The Enemy of the Good: moving beyond perfectionism

“The perfect is the enemy of the good.”

—Voltaire

perfect-wordHave you ever found yourself paralyzed by perfectionism before a blank journal page? Perhaps you are starting a brand new journal, are about to make the first sketch of the day, are presented with a complex or beautiful object, have been intimated by amazing artwork in someone else’s sketchbook, or just have a case of the inner critic. All of these things can shut you down. We hear the voices:  I am not good enough to try that, I don’t want to mess up this beautiful sketchbook,  or I don’t have enough time to do that right so why even start. It is not just you. Everyone feels this way from time to time. The problem is not that we get stuck. The problem is that we let that feeling of being stuck stop us in our tracks. We come home with an empty sketchbook and having seen and wondered less. The good news is there are ways to move through stuck ,and back into the pages of your journal.

Not enough time

If you feel you don’t have enough time to do it right, redefine right. The worst case is not getting out your journal at all. Everything else is an improvement on that. Try a few written words, a thumbnail sketch, or a quick doodle to jog your memory. When pressed for time, keep it small. Instead of trying to cover everything, choose one small detail of one corner of your experience and get that down. When everything else fades, you will still have that moment.

Messing up a good journal

The only way to mess up a journal is to not use it. Do not make a precious edifice of your journal, it is a tool. A crystal hammer is useless it can never be used and it still needs to be dusted. If you want interesting pages, make lots of pages. If you want accurate and fast drawings that bring back a moment, make lots of drawings. The key is to use it. If you end up creating a set of pages that you really like, don’t be afraid of the next one not being pretty. The only way to keep this tool useful is to use it. If a journal starts to too precious to use, fill a few pages with quick gesture sketches and written notes. This turns it back to useful tool. Worried about saving paper? Recycle. The most respectful thing you can do for that tree that was chopped down to make the journal is to use it to connect with the world.

Not good enough

This voice of perfectionism  is all about pretty pictures. It often rings with “I could never do that, why even try” after looking at the work of a more experienced artist. I find this kind of judgement the most paralyzing. I still hear this voice. It has less to do with your drawing ability and more to do with how you think about what you are doing. The most important thing is to reframe why you are keeping a nature journal. The journal is not a portfolio of pretty pictures to show other people. It is the most powerful tool to deepening your connection with nature. It is a thinking tool, a place where your thoughts and observations become concrete. This is easier to say than to  really feel. But make yourself do it. Fake it till you make it.

Don’t judge at your drawings, instead notice what you learned from the observations, is there something you have seen that you otherwise would have missed? Did you ask a new and interesting question? Will this help you remember a moment more vividly? Were you able to figure out a mystery or collect more clues? If the answer is yes to any of these, you are on the right track. Celebrate that little moment. It may feel forced at the start (because it is) but by regularly checking in like this you will retrain your reward center in your brain. Eventually you will get a little squirt of dopamine every time you ask a new question or see something you never noticed before. Now you are a  curiosity addict and there is no stopping you.

You can do this, and the time to start is now. Grab your journal and go outside.

6 thoughts on “The Enemy of the Good: moving beyond perfectionism

  1. Marieanne COURSEN says:

    You are my hero! “Fake it till you make it” is my favorite saying. It is all about doing it until you are doing it.

  2. Viktoria Berg says:

    This is a great post, just what I needed to read right now. I particularly like your thoughts about the journal deepening my connection with nature (or whatever I´m journaling, I guess – life!). “Good enough”, that´s my new mantra. Thank you.

  3. Bruce Maatta says:

    Great thoughts…. I’m going to share them with my field biology class where all of my students keep a nature journal. Thanks

  4. Lisa McKenzie says:

    Awesome! I love how you show us a new way to look at it and not be so critical, enjoy the moment, keep learning and how to retrain our brains!!!

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