As a self-proclaimed recovering perfectionist, I totally get how we can end up in this perfectionist trap. But having a place in my life, my painting practice, where I could embrace imperfection has been so healing for my relationship with myself. I share why imperfection is your biggest asset because I believe it can do the same for you.
If you find yourself being unkind, motivating yourself out of fear or condemning yourself with your words, a painting practice can be a place where you can experiment with imperfection and help you to start shifting it. Humans aren’t perfect, so expecting us or anyone else to be perfect is a recipe for disappointment or discontent. And if we are expecting perfection of ourselves, how are we going to give grace to our kids or others if we can’t give it to ourselves?
So whether you have a standard of imperfection or perfection, what you are doing in adopting that attitude is creating an expectation for yourself and others. But before we get into the benefits of imperfection, it is important to understand what is the cost of a perfection expectation or attitude?
An expectation of perfection can block, inhibit or slow down your progress in a few areas, and can prevent you from achieving the goals you actually desire.
THE COST OF PERFECTION:
1. Perfectionism can inhibit you in achieving your goal(s) of:
- connection with yourself and the world around you
- increasing your self-love (especially important if you have a self-love deficit)
- developing higher quality work, the foundation of work excellence
- creating creative, artistic and meaningful paintings
It’s like climbing up the wrong ladder and you may not realize until you are to the top of the ladder that it was the wrong ladder, and that effort was ineffective in getting you to the result you actually wanted.
2. Perfectionism can divert your goals and corresponding actions to something you may not even be wanting.
To understand why perfection is such an issue for painters, you need to consider “What is my goal here?” Is it to create technically perfect paintings, is it to move people, or is it both?
If your expectation is to create technically perfect paintings… then the how is to paint focusing on the technical aspects of paintings. And the result is most likely a more technically-correct painting, but one that also feels flat. And I don’t necessarily mean that it looks flat, but that it doesn’t stir anything inside you, there is not an emotional response to the painting. This can be true for both the creator of the painting as well as the observer afterwards.
However, if the result you are wanting is to create art that connects you to yourself in the process (so you have the capacity to connect in your relationships and increase your happiness which can increase your productivity by up to 28%) and art that moves the observer afterwards, the path is an expectation of imperfection.
Learning new skills (whether design, painting techniques or tapping into your flow, thoughts or emotions) doesn’t happen perfectly, it happens by practicing it. And if we are expecting ourselves to “do it perfectly” the first time, we are less likely to try it ever again, which is in direct conflict with what we need to reach excellence, which comes from the right kind of practice.
Creating art that connects you and moves your paintings’ observers is a result of your presence in the painting. If you are focused on what you expect the painting to look like in the end, then you aren’t present while you are painting. And it will show in your painting.
Imperfection is a core element of an irresistible paint practice that when combined with taking strategic risk, building your skills and improving over time is what will keep you coming back, again and again.
3. Perfection keeps you from taking risk that you need to take to improve.
When you are trapped into perfection, you aren’t willing to take risk. The right kind and amount of risk in our paintings is a key element in how we learn and improve and allows us to express the right level and kind of emotion in a way that connects us to ourselves and the painting observers to our paintings. Combining expecting perfection with the belief that you need to be continually improving in each painting is a recipe for discontent. If we embrace perfection with constant improvement, we think our painting practice needs to look like this:
In reality a painting practice where someone does improve over time has a general upward trajectory, but in the day to day or week to week there are quite a few ups and downs.
So what is the alternative? Focusing on the end result you are wanting the painting that is technically correct can work for you if:
- You are willing to absorb any frustration in the form of tension in your body if as you are painting it isn’t looking exactly how you envisioned it or how you want your paintings to look.
- If you have gotten to a level of painting mastery where paintings come out looking like you wanted but you don’t feel anything, but don’t expect or want to, either.
4. An expectation of perfection keeps us from painting as much, or at all. What keeps people stuck is focusing on making a painting perfect. Painting Paralysis is where you go to paint and you just sit there, waiting for something you don’t think you have to inspire, encourage you or teach you the exact next brushstroke to make because you think that every stroke you make needs to be perfect, needs to stand out on its own. If you are working on the background of your painting and your goal is coverage, it will take you much longer to not just cover the canvas, but also to learn from that experience. Action brings clarity, but only when we aren’t analyzing it while we are painting. Paint -> Analyze -> Paint -> Analyze. If you are stuck in judgment, you are probably analyzing too much. Your painting cycles need to be much longer, and maybe by layer, or even after multiple layers or even a whole painting is complete.
Tweak not every brushstroke, focus on what your goal is, and make your goal in line with the result you are actually wanting.
5. An expectation of perfection creates pressure that can block our creative pathways. Instead, get curious, where is my painting going to go? Don’t fight what is coming out, recognize that whatever came out is what was meant to come out. And if it is nothing like the painting you intended, maybe you needed to get that out first.
A natural response to judging ourselves and not meeting those expectations is feeling shame. Unless you plan on painting paintings that feel like shame indefinitely, I do not endorse this route. I do endorse painting out emotions, but not staying in “negative” emotions longer than purposeful or longer than you can handle in that moment.
Not meeting our own expectations, in this case, perfection expectations, creates our discontent. And this discontent can decrease our productivity and create lower quality work, including lower quality paintings.
6. Perfectionism can result in more negative emotions that you’ll then need to express through painting, and probably not paintings you’ll want to display
And if you paint a painting while frustrated, chances are, I can tell. I may or may not be able to tell what the frustration is about, it may be that I can tell what it represents to you, but I’ll at least know you were frustrated while you did it.
If you adopt any expectation of perfection you are more likely to stop improving your paintings resulting in stopping painting altogether. Here’s why…
Perfection is the enemy of enjoyment. Because perfection is the pathway to discontent.
THE BENEFITS OF IMPERFECTION:
1. To enjoy your painting experience. If you are expecting perfection, then you are going to get frustrated when it isn’t, and this can impact how you see yourself and your abilities and take different action than you would. Imperfection is a core element of an irresistible painting practice that you desire to do, again and again.
2. Actually paint, and paint more often, which allows you the opportunity to experiment, and use your learnings to get better. Imperfection reduces the hurdle to get to the canvas and actually start painting.
3. Improve your relationship with yourself and others. To be kind to yourself if things don’t turn out how you want. Because your worth isn’t based on your painting performance. Because we can’t give what we don’t have, embracing imperfection can give you the capacity to give grace to others when they need it.
4. Create higher quality work because you aren’t focused on perfection but on the work itself. Having an expectation of perfection can result in not being fully committed or focused on doing the work. We are not allocating our brain to focus on the work but on part doing the work and part analyzing what we are doing. Do the work first, then analyze it if you are going to analyze it.
This total focus on the work while creating or developing the work allows you to go deeper into your work rather than being distracted by trying to make it perfect in that moment. Get the work out, then improve it. If you try to make it perfect from the start, you will get it out slower and at a lower quality because you are fighting your resistance created by focusing on perfection / analyzing your work as you go.
5. Take your paintings to a new level. Embracing imperfection allows you to embrace the journey of improvement, to get curious and take more risk, to go on that painting adventure and see what happens. This allows you to try new techniques, expanding on what you’ve already integrated and ultimately take your paintings to a whole new level. Imperfection combined with strategic risk can result in improvement which over time is what can get you to excellence.
Imperfection starts you on the pathway to excellence.
If you adopt any expectation of imperfection you are more likely to create higher quality paintings, adopt a higher level of commitment to painting and paint more. Here’s why…
6. It’s about PRESENCE NOT PERFECTION. The excellence journey starts with choosing imperfection. Why? Because living is found in the present. When you choose to start with imperfection, you are giving yourself the capacity to be present.
Have trouble with perfection? Or getting present? I can help. I have opened up sessions for 3 people for 1:1 Paint Sessions for January 2023. If interested, go here.