Here at PaperDemon, we're all about helping you get motivated so you can be productive and confident in your abilities as a super badass artist, writer, musician, etc. To that end, I started drafting a new video series called “10 Tips to Motivate you to Get Started.” But then I realized it might be helpful to dive deep into uncovering the reasons why the lack of motivation can happen in the first place.
In my newest video, I cover some of the ways we sabotage ourselves as creators, why we do it, and some general ways to overcome them. Unlike most of my other videos and articles, this information is general enough to help people with any type of creative pursuit, not just visual arts.
I had started to write a blog post to accompany the video and realized I had a lot more to say about these topics than I originally planned. So I've decided to take my own advice, not be a perfectionist, and simply post here a video outline. I'll release a series of blog posts on the sabotaging content over the coming months. This will give me some room to dive more indepth on how I've personally sabotaged myself which I wasn't able to cover in the video due to time constraints.
Full transcript of the video is below...
Today, I'm going to share with you five ways you are sabotaging yourself as a creator. Now, this video is intended to be useful for any creator out there, even though most of my videos are very art focused.
Before we get into the five reasons we sabotage ourselves, if you are new to the PaperDemon community, either to this channel or to paperdemon.com, welcome. I am BogusRed. I am an animator and illustrator. I sure hope you brought cookies.
Reason 1: Emotions and Distorted thoughts
Distorted thoughts and negative emotions are common amongst those who are neurodiverse. We often struggle with lack of confidence. We are overjudgmental of ourselves. There's probably many of us out there who want to do art or want to create something but we just don't think that we're good enough, that we don't have the talent.
But the reality is you have to practice at something in order to get better at it. No one is born with innate abilities to do these things. A lot of it takes practice.
We may feel overwhelmed by getting started on a project or we may be facing what's called the "Wall of Awful".
Wall of Awful
If you've never heard of the Wall of Awful, the basic concept is we've accumulated a lot of failures in our lives and each failure adds a brick to this wall and the more failures that we accumulate, the harder it can be to do something or take action on something because we areremembering all of those past failures.
There are many general approaches that you can take to overcome these negative emotions and distorted thoughts.If you lack confidence about your abilities as an artist, try to change your expectations. Don't go into creating something, either a work of art or music or any sort of creation with the expectation that it be something amazing. Instead think about it as creating at all is something that is a success.
Affirmations. I have a video that covers affirmations in more depth.
Another thing you could do to help is to use something called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. You can talk to your therapist to learn more about what that is. But there's also a really good book about it called The Feeling Good Handbook.
If you want to learn more about the Wall of Awful, check out the Wall of Awful video by "How to ADHD" which explains this concept really really well.
Reason 2: Procrastination
You didn't think that we'd be getting through this list without mentioning that one right? This is when you tell yourself. I don't feel like doing it now. I'll just do it later.
Many people have the misconception that you wait for inspiration to magically appear and then you'll be motivated to take action. But you and I both know that that's not how it works.
It's actually action which leads to motivation which leads to more action.
And you will find many videos out there on the topic of procrastination. And actually many of them give you the advice to "just do it." Which may work well for a Nike slogan. But I don't think it works very well in practice.
Videos that tell you to just do it and just work through the procrastination are a dime a dozen. And I actually don't agree with this advice. It doesn't actually work. But here are some solutions that do work and have worked for me.
So I have a few general solutions on how you can approach procrastination. And I'm gonna cover in even more depth some specifics in the next video
Finding a way to make it very small or make the job or the task easy is a great way to get yourself to start something that you're stuck on. So for example, change the scope. Don't think about all the things that you have to do. Just think of one small little step that you can do, something that maybe only takes you five or ten minutes.
Another trick you can use is to give yourself an incentive, if your project is something like drawing or painting, perhaps you have a favorite podcast or YouTube channel that you like to listen to or watch, you can put that on and listen to it while you're drawing. Heck, you can even turn on the TV, treat yourself to some soap operas.
Reason 3: Perfectionism
The third way, we sabotage ourselves is perfectionism. I've talked about this in some of my prior videos. But it's worth mentioning again here.
I've heard other artists talk about how being a perfectionist is a good thing and I really strongly disagree with this. Maybe for some it allows them to achieve higher quality work, but for those of us, who are neurodiverse, it's actually really insidious thinking and it can often stop us from starting our projects. Because we have this image in our mind of what it is we want to create, but we somehow think that we don't have the ability to create it as perfectly as we want. So why bother with it at all? And that really comes from perfectionism.
To use art as an example, we may want the perfect color, the perfect lighting, the perfect composition and the perfect anatomy. Everything, we want to be just right.
One solution you can use here is to change your expectations. Just to think about one aspect of the creation that we want to really focus on making high quality. And not trying to make everything perfect.
Another solution is to use a mantra. There's a really great mantra for this;
"Perfect is the enemy of done"
Put it on a post-it note, put it somewhere where you will see it. That will help inspire you to start creating.
You can also change the metric of success. Rather than seeing a success as having created something that's perfect, you can have your metric of success be creating anything at all.
Reason 4: You don't invest in growth.
Some creators keep doing the same thing that they've been doing for years without investing anything in learning the fundamentals or growing their skills.
There's this thing called the Four Stages of Competence. The first stage is unconscious incompetence. This is when you don't know what you don't know. It's when you don't even have an awareness that there's all these things that you don't know yet.
A good example of this is an artist who's never taken a Figure Drawing class. They don't really realize yet, just how poorly they understand how to draw the human figure and how important figure drawing is to overall drawing competency. It wasn't until I took figure drawing that I started to realize just how much I didn't know. I thought I was good at drawing but then figure drawing really kicked my ass and helped me to see that I had so much more to learn.
So some of what I'm saying here might sound like it contradicts what I said in the previous section. I had said that in dealing with perfectionism you may have to change the metric of success to just creating anything at all and ignore quality, but that advice is intended for people who are paralyzed by their perfectionism and that doesn't really apply here.
With this particular point, I'm trying to speak to the people who are creating on a regular basisand aren't really growing. They're just kind of doing the same things over and over again.
It needs to involve a balance. You need to balance your passions and the type of art that you want to do with the skills development because if you go too far in the direction of just focusing on skills, you start to lose your own passion and interest in art.
You're capable of communicating even more and if you are able to invest in growing your skills, there's so much more that you can say with your art.
And I really probably don't need to say this again, I know I'm using art as an example here, but this really applies to anything creative.
So what are some solutions to help?
I mean I already outlined taking classes and this does not...I want to clarify that this doesn't mean that you have to get a formal education. There's is now more than ever, there's so much good online educational resources for free or for low-cost. But I will also say going to a class is also useful.
Having direct connection to a professor can help you to get critique, help give you direct guidance on what sorts of things to work on. If you're unconsciously incompetent,you're not going to know where to direct your efforts yet.
So, the other thing I want to recommend is getting a critique. Find someone who is successful and experienced in creating the type of work that you are creating. Whether that's music or art or writing or whatever it is. Try to find someone who is experienced in that area, who can help give you a critique. Who can look at your work, who could point you in a direction to help you to move forward.
Reason 5: We don't transition
Tell me if you relate to this at all...
Perhaps your typical routine is to watch TV while you eat dinner in the evening and you end up spending the whole evening watching TV and by the end of the evening you really regret your decision and feel like you probably could have made better use of that time. I know that this is the routine that I have most evenings and it sabotages my ability to create and part of the reason is because of inertia.
Once we start doing one thing, especially if it's something that's entertaining or pleasurable. It's really hard to stop and transition to something else. You know that once your ass hits that couch cushion, you're not getting up again.
There's a few solutions I have for you.
This is another one where bribery can really work. Bribe yourself to transition to the next thing.
Another is the Five Minute Rule. Tell yourself if you don't want to do something, you'll at least do it for five minutes. If after those five minutes you want to go back on the couch and watch TV you can.
Another thing to help you transition is the 20 Second Rule. (Having materials out so you can start within 20 seconds).
Body doubling is also useful here. I actually have a video that covers all of these tips in more detail linked below.
5 minute rule, 20 second rule, and body doubling are all covered in 3 tips to motivate you with your art.
I know I was just gonna give you five but I have a bonus one for you.
(Bonus) Reason 6: You're not rewarding yourself
Those of us with ADHD in particular have trouble with... our brain doesn't process dopamine correctly. So it's hard to get us to start something. Even if it's something that we like to do, it can be really hard to get started with it because there's no short-term reward even with art, even if we know that we enjoy art. That knowing it's almost like we don't believe it.
We need to feel some sort of dopamine hit, so we may not be convinced that it's intrinsically interesting. And especially if we're working on something that's a longer-term project, you don't really feel the reward of it until it's done which might be days weeks or even years later.
Some solutions to this are to create a short-term reward. Bribery is always a good thing. You can treat yourself to something special and it doesn't necessarily have to be something that you get at the end of your creative working session. You can give yourself a treat just for starting. I do this all the time. I will reward myself with a cookie or with a soda or a boba tea.
A reward doesn't necessarily have to be a physical thing or an activity, it can simply be acknowledging the fact that you did the thing. Give yourself a good old pat on the back.
Another thing is to try to make it more interesting or novel.
Those of us with ADHD particularly, love novelty. So anytime you can make it feel a little different or interesting or challenging, can engage the brain and get you more likely to start it.
On PaperDemon, we actually host creative challenges every month and award experience points to help give you that extra incentive or extra reward. Your character can even gain experience points and level up. We're always hosting new challenges every month, so check it out.
Let me know in the comments, one way that you feel you are sabotaging yourself as a creator. Be sure to join my mailing list because I have two more videos coming out that are going to cover some concrete solutions that you could apply to your creative pursuits to help you get started with them. Getting started is the hardest part. So join my mailing list (linked below)
In January, I'll be posting a 2 part video and blog series with 10 tips to motivate you to get started which gives you more concrete ways you can get yourself moving with your projects. So if you aren't on the mailing list already, be sure to join it so you get notified when the videos and blog posts are published.
Edits: This post was updated on 12/30/2019 with a full video transcript