Are you a perfectionist? Are you never satisfied with your project or work? Do you constantly doubt yourself?
If it’s any comfort, you’re not alone.
I remember going over edits again and again as a documentary filmmaker to get it perfect. By the time I’d finished the piece I’d probably made about 10 cents an hour. And then of course, when it went out on air, that very edit would haunt me … I shouldn’t have used that clip or that montage or whatever I had obsessed about in my quest for perfection.
I was recently reminded of this creative obsession after seeing the Final Portrait, a biopic about the artist Alberto Giacometti. It’s based on a book written by James Lord about sitting for a portrait.
He was assured by the artist that it would take maybe three to four hours, which was a good thing because Lord was leaving for New York the next day.
As any perfectionist knows you can’t estimate how long things will take once you become obsessed with getting it just right!
There were countless shots in the studio where Lord was posing and Giacometti was verbalising what we probably say in our heads: “It’s no good. I have to start all over. I don’t have talent.” The list can go on and on.
So here are some tips when you’re in the grip of perfectionism.
Set a deadline
James Lord knew that posing for the portrait could go on forever given the number of times Giacometti, dissatisfied with the painting, would start the portrait over. With a deadline you become focused and can challenge yourself to keep going, especially if it’s external … perhaps with money at the end.
If you find yourself going down a rabbit hole of negative thoughts, stop ruminating by bringing yourself back to the present. Work through your five senses. Look around and notice five things you like, four things you can hear, three things you can touch, two things you can smell and one thing you can taste. This exercise gives you the cognitive distraction of counting, stops the mind spinning and helps focus on your senses.
Get some fresh air
There’s nothing like Mother Nature to help clear your head. Go for a walk. You’ll probably still be obsessing about your work, but at least you’ll be away from your desk and have given yourself a new perspective. Perhaps the exercise has distracted you enough to either find peace about your obsession or discover an innovative solution.
Accept the creative process and distract yourself
Allow yourself the freedom to see concepts, ideas, writing, art etc. as works in progress no matter what stage you’re at. Sometimes everything is a first draft and you may need to leave it hidden on your computer so you don’t look at for a couple of days.
Resolve to finish the work
Some perfectionists get stuck and don’t complete things because of lack of confidence, fear of rejection – you name it; all those negative voices that keep you mired in stasis. Having a weekly check in with a friend can keep your momentum going, knowing your buddy wants you to succeed.
What about you? What things do you do to overcome dissatisfaction with yourself or your work? If you’re still stuck in the grip of perfectionism, get in touch with me and together we can work through it until you’re on the other side.