Have you ever seen a child working hard writing a story, then getting one word wrong and crossing out everything in a big scribbly rage and scrunching up the paper into an angry ball, rather than just correcting that one wonky spelling? This scenario defines perfectionism in kids and it’s a legacy that sometimes follows us into adulthood – when furious paper scrunching in public will be frowned upon!
The tricky thing is that many of us have grown up striving to be perfect, wanting to get top marks, wanting to achieve, wanting to be the best, because that’s how they motivated us at school. And, as an Artisan, we’re betting that you’re probably pretty ‘perfectionist’ about the products you create too. It’s a tricky thing to manage, because that obsession with quality and attention to detail is a key part of your craftsperson mentality and is a great asset. But, remember the classic piece of wisdom, ‘No-one and nothing is perfect’? Well that’s true too and we are passionate advocates of the Japanese based Wabi-Sabi approach to life – the simple idea that we must accept the beauty in the naturally imperfect world.
So how do we continue to strive to do our best without heaping pressure upon ourselves that’s difficult to cope with at the time, and plain demotivating and depressing when we miss those impossibly high goals we set for ourselves?
It’s all about a subtle tweak of mindset – you need to learn to recognise the difference between healthy perfectionism and neurotic perfectionism. Take note! You should feel positive and excited about your goals, not overwhelmed and anxious about them. You should whoop about every small triumph and give yourself regular pats on the back about your achievements, not feel like nothing you do is ever enough. Are you moving uncomfortably in your chair right now?!
Personal development guru Celes has some great thoughts and advice on this topic – I love this quote: ‘Allow yourself to do things incompletely, imperfectly, and imprecisely. That’s how you can then progress to the state of completion and precision. Focus on maximizing progress every step of the way, including through experimentation and failure, as that is the surest way to guarantee your fastest success.’
There’s is now a sea-change in the academic approach to learning that could help adults harness this new thinking too – it’s called ‘the growth mindset’.
It’s the result of all sorts of research, but the basic theory seems to be that we shouldn’t be praising children for being ‘clever’ or ‘intelligent’, or for the results of a certain task (‘Well done, you’ve drawn a perfect castle!’, or ‘That’s a fantastic story you’ve written’) instead we should be praising them for their effort (‘Wow you’ve worked really hard on that castle!’, ‘I can see how much effort you put into that short story!’).
Scientists found that if you constantly tell a child that they are clever, or give results-driven praise, they begin to assume that intelligence is an innate talent they don’t need to work at, so they are less keen to learn, don’t try as hard and give up more easily when working on challenging tasks and failing to get the result they want. If you praise their ‘efforts’ to learn, this spurs them on to learn more and to take on harder tasks, as they realise that their performance is subject to improvement. It’s also important to let them know that it’s ok to make mistakes – it’s all about trying.
Makes sense doesn’t it? As crafty types, nothing is more valuable than our creative spark and by taking this ‘growth mindset’ attitude to business, to learning and to life we can preserve and fan these artistic flames. Perfectionism, meanwhile, is only going to fire hose them down.
As Edwin Bliss (time management expert and author of Getting Things Done) says, ‘The pursuit of excellence is gratifying and healthy. The pursuit of perfection is frustrating, neurotic and a terrible waste of time.’
And no-one wants to get so frustrated and neurotic that they have an embarrassing paper scrunching incident!