The perfectionist artist is constantly near or in that mindset where one has built up internal expectations extraordinarily high because it’s been so long between creative output. Because one hasn’t created anything in a long time, somehow the belief that the very next creation needs to somehow “make up for lost time”.
I suspect it’s yet another subconscious procrastination technique designed to hold off the feared judgment of the results. Again, the perfectionist fears results because they have come overidentify themselves with their creations. A negative judgement on the creation is seen as a negative judgment of the self. Curiously, the perfectionist never seems to place the same validity on positive feedback, nor give it equal importance. No doubt a result of the negativity bias of the brain. In other words, it’s not “you”, it’s just an artifact of how the brain works.
Yes, yet another insidious form of Resistance. But there is a solution
One method for extracting yourself from this mental sinkhole is to find a way to create and share every day. Something to work past the self-induced mental pressure to “deliver big”. Forget about improving technique or acquiring or expanding skills. Or rather, this is about alternative, non-creative skills to assimilate and cultivate. If you have blocks preventing you from creating, you need to first develop the skills to uncover and either dismantle to circumvent those block-inducing thought processes. Creative blocks like this are no doubt a skill one learns, even if it is undesirable.
It’s also about getting over the idea that everything you put out there has to be the supreme reflection of all the talents and skills you have within you. Doing your best can be a toxic and detrimental aim. At least for the perfectionist.
I’ve written before about my daily drawing practice and how it has helped me immensely to overcome procrastination and confront my perfectionism to positive effect. By maintaining a daily pace (which can indeed be quite difficult to maintain), a simple solution with far-reaching impact revealed itself.
It took some time to appear, but i was forced to develop and/or uncover methods and processes to create in styles that mesh better with how I work naturally — mostly due to the simple fact that I don’t have time to obsess over all the details at this pace. And because I made it a requirement to share these immediately and consistently, I found out that A) almost nobody is paying attention anyways; and B) those that do, often like stuff you think has poor quality and vice-versa!
This indifference was and can still be a tough thing to accept (particularly for an overidentifying, external-validation attention-seeking perfectionist), but it revealed a deeper truth. I was actually constraining my style, limiting my creative output and setting arbitrary and unrealistic standards on my art for a vague and unspecified, harshly critical audience that actually didn’t even exist! Eventually, your cognitive dissonance kicks in and you tell yourself “If I’m going to go unnoticed, at least I’m going to have fun doing it and create things I myself enjoy!” It’s quite liberating. It also takes some time and some pain to get there.
But every day I get slightly better at eliminating that desire for external validation and that belief that my technique needs to be perfect or at least far, far better than it is. I get better at accepting my creative output at the level it is today, and embrace the process over the product. And by creating daily, one of the side-effects is an increase in your skills and abilities.
It also forces you to create and share at less than your best. And to learn from direct experience that this is perfectly fine. In fact, less than your best might be where you find your style, your voice. In fact, it might even be your best, only it’s been obscured by your unrealistic standards for too long for you to even see how arbitrary and unnecessary those standards are.
In a way, non-acceptance of your skills as they stand at present is a subtle and toxic form of self-abuse, self-criticism and a side effect of low self-esteem. Because you over identify with the work, and you feel you aren’t “good enough”, neither is the work. Nor will it ever be. But that’s okay. It doesn’t have to be. Neither do you.
Bad Job House Cleaning
I recently started a routine on Sundays: Bad Job House Cleaning. I used to be very sporadic with cleaning the house, but a few weeks ago I did the entire house in an hour and having everything a bit cleaner and neater was a mood-lifter and an esteem builder throughout the week. It also boosted my general productivity.
I had the insight while cleaning that I used to procrastinate on doing so because I had this perfectionist mindset on cleaning. I knew I wasn’t doing a good job. The house wasn’t “perfectly clean”, so why bother? But now, I am OK with doing a poor job of it — but I do it every week. I get better at it. And even a half-assed cleaning is better than none at all. Each week a little more gets cleaned, some other thing I overlooked before gets attention this week, and so on. There’s also less to do because I’ve not let it get out of control.
I realized that a Clean House is not an end result, it’s a byproduct of an ongoing process. It might take a year to actually “clean your house”, and as you do so, it needs to be done over and over. Yet another “process goal”.
I think this approach to house cleaning came from the daily drawing practice . You have to stop focusing on Holy Grail output and results, and look to create more mundane, profane work. And put this into practice regularly and consistently.
Process, Not Product
My artistic goal these days is no longer to “get better at drawing” or “draw great stuff”, but only to “draw every day”. Establish that discipline. The art will be a by-product of the discipline, not the other way around.
This way, I succeed daily at it when I sit down and draw. That success builds esteem, psychological momentum and reduces the willpower needed to get myself to sit down and create.
And slowly I come to learn and accept that perhaps by allowing myself to not have to always do my best, my best might finally have a chance to express itself.
Benefits Of Consistency over at the Sparring Mind blog has some further insights and inspirations on this topic of establishing a habit and practice of regularly creating.