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Sunday, January 5, 2014


Author Hillary Rettig knows a bit about perfectionism, and procrastination. She writes about them in her bestselling book The 7 Secrets of the Prolific: The Definitive Guide to Overcoming Procrastination, Perfectionism, and Writer’s Block. Today she offers advice to all you crafters out there who suffer from procrastination and perfectionism. Learn more about Hillary and her books at her website. 

How to Make 2014 the Year You Do More Crafting

If you're like many crafters, you have a guilty little (or big!) secret:

It could be a basket filled with skeins of gloriously colored yarn.

Or, a closet crammed with bolts of gorgeous fabric, plus the associated beads, buttons, edgings, trims, and zippers.

Or a shelf lined with binders, photos, marbleized papers, and other scrapbooking supplies.

Or cabinet drawers stuffed with glass tiles, ceramic tiles, hobby paints, adhesives, etc.

One of the joys of crafting is the accumulation! 

And yet—we get all that stuff with the intention of using it. And we do feel guilty when it sits unused. And we also miss the joy of crafting, and the way it enriches our lives.

So, let's aim to do more crafting in 2014! Specifically, let's aim to (a) start more projects, and (b) finish more of what we start.

Now if you've had problems starting and finishing in the past, then you might be skeptical. Exactly how can you craft more in 2014? After all you've made resolutions to do so in the past, and it never worked.

2014 will be the year you craft more because it's the year you will become less of a perfectionist around your crafting.

Let's get started.

Perfectionism is NOT Your Friend

Most people think perfectionism is the same as having high standards, and hence a good thing.

They couldn't be more wrong.

Perfectionism is a constellation of nearly twenty antiproductive attitudes, ideas, habits, and behaviors, including:

*setting unreasonable goals, and punishing yourself harshly for failing to meet them (E.g., “Since I don't feel like crafting after a long day of work and then taking care of my family, I must be lazy and uncommitted.”)

*being grandiose (expecting things that are difficult for others to be easy for you; e.g., expecting to succeed without adequate preparation or planning or resources)

*overidentifying with the work; e.g., being on top of the world when you do good work, and down in the dumps when you don't. This kind of emotional “roller coastering” is not helpful.

*overfocusing on product (versus process). Yes, we all want to create great crafts. But the way to do that is to create many crafts, not caring too much about how any one project turns out. Here's the classic example from David Bayles and Ted Orland's book Art & Fear:

The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality. His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the "quantity" group: fifty pound of pots rated an "A", forty pounds a "B", and so on. Those being graded on "quality", however, needed to produce only one pot -- albeit a perfect one -- to get an "A". Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the "quantity" group was busily churning out piles of work - and learning from their mistakes -- the "quality" group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.

*over-relying on external validation. There's nothing wrong with liking a little public recognition. Needing that recognition is problematic, however, since it means you're basing your self-esteem on others' opinionsand those others may not even be informed critics. Better to create a small (then large?) circle of savvy supporters, and look to them for input and appreciation.

Other perfectionist characteristics include: shortsightedness (a do-or-die, now-or-never, this-project-is-crucial attitude); invidious comparisons (with other crafters, critical non-crafters, and even yourself at a more productive time); and negative self-talk.

Perfectionism is a really toxic brew that creates not a fear, but a terror of failure. It's the major catalyst of procrastination and “crafter's block,” and so to the extent you're a perfectionist about your crafting, you'll have trouble starting and finishing work.

Fortunately there are solutions—and they work amazingly well.
Here's what to do if you're stuck on a crafting project:

1) Skip the shame and blame.  Perfectionism isn't moral or character flaws; it's a ubiquitous element of our society and media that has been acting on us, and undermining us, from a young age. Beating yourself up over your under-productivity by calling yourself lazy, undisciplined, etc., is worse than useless because it not only doesn't help, it makes the problem worse. Don't do it—EVER.

2) Identify the problem, and solutions. Repeat after me: “There's always a reason for under-productivity, and the reason is always valid.” See that word “always?” I mean it. I've been working with crafters and others on their productivity issues for more than a decade, and I've never heard an “invalid” reason for under-productivity.

So ask yourself, “Why do I not feel like doing my craft?” Then answer the question, and deal with whatever issues come up in the answer. You could, for instance, be stressed or have no time, or are under-resourced, or are confused about how to proceed Or that the project could be too hard (= frustrating and demoralizing) or too easy (= boring!) There are hundreds of possibilities, many of which, once uncovered, are astonishingly easy to solve.

3) Untangle your “yarn snarl.” Actually, it's probably not just for one reason, but many. Those reasons are all snarled up together, and I refer to them collectively as your “spaghetti snarl.” (Crafters should feel free to rename it the “yarn snarl.”) Do some journaling and self-analysis to identify the various strands, and once identified, work to solve them. More info on this technique here.

4) Use a timer. Perfectionists often become anxious the moment they try to do their crafting, or even think about doing it. Part of that anxiety comes from the idea that, “If I don't sit here and craft for three hours and do excellent work, I'm a loser.” (See above.) To counteract that, get a kitchen timer or stop watch, set it for 2 or 5 or 10 minutes, and do your crafting during that short interval. Remember: your goal is not to do "excellent work" (whatever that means), but to simply put in your time and practice staying in the moment and enjoying the process. After a break, you can repeat the interval if you want, and as you get more confident around your work, you can increase the duration of your intervals. More on this technique here.

5)  Reward all successes. To a perfectionist, life—and crafting—is one godawful long string of failures. Their interior monologue goes something like, “Look, you screwed up that stitch! What a klutz! And why did you choose that color? It looks horrible. And after you took that class and spent all that other money on supplies. What a waste...” And on, and on, and on.

No wonder you're not motivated!

You need to replace that monologue with a more positive and affirming one. For example: “That stitch wasn't perfect, but it's not bad for a beginner. And I'm liking these colors I chose. And it's great that I've spent an hour on the piece this week, given how busy and stressed I was...” Perfectionists typically find this self-indulgent, but it actually reflects the reality of the crafter's achievements. It's perfectionists who are deluded and in the worst possible way: with rampant negativity.

A positive interior monologue rewards you as you go about your day, encouraging you to do more and better. There's no down side to it, really. And if you want to additionally reward yourself with a nice treat, a bubble bath, a new DVD, or some fancy new crafting supplies, you'll get no argument from me. :-)

That's it! Use these techniques as much as possible, but never pressure yourself. Remember: most growth happens in baby steps, and if you start to feel pressured or stressed while crafting, you're being a perfectionist. Take a moment, breathe, and set smaller (or no!) goals.

And please name one of your 2014 craft projects after me!

The 7 Secrets of the Prolific: The Definitive Guide to Overcoming Procrastination, Perfectionism, and Writer's Block

You are not lazy, undisciplined, or uncommitted! 

Procrastination, perfectionism, and writer's block are habits rooted in scarcity and fear. If you know the seven secrets of the prolific, you can "magically" recover all the energy, discipline, and commitment you thought you had lost. 

Author, coach and workshop leader Hillary Rettig characterizes, in great detail and depth, the major causes of underproductivity, including: procrastination, perfectionism, resource scarcity, time scarcity, an ineffective writing process, bias, ambivalence, internalized oppression, traumatic rejection, and exploitative career paths. 

Then she tells you how to conquer each. 

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C.J. Hayden said...

I've been applying Hillary's tips to my writing for some time. I love this new angle on how to apply them to my crafting, too!

Therese Larsen said...

I find new areas to apply Hillary's tips every day!