Our favourite mindfulness and psychology boutique, The Indigo Project invited Kaleido along to another event tailored to helping those seeking balance in their creative routine and projects. You may have seen our last write up on Unlocking Creativity, but if you’re new to the game you can catch up on how they helped make our Issue 04 launch amazing here. This time we sent Irena Muss, an aspiring storyteller currently studying writing and philosophy along to Perfectionism: The Gift and The Curse to get her first taste of what goes down at The Indigo Project’s studio.

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On Thursday 7 September, I attended my first workshop by The Indigo Project, a workshop on perfectionism. I arrived ten minutes early as usual– and mid-mild-panic-attack– to a bright entrance in a dimly lit side-street in Surry Hills. Those at the front desk encouraged me to head upstairs, have a seat on a small round cushion and chat to my neighbour. There was a conversation card on my seat and a kind sign on the door asking me to remove my shoes.  

The Indigo Project incorporates mindfulness, neuroscience and positive psychology into workshops and shared experiences that encourage a kinder, more self-aware practise. Our mindfulness guide for the next two hours was Martha, a professional psychologist and self-identified perfectionist.

Perfectionism is the relentless striving towards high standards in our work and personal lives, a trait which is strongly prevalent in creative culture. On a wider scale, perfectionism motivates us to challenge the status-quo. Perfectionists are the pig-headed leaders of reform – we see the potential for positive change. However, perfectionists have a tendency to judge self-worth by unnaturally high standards, which can lead to depleting resources and straining relationships. We tend to go big or go home, and while that’s a great strategy for a weekend bender, it’s not so healthy for our continued creative practise. Martha explained that we get into a bio-chemical cycle of stress hormones: a short time-period of intense stress that is followed by the associated high which accompanies success. This is simply not sustainable, and not positive for our mental or physical health. We have to break the cycle, find balance, and appreciate our achievements and experiences along the way. So, where do we start?

First, stop to listen to the voices that drive your negative perfectionism, and learn to differentiate between them.

Say ‘hi’ to the Inner Critic. They say ‘I am not X enough’. They’re constantly evaluating and judging, and thrive off negativity. They tell us what we’ve done wrong and what that makes us. The Inner Critic usually has a distinct voice. Is it your own, or does it belong to somebody else in your life? Consider giving it a name. Learn to put a buffer between you and the Inner Critic. This way, you can learn to drop the judgement.

Say ‘hi’ to The Perfectionist. They pick up the judgements from the Inner Critic and turn them into action statements. They say ‘I should, I must, I have to X’. They tell us what we should have done, and set subsequent goals. There are healthy and unhealthy ‘shoulds’: flexible vs. rigid, realistic vs. unjustified, life enhancing vs. life limiting. Allow for context and self-care, and put a buffer between you and the arbitrary ‘should’.

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After getting more acquainted with these characters, you can apply a three-step process of mindfulness training:

  1. Expand your awareness. Zoom out, widen your perspective. Be aware of the self-critic and their over-scrutinising perspective. What maintains your cycle of negative perfectionism? Be aware of any tendencies toward selective attention, which can focus your thinking exclusively on negatives.
  2. Work on encouraging acceptance. These traits are not a failing. When you accept them as simply existing, it becomes easier to re-focus and to let go of those negative thoughts and judgements. You can then learn to apply legitimate and kind self-evaluations to your work.
  3. Practise self-compassion. Train your brain like a new puppy– don’t apply the same aggression that characterises negative perfectionism. Try thinking of yourself as a close friend. While you’re at it, think of a ‘cheerleader’ friend to consult when you’re stuck in a toxic cycle of self-criticism, and when they offer their opinion on you or your work, try listening for a change.

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You can also try out a few pragmatic strategies.

Seek out novel experiences. Find something that you can do simply because it is enjoyable or entertaining, something that is deliberately not productive.

When you reach 80% of your capacity, stop. Apply the 80% rule to your mental and physical energy, your focus, and your available time. Reaching this point and stopping leaves something for yourself, and can save you from crashing.

Practise not being perfect– it’s impossible to be so. Psychology, history, and experience advise that ‘perfect’ is an ideal that can never quite be a reality. Perfectionistic traits help us to achieve at high standards and break new ground. The potential of our work exists in that space, and we will use our full capacities to bring it into existence. But, as Martha so wisely put it– it doesn’t always have to be as difficult as we make it for ourselves.

You can keep up to date with The Indigo Projects full line up of events at: www.theindigoproject.com.au/whats-on/

 

Irena Muss

irenabmuss@gmail.com

@irena_muss on Instagram