Being & Becoming

Cultivating Inspiration, Creativity, and a Life on Purpose


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Perfection is the Enemy of Progress

For most of my creative life, I’ve fallen into something I’ve named the Perfectionistic-Anxiety Cycle.  I’ve experienced it with almost anything I very deeply care about doing.  Maybe you’ve experienced it, too- it is as follows:

1.Start a new thing.  This could be a homework assignment, an instrument, a NEW YEARS RESOLUTION, anything. It’s really exciting, and you can’t wait to dive right in.  HOORAY NEW THING.

2. Consistently practice the thing…for a little while.   

3. Life gets in the way; practice falls by the wayside.  Maybe you’re tired from work, maybe you already practiced yesterday and feel a day off won’t hurt.  Either way, time starts passing by.

4. Eventually come back to the practice, but notice that you’ve “fallen behind”.  Maybe you’ve forgotten things, noticed a gap in your knowledge, or have some impending deadline that you do not think you’ll be ready for.

5. Anxiety about performance ensues.  “I screwed up! It’s too late! I’ll never be ready in time for the deadline!”  This can come in nagging little droplets, or like a raging monsoon drowning your hopes and dreams.

6. Pull further away from the thing to reduce anxiety.  “It’s okay, I didn’t like thing that much anyway.”  This is also a time where hours of activities designed to distract occur, i.e- spending several hours browsing the internet.

7. Begin to engage with a new thing, feeling that *this time* it’ll be different- a fresh start.  

…And it repeats, ad infinitum.

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I was always perplexed about why I did this with the things I loved most.  For a while, I was convinced I had ADHD.  It was only during my time studying psychology in graduate school that I realized that it was anxiety.  I was so anxious about doing the things I loved well that I would rather not do them at all if I felt I my efforts were not doing the art/goal justice. I’d rather do nothing than fail.

But that’s the thing. If you wait to do something until it’s perfected, then you’ll never do a damn thing.

Our goals, visions, and resolutions can be big- as they should be! But if the steps to reach them aren’t small and manageable, its far less likely that change will be integrated into our daily lives.  I have shared this idea with many of my therapy clients, but only recently have really been putting it into practice.

1. Still have your big goals, but let go of attachment to their outcome (yoga blogs on this forthcoming).

2. Break the goals into small pieces that can easily be attained interwoven into your daily routine. An example of this-

Big goal- Play guitar on stage in front of other humans.

Smaller goal- Practice guitar every day for an hour and have fun doing it.

If this goal is still not being met, break it down even further:

Even smaller goal- Play guitar for thirty minutes a day.

Still coming up short?

Smallest goal- Pick up the f*****g guitar up and maybe move your hands on it at least once a day, even when you’re feeling anxious and discouraged, and even if you feel it doesn’t sound great.

So, the smallest doesn’t seem terribly ambitious, does it? BUT, if you make the task so simple that it becomes routine to just hold the the guitar every damn day, the likelihood of beginning to practice increases.  Building habits, especially ones you ENJOY (but continuing even on days when you’re not so into it) are key in growing your skills.  Especially if you are completely immersed in the activity without focusing on the outcome/future.  Worrying about perfection takes energy away from the thing you’re trying to perfect.  If you practice mindfully and consistently, you may wake up one day and “suddenly” be skilled at your thing.

So, readers- have you experienced this cycle?  How do you handle it?  What is the thing you want to perfect? How would you further break down your goals to make them more attainable?