinforcement to continue in my perfection procrastination. But apparently this habit has leaked into other areas of my life. Particularly, this blog. And I think it’s worth exploring because (1.) It’s real and it’s now. I want this blog to be authentic, honest, genuine… and this is as real as it gets for me right now, and (2.) I think almost all of us have experienced this perfection procrastination (that’s what I’ve just now decided to call it) especially in our creative endeavors and even our wellness intentions.
I’ve seen this issue arise with some of my clients as well. They have plenty of time to work on a project but can’t seem to get started. If there’s a deadline, then they complete it at the last minute and are remorseful that they didn’t do the best that they knew they could do. If there’s no deadline… well, then they simply fail to launch. And, sadly, this is not what they want.
So, in order to make a change, sometimes it’s helpful to look at what we’re gaining by failing to launch or by completing a task at the last minute. In my case, if I didn’t start my research paper until 2 days before it was due and if I wrote it all jacked up on coffee and on zero sleep, then I had a pretty accessible and reasonable excuse if I got a sucky grade. “Oh, well, a B is pretty good considering I hadn’t slept in 2 days, and I wrote that last paragraph 10 minutes before I turned it in!” A good excuse indeed. But if I had poured the amount of time into the paper that I wanted to and got my paper back with a less-than-acceptable grade then what excuse would I have? I would just have to accept that my work — my hard work — was not good enough. And that maybe I am not good enough.
That’s pretty tough. And it brings up another important piece of this perfection procrastination — we often base our value and self-worth on the value that others place on our art or our work. Ouch. That’s so real for me. I’ve been writing poetry and music since I was 10 — and I guarded my notebooks like they were my internal organs. If anyone saw my art and laughed at it or criticized it, then they were criticizing me. If my art was rejected, then I was rejected. This left me with a lot buried art. I felt shame. I felt unworthy. So, if I turned in a paper in school that I was proud of and I had worked on for weeks, then I simply could not have handled the rejection of receiving a poor grade. Because my value was based on my grade. I would have been hurt and rejected.
So if the benefits of perfection procrastination are having accessible excuses in the event of poor performance and avoiding hurt and rejection, then what’s the cost?
As creatives, this is so important to understand and explore in our lives. We have a gift to share. We have wisdom and beauty to release to the world. But we hide it because we don’t want to face criticism or rejection. Or we never even get started creating because it has to be perfect.
So we never move forward. We never embrace our dreams. We never share our gift. We bury it in the ground so that no one can hurt us. We rob ourselves of joy and growth. We rob the world of the insight and healing our art may bring. We neglect our call. We neglect ourselves. And we’re left to wonder why we’re unhappy. Why we’re not doing what we desire in our heart to do. Why we don’t feel like we’re reaching our full potential.
That’s a pretty steep cost.
And it’s hitting home pretty hard for me right now.
Now the question is – how do I overcome this perfection procrastination? How do I overcome my fear of rejection and failure and put myself out there?
Sometimes the answer is simple. Every once in a while I take advice from Nike and “just do it.” Those can be three of the most powerful words for a procrastinator (and someone who is fearful). It takes away all of the negative thoughts and the what-ifs and leads straight to action. Just do it.
Occasionally, that’s all you need — an action-oriented affirmation to get you moving, but in other cases, that can be oversimplifying a deeply rooted issue. So, besides taking advice from running shoes, what are some practical ways we can move past this perfection procrastination and start moving toward creating and living?
What comes to mind for me is how much easier it would be when I was writing my papers if I would start with the body of the paper rather than with the introduction. Just completely skip over the first paragraph and go straight into the meat of the paper. Occasionally, even beginning the meat of the paper could be overwhelming, so I would just start with a few random lines. Right in the middle of everything. So I would start where I was comfortable.
And come to think of it… that’s exactly what I’ve done with this blog. I tried to start with the About Me page because that makes so much sense as a starting point, right? But it wasn’t happening. I’d write a few lines and hate it. Delete. Delete. Write some more. Delete. Clearly that was not the best starting place for me. So, here I am now churning out a first post that looks nothing like the first post I anticipated. I had to shed my expectations and just dive in to the middle.
This blog post is more like something I would write after having established a few introductory posts, but here it is: Post #1 on MindBodyCreative, and it looks nothing like what I expected. But. I have words on a page. I have a painfully authentic post. I have a first post. I have a starting place. All of those things are exactly what I wanted, but it looks completely different than I envisioned. So, again, I had to shed my expectations and start where I was comfortable.
So, to simplify some of this and break it down into digestible chunks, here is a list of 5 ways to overcome perfection procrastination. These are just some things that have helped me and by no means are they exhaustive or meant to be followed in the order they are listed. See what works for you. The important thing is to get unstuck and get moving.
Overcoming Perfection Procrastination
- Start in the middle. Dive in. If your starting place is tripping you up and keeping you from getting your project off the ground, find a new starting place. Let go of the order of your to do list. Don’t be so caught up in the order of things that it keeps you from moving.
- Shed your expectations. Allow room for something imperfect and authentic to emerge. Sometimes things don’t turn out the way we’ve imagined them, and that can be awesome. If I had designed the “perfect” husband, he would probably be completely different than the one I married — but the one I got is so much better than what my mind could have conjured up (yeah, yeah, cheesy but true).
- Just do it. Just write. Just paint. Just draw. Just create. Because at the end of the day, you don’t have to show it to anyone. You don’t have to publish. You don’t have to hang it in a gallery. It may be a first draft. It may be a demo. But if you can never get started, then you never have a product and you’re unlikely to get where you want to go.
- Silence the inner critic. When that inner critic starts to rear his head with his “what ifs” and “not good enoughs”, silence him with the words “I release the need for perfection” or “My creation is an authentic expression of where I am right now” or “I am me, and I am okay” OR “I have worth and value that is independent of my creation.” Affirmations are awesome for reprogramming that inner critic. It can also be effective to tell him (my inner critic is male btw) “I hear your criticism but I’m doing this anyway.”
- Focus on what you want. For example, I want to start a blog centered on creativity where I can share my thoughts, ideas and research. I want to write authentically and have who I am shine through my words and my art. I want to start building a web presence and attempt to blog 5 times a week. I want to build a tribe of creative people who want to release their inner judgments and be free from the negative voices of others. I want to promote freedom for artists to be authentically creative. None of those things include the word perfect. If they did, I would have set myself up for failure anyway because we all know perfection is impossible. None of those things include “write the perfect About Me” or the “write the perfect first post.” When you focus on what you want and your big picture, then you’re less likely to focus too much on the details.
This post has definitely evolved into more than I expected. Honestly, I was just trying to get this party started because it wasn’t happening while I was obsessing over the details, worrying about the outcome and trying to be perfect. But here it is. My first imperfect post. There are many more imperfect posts to come — I hope they’re less awkward and better organized, but for now, I’m going to release those expectations and focus on what I want. And maybe I’ll get around to that introductory post next. We will see.
Until then. Create something unique, authentic and imperfect. Get started doing what you want.
(I’m not sure how to end this. Conclusions are kinda hard, too.)
Peace out, folks.