Beliefs

Part 4 – DIY Obstacle: Perfectionism

In this five-part series, I’ve been talking about how we can overcome low motivation and that feeling of “stuckness” caused by obstacles that come up anywhere between starting and finishing a goal or project.

This week’s Tiny Talk is Part 4 of my five-part series about what I call “DIY obstacles.”

Last week we talked about the DIY obstacle of Fixed Mindset

This week’s DIY obstacle is Perfectionism, which rides in on the back of the fixed mindset. 

When you’re focused on doing something perfectly, you tend to highlight all that is not perfect, and that becomes the background music to which you write or create. 

That’s just not very inspiring music, is it?!

Perfectionism is a DIY obstacle because you can’t get past the idea of not looking perfect, or the thought that you might fail, or that you might look stupid. The irony is that you avoid doing the things that will help you grow to the next level for fear of not being perfect in the process. 

Perfectionism is a liar because it tells you your work is not good enough and convinces you not to share it until it is absolutely perfect. 

But how will you know when it’s perfect? Who has the final word on whether it’s perfect or not?

Perfectionism is finally being called out for the liar that it is in the creative world. There are tons of books and quotes and podcasts on just how nasty it is.  No longer are people wearing it as a badge of honor. 

People are still paralyzed by it and not sure how to get out of its grip. 

When you let go of having to be perfect or to produce something perfect, that is when you get out of your own way and become more productive. You can create the space for more creativity, growth, breakthroughs, and results that lead to mastery – which, by the way, is not perfection. 

If you want to master anything in life, you have to be willing to do bad and mediocre work. If you can embrace that and even have fun with that concept, you’re going to be shocked at how much more productive and creative you are. 

The good news is that the more you practice, grow, and create, the more your confidence grows, and the less power perfectionism has over you. 

Letting go of perfectionism can actually be lots of fun. I want to share two tactics for overcoming the perfectionistic mindset. One is for beginning a project, and the second is for finishing it and sending it out into the world. 

The first one is called “The Garbage Method” and it’s for getting started on a project and getting it through to that first draft. It was created by one of my favorite marketing coaches, Simone Grace Seol. She wrote an excellent book on creativity called Don’t Do Your Best: A Guide to the Project of Being Alive  It’s brilliant. 

Here’s how the garbage method works. Instead of committing to writing 500 words per day, commit to writing 500 garbage words each day. Instead of writing five scenes today, write five awful, on-the-nose, worst dialogue, overly wordy scene descriptions. Do it on purpose.

Get excited about writing your garbage words. Even, look forward to it. Quantity over quality here. And as Simone says, give yourself extra credit for doing it extra bad.  

Okay, here’s why it works so well: It tricks your brain into thinking you’re just goofing around and deactivates your resistance. 

And when you take the pressure off by opting for garbage instead of perfection, you’ve just given your brain permission to play, to relax, to be flexible. This is the space in which creativity, productivity, and magic thrive. It’s where all the good ideas are born. 

But first, you have to be willing to go there. 

If the idea of writing garbage does not sit well with you, start by writing on-the-nose instead; this will get you out of your head and the big broad strokes on paper. Just never create from a filter of perfectionism; you will burn out fast. 

Create some garbage and create it on purpose. And have fun doing it. Creativity loves a brain that is having fun.

The second tactic is for the perfectionism obstacle that tends to happen when we’re trying to decide if our work is done or if it’s good enough to put out into the world. People can get stuck in this critical loop for decades and never let any of their work see the light of day.

To be clear, you don’t want to ever send out mediocre or sloppy C work…but be okay with B work. B work is still high-quality, and having high standards for your work is good. You don’t have to produce A+ work or reach perfection before putting your work out there. That is impractical and likely impossible.

So, here’s a process you can use to make sure you don’t get stuck in this endless loop of “How will I know it’s good enough to put out into the world?”

You get to decide when it’s good enough. Come up with a checklist or personal criteria for when it’s good enough. This will eliminate you overthinking it. Trust yourself. Have your own back. You can refine the criteria on your next project if necessary.

Here’s an example of my personal checklist for my screenplays: 

  • Does it cover all the business decisions?
  • Does the story deliver the meaning and message powerfully?
  • Can I give myself a B on all my main passes (dialogue, scene description, subtext, pacing, etc.)?
  • Have I gotten good feedback or coverage from two or three trusted sources? 
  • Have I had it proofread and the formatting checked?
  • Am I sold on this project myself?
  • Do I believe there are at least 100 people out there who would want this project?

When this list is checked off, it’s done, and time to get it out into the world where it belongs.

I hope you found this helpful, and I don’t want you to waste another minute of your life on perfectionism. It’s a lie that will keep you stuck exactly where you are. 

Next week we’ll talk about the final DIY obstacle Not Enough Time.

Bye for now!

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