When it comes to writing, procrastination can be a formidable adversary. Do not allow yourself to fall for any of the fearful, negative thoughts that enable procrastination. Some procrastination-powered thoughts disguise themselves as cautions regarding preparation, or demands that the atmosphere in the office, your personal mood and other factors to be “just right.” The desire to be perfect, to have the perfect situation, to craft the perfect paragraph, to enjoy “the perfect writing career,” creates a pitfall that should be avoided at all costs. Perfectionism lies at the root of missed deadlines, low productivity, high stress, self-doubt and procrastination.
Writing, or any other worthwhile pursuit in life, calls for fluidity, an adventurous spirit, and the courage to push beyond the comfort zone. This leaves no room for perfectionism. Anyone who arrives at the pinnacle of success has already experienced numerous failures along the way. We learn by trial and error, and if we don’t take chances, we don’t grow. Don’t let perfectionism hold you back from discovering your greatest potential. Here are some strategies for exorcizing these twin demons. They are progress-oriented strategies you can use which will free you from excessive self-criticism and increase your creativity, satisfaction, and confidence:
Go ahead and do it. Yes this is ridiculously simple, but it works. Arrange a time each day, if your lifestyle permits, and commit to writing during that time period. If you can’t think of anything “brilliant,” then write anything…. just write until you hit your flow. You may not hit your flow that day, but you can be sure that if you stay the course, you will eventually hit it. If your schedule is erratic, for instance, if you are a mother with young children you may not be able to commit to a sacrosanct period of time each day, no sweat! You can grab your opportunities as they come. The main thing is that you do it every day, even if it’s only ten minutes at a time. Baby steps often complete the journey more consistently than leaps and bounds. Focus on progress.
Perfection is not an oasis, it’s only a mirage. You’ll never arrive, because it simply isn’t there. Once you realize that everything in this universe is flawed, you can relax and focus on improvement, or progress. You will find that as your confidence builds, your freedom of thought increases. You now have lots of “elbow room” to take on new challenges. Perfectionism can throw you into a cycle of procrastination. There is real reward in accepting your work without judgment, simply enjoying the beauty and fun of creativity and discovery.
Set workable goals and celebrate each accomplishment. Determine your ultimate goal. Then set do-able, measurable goals, at definite intervals on the journey, that you know you can reach. At each of these intervals you can measure progress, adjust your sights, and make changes if necessary. It’s easy to slip into a self-defeating pattern by setting stratospheric standards. If you tell yourself you can only celebrate once you scale the highest peak, you rob yourself of the joy that comes from celebrating each and every small accomplishment regardless of the result.
At the end of each day, take an account of all you’ve achieved. Remember that progress is not exclusively linear. Be sure to give yourself credit for plucky attitude, positive thought process, generous thoughts, and acts of kindness. On any given day, you likely have gained character strengths, personal insights, and improved writing skills. As you daily celebrate these small accomplishments, you increase your joy in the process, and that joy will motivate you to crash through the procrastination barrier each and every day.
Embrace your mistakes as learning opportunities. Some of history’s greatest discoveries were a result of blunders, or were learned by trial and error. If you stop making mistakes, you stop growing and learning. Loosen up—have fun. You’ll find your creative output, skill set, and personal satisfaction will increase exponentially. Never minimize your achievements. Dismiss self-talk such as, “Well, it was okay, but anybody could’ve done that.” That sort of thinking, discounting the positive, can lead to anhedonia, the technical term for diminished ability to find joy and satisfaction in life. Instead, constantly cheer yourself on with inner pep talks.
Try putting these strategies into play on a daily basis and you’ll be amazed at your progress. Do the exorcism. Cast out excessive self-criticism and inappropriately high standards. Celebrate each tiny baby step. Pat yourself on the back: turn on the self-approval faucet and let the feeling of accomplishment wash over you. This isn’t complacency, this is stamina building. Writing is like a long-distance run. Procrastination and perfectionism are fear-related. If you fill yourself with positive emotion and buoy your spirits with positive self-talk, you’ll find that self-discipline is fun and comes naturally. Focus on progress instead of perfection and before you know it, procrastination melts away, you’re up off the couch and in front of the computer. Or better still, while we’re visualizing, let’s say you’re off the couch and onto the NYT Bestsellers List. Anything is possible, one day at a time.