Show of hands, who feels like every creative project they do has to be perfect the first time? *raises hand*. I feel like I have a melodramatic critic in my head that has a melt down every time I make some sort of mistake. Seriously, it’s not enough for my inner critic to cry and play doomsday music, it has to do its best impression of a toddler who just got told she can’t have the candy bar. I constantly have to tell that inner toddler “no, we can’t have it perfect all the time, we’re human and humans make mistakes sometimes.” *insert inner tantrum*. I’m not sure what your inner critic sounds like or what specific events in your life has turned it into the loud, obnoxious thing it is, but here are some exercises I’ve discovered to help me overcome my perfectionism:
- Purposefully do something awful. Yes, you heard me. Go ahead and open up a word document page on your computer right now or get out a pen and paper. Now set a timer for 1 minute and write a story about a ninja in pink, fuzzy pajamas. Don’t think too hard about it, just write and don’t stop. GO! Come on, you can do worse than that! Make it more horrible! Does it absolutely suck? Good! Now delete it. Now get out a piece of paper and draw a monkey holding a glass of wine, and once again, make it as horrible as possible. GO! Wasn’t it fun though? Did you get a few laughs out of it? Awesome. We need to learn to have fun when we create and not worry about having it perfect the first time. The purpose of this exercise is to show that perfectionism sucks the fun out of creating and basically defeats the whole purpose of creating in the first place.
- Open up another word document on your computer or get out another piece of paper and pen. Now make a list of ten things in your life right now that you know aren’t perfect, but love anyways. Go! I’ll be honest, I actually had a hard time with this one myself. Not because I don’t love anything that isn’t perfect, but because I perceive everything I absolutely love as perfect, even though it isn’t. That being said, the point of this exercise is to prove to you that first of all, something doesn’t have to be perfect for it to be lovable, and second of all that perfection is subjective. We we say our projects aren’t ‘perfect’ are we really thinking ‘no one will love this because it’s not perfect, therefore no one will love me’? I know that’s a bit of a slippery slope, but what if that’s our deep, unconscious fear? Our perfectionism is deep down a fear of being unloved most of the time, but we need to remind ourselves constantly that imperfect things are still lovable.
- Schedule out two different sessions. One session is to just create. Whether that’s the novel you’re working on, blog post, sketching for that art project, whatever. This is your “no editing, only creating” time. Now, schedule out a separate time (preferably not on the same day) to just go back and edit whatever it is that you’re working on. This is your “okay, now let’s make it presentable” time only. Better yet, pull out your planner and put it in your schedule now! If you’re going to do this for a project with a deadline, plan in advance so you’re not rushed or stressed. Do this consistently. This exercise is meant to rewire your brain to stop thinking “This needs to be perfect the first time” to “I can always go back and edit it later.” This has worked wonders for me with my novel. I should warn you that this takes some self discipline to do, but you’ll feel your stress level go down once you do this.
- Research! What is it that you think you suck at? Now pull up Google or Youtube and research how to improve on that thing. No, this is not counterintuitive to beating perfectionism. We as a society are under this delusion that we’re born with a certain set of skills and abilities and, well, that’s it. That’s the farthest thing from the truth. Our potential is endless, and we are not fixed with our certain skill set and skill level. How awesome is it to know that you’ll never reach perfection in anything simply because you’re limitless? Now, you go learn that skill like the magical, awesome being you are!
I hope you will implement some of these exercises and that they’ll help you beat perfectionism in your creative projects.