Releasing Perfectionism in Your Creative Process | SHW #3
A couple of weeks ago, I talked about how I notice vulnerability coming up in my creative process and how it’s necessary to lean into the vulnerability in order to be the most free while creating.
I wanted to talk more about what happens when we don’t lean into that vulnerability and how we can practice doing so.
For me, the result of shying away from vulnerability has been perfectionism. Perfectionism is our response to the fear of experiencing shame. Many of us avoid feeling vulnerable because if we leave ourselves open, the reactions we may receive from others will result in the feeling of shame.
Shame is a very common but uncomfortable feeling. All humans feel it, and many of us do whatever we can to avoid it.
However, I’ve found that the cost of avoiding shame and allowing perfectionism to drive my life is much greater than the feeling itself. The feeling can’t harm me. It feels uncomfortable for a moment and then will slowly slip away.
But the cost of leading with a perfectionist mindset is a life of running away from all the things I want and constantly molding myself into someone I’m not.
This week I’m going to share some ways I notice perfectionism coming up in my creative process and how I practice releasing it.
Perfectionism has many different flavors, but there are two ways it shows up for me most often when creating - looking to others for answers and searching for the right way to do things before I get started.
Looking to others for answers
As an artist, I love looking at other creators’ work for inspiration. It has opened me up to new ideas and techniques to experiment with.
But sometimes I notice myself looking to other artists for solutions when I run into challenges while creating. If I’m working on a piece that isn’t turning out exactly as I’d like, I might seek out how other artists solved a similar problem and wanting to mimic the way they did it.
Studying other artists’ work is a great way to learn, but I have to be mindful of my intentions going into it.
Am I looking at this artist’s work because I’m trying to learn and study something specific? Or am I doing it because I’m ashamed of my own work and I don’t trust myself to come up with my own solutions?
The latter reason is what we need to be mindful of. If we’re constantly looking to others for solutions because they’re “right” and we’re “wrong” then we’re reinforcing our fear of shame.
Speaking of right and wrong...
Searching for the “right” way to do things
The notion of “right” and “wrong” comes up a lot in perfectionism. It’s closely tied to the fear of shame. When our perfectionist cap is on, we often think doing things wrong means there’s something wrong with us. So to avoid the feeling of not being good enough, we will wait until we find the perfect path before taking a step forward.
I often notice this thinking showing up in my creativity when I’m procrastinating on starting something. My biggest trigger for procrastination is that I don’t feel like I have all the answers I need to get started. I’m afraid of stumbling my way through something because if I’m stumbling, it’s probably going to come out all wrong.
But art and creativity is subjective and there’s no right and wrong way to do things. We have to let go of this notion in order to create from a place of authenticity.
It’s a completely normal thing for perfectionism to come up, and identifying it is a huge win. I don’t try to completely rid myself of perfectionism. That would be a frustrating, losing game for me. Instead I’ve implemented some small behavior and mindset shifts when I notice those two big triggers.
Come up with my own answers first
I use this strategy in every area of my life, not just with art. If I feel stuck or confused, before I go searching for answers online or from other people, I’ll first sit down and come up with my own solutions.
This is especially helpful for my creativity. The practice of brainstorming my own solutions stretches my creative muscle. It also helps me to come up with the best solutions for me.
Because creativity is so subjective, you’re probably going to be the only person that truly knows the best solution for you. What works for others might not even work for you.
That’s why I’ve found it helpful to first figure out how I want to solve the problem. The solutions I derive for myself usually work as a good foundation. Then later, if I want some additional input to enhance my process, I can do some intentional research into what others do. From there I can figure out how to mold their techniques into what already works for me.
The goal is to prioritize my own voice and to have some balance between my input and the input of others.
Praising myself for effort over results
The primary reason I’m afraid of doing things “wrong” is because I don’t want to be shamed for the results I produce. This is a habit that was ingrained in me at a young age. I think it is for a lot of children that go through most education systems.
We go to school and we work for the best grades and achievements. Even if we genuinely studied really hard for a test, we will dismiss all of that hard work if we don’t get the grade we were hoping for.
I’ve practiced overriding this habit by taking time every week to praise myself, not for the results I achieved, but for all the effort that went into creating those results, even the ones that don’t align with my expectations.
Even if the art you create doesn’t meet the imaginary bar that you set for yourself, the fact that you sat down, gave it your all, and created it is meaningful. That’s worth a ton. The result is just the cherry on top.
The next time you notice that you’re afraid to try something because you don’t want to do it poorly, or you’re beating yourself up over what you created, practice shifting your mindset to effort over results.
Showing yourself some compassion, being proud of your effort, and letting it be okay that things don’t always work out as planned will have you feeling more energized to create and comfortable with whatever results come out of it.
That’s all I have to share this time. My wish to you this week is that you practice showing yourself some grace. Trust yourself to make your own decisions and praise yourself for all of your courageous effort.
Best wishes 💙