Perfectionist Slob

I used to be a slob. It wasn’t pathological, but it did get pretty bad for a period of time.

I started a new routine a few weeks ago where I applied the mechanics of my daily drawing practice to cleaning up my house: do it regularly, and don’t worry about doing a perfect job. Just establish the habit/practice/routine of doing it regularly.

My main goal was mental health: I realized after cleaning up one weekend how much I preferred the experience of a clean house over a messy one. I joked to myself, “Why do I ever let it get messy if I like it clean so much?” But then it struck me that it was no different than my previous lack of effort in creating art regularly: I needed a routine.

But as I was cleaning the house the second weekend, the deeper reality of why my cleaning habits were so lax become apparent: it was a side-effect of perfectionism.  Continue reading “Perfectionist Slob”

Perfectionism Hangover

Perfectionism is a dangerous cocktail. A few sips early in life can have undesirable long-terms effects. Typically comprised of 80-proof attention, with an external validation chaser, perfectionism is rarely taken straight. Most often, it’s a mixed drink that includes, self-worth, ego and esteem in unhealthy ratios.

Perfectionism isn’t just “a glass of wine with dinner” — there’s nothing wrong with aiming to do your best. Instead, it’s a beer bong fed from the keg. One feels obligated to chug away until the cheers and accolades of the onlookers is attained. But those accolades always seem to be receding, so the chugging continues. And continues.

But this can only be maintained for so long, and eventually the perfectionist becomes a teetotaler. You can’t fail at something you don’t attempt. And the perfectionist, like the one shot-gunning a beer, has wrapped up their identity as someone who is the best beer shot-gunner there is. Better to rely on your established reputation as a party animal if you’re unable to maintain the same level of drinking prowess. You might end up puking, and that would be a devastating revelation that you’ve sank low from your former glory. But there is another solution.  Continue reading “Perfectionism Hangover”

Don’t Do Your Best

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   Continue reading “Don’t Do Your Best”

Failure Is The Engine of the Economy

It struck me recently that the economy is actually built upon failures, as opposed to successes.

One would think that it was all the money generated by the huge successes that really powers everything. But really, the bulk of the results in business are failures — or more accurately, unsuccessful attempts. Most of the projects out there don’t succeed (or rather, result in a successful attempt). But there is money spent trying — people to hire, resources to purchase, advertising, support, design, manufacture, printing. And I’m sure there are plenty more industries involved that I am overlooking. But these “failures” far, far outweight the successes we actually hear about. And a lot of money was spent on those attempts.

This got me to wondering if this perspective is something that we can apply to our own businesses, own own “micro-economies”, to help us fuel a more successful version with the understanding of the collectively generative power of unsuccessful attempts. Continue reading “Failure Is The Engine of the Economy”

Indifference Guru

One of the demons I’ve had to repeatedly face along my path of creating and sharing my artwork on a daily basis has the indifference to which the creations are received. I know that far more followers on various social media outlets see these posts than do those who interact with them (like, star, fave, etc) because other, non-art posts on those services get that kind of interaction. Not a ton, but enough to contrast that which the art gets.

As a recovering over-identifying artist, this can be a constant jab at the ego. In a way, this was one of the things I wanted to face directly with this practice. Increased production requires the relinquishment of other consumption habits. Social media was an early time-sink that I let go. You discover quickly how tenuous those connections actually were when there isn’t a mutually-flowing dopamine reward of recognition maintained. As Stephen Pressfield says in “The War of Art“, “There is no tribe”.

After a recent vacuum of response from a posted drawing, again the hurt ego reared up and attempted to begin the indignant tirade against its perceived oppressors. But a thought crept in, which slowly defused this rant. I had really been enjoying this last round of art creation. I felt at home, in a style which came easily and allowed me to create more. I knew there was something deeper going on here.  Continue reading “Indifference Guru”

Psychological Stone Soup: A Recipe for Self-Development

When I get someone’s ear long enough to get up on a small soapbox and suggest an entry to the path of self-development, I always point to making the bed and washing the dishes. These habits are all about starting small. So small, if fact, that they might barely even be considered self-development. Let me explain why I think both are key habits to establish. Continue reading “Psychological Stone Soup: A Recipe for Self-Development”

Perfectionism, Procrastination, the Fixed vs. Growth Mindset & Mastery

Regular readers know that I am am a huge fan of Stephen Pressfield’s ‘artist user manual’ book “The War of Art”. A central focus of the book is the concept that Pressfield names “Resistance”, and it symbolizes all of that psychological stuff that keeps us from creating our work.

Resistance = Perfectionism?

I’ve come to believe that what Pressfield calls Resistance is another name for Perfectionism — at least for me. Perfectionism is a tricky term, because most people (as I once did) think they already know what that word means, and that it doesn’t apply to them. I suggest that anyone who can commiserate with the lack of motivation to start or maintain progress in their chosen creative outlet look into perfectionism a bit deeper.

My research and reading led me to a quite succinct and insightful book that really opened up perfectionism in an easy to understand manner, and offered specific solutions to get past it — yes, it thankfully can be unlearned, and I discuss below some of the excellent tools I’ve discovered to do so.
Continue reading “Perfectionism, Procrastination, the Fixed vs. Growth Mindset & Mastery”

Fantasy As Control

Fantasy has a connotation of something pleasurable or desirable. But to the perfectionist, control is pleasurable and desirable. The perfectionist has externalized their ego — they have identified with their possessions, their talents, their failures and successes, the attention and approval of the hive — and thus seeks control in the external world in order to preserve self-worth. The perfectionist, in attempting to control the external world, is attempting to protect his sense of self, his ego. The perfectionist perceives it as “out there”, exposed, defenseless.

Rumination is a core tool in the perfectionist’s kit. Rumination is a distorted form of fantasy. A fantasy for those who want control over the external world. Fantasies where we can alter the past or manipulate the trajectories of present circumstances (in other to words, “the future”). Rumination always seems to take two forms: rehearsing the future, and replaying and reworking the past. The story we tell ourselves is that somehow we can analyze the past actions, and then plan perfect future actions. Only it seems we never actually seem to do this. We over-identify so deeply with the outcome that when actually in the present moment, we freeze up.

As the Stoic philosophers point out, we can only control our actions and our responses. Not circumstances, nor outcomes/consequences. Perfectionists seem to be avoiding the only situation where they actually have control: the present moment.

The fool attempts to control consequences; the wise man seeks to control his actions.

The Inertial Mind

One insight I’ve had lately regarding meditation sits (and other habits in general) is how often I’m not so motivated to sit, but once I do I find myself quickly getting into the mood, and then I do not want to stop. This then repeats for the next activity I am resistant to begin, and the cycle repeats. I then began to notice this in pretty much all aspects of my life: exercise, art, writing. The activity didn’t seem to matter, it was the shift to a new one that was the crux of the resistance.

It made me realize that the mind is an inertia machine — it prefers to keep doing whatever it is it is currently doing. Helpful or detrimental, it doesn’t seem to care or recognize the difference. The mind just prefers to keep doing what it is doing right now. The insight here is to just commit to getting started, and putting 5 minutes/reps/sentences/notes/brushstrokes/etc into action.

Perfectionist/procrastination advice of “just get started” comes to mind here, as does the idea of tiny habits and mini habits.

You don’t need much time to shift the mind over to the next thing it will get attached to, but the shift is where the struggle happens. It’s as if we have this impetuous child within, as if we do not evolve our personas but rather accumulate upon an ancient core that cannot be matured, evolved, ignored or reasoned with. We just need to understand how it functions, and find ways to work with it. The real key here is that it will never “go away”. We will never “get past” these struggles. Once we learn to accept and work constructively with these ground rules in mind, the easier it is to get past them.

It’s easy to think to yourself “I am lazy” and explain these behaviors away. But I don’t think there is any “I am” in these behaviors. I think these are artifacts of the structure of mind/brain/body. Once we realize these are impersonal, external to the self, and permanent, functional “hard wired” aspects of Mind, we can stop identifying with them and start looking for solutions to work around them. Work with them. Use them, instead of fighting them.

These struggles to sit in meditation, to exercise, to create — they are not signs of personal flaws, weaknesses or limitations. They are signs that the system is working normally. A bicycle only maintains balance when in motion; this is not a flaw, but an unavoidable and intrinsic aspect of the design. There is only one solution: start pedaling.