This journey from being a procrastinating perfectionist to published author is one filled with lots of bumps and pitfalls, but I’m learning plenty of important lessons along the way. So far, I’ve learned that my perfectionism has been the single biggest obstacle holding me back from achieving my dream of being a published author. More specifically, I’ve learned that symptoms of my perfectionism, along with other things, act as barriers to productivity. Knowing how to identify these barriers is the first step in developing a productive writing routine. The next is learning how to be compassionately objective.
Without doubt, we are our own worst critics. We see only our failures and shortcomings without asking ourselves why we are failing. We condemn our efforts when we don’t achieve the lofty goals we’ve set for ourselves. Perfectionists see no reason their work should not be perfect the moment they put pen to paper, and when they realise it’s not, their inner critic unleashes hell. It’s in these moments that Hillary Rettig, author of The 7 Secrets of the Prolific: How to Overcome Procrastination, Perfectionism, and Writer’s Block, suggests that perfectionists must learn to practise compassionate objectivity.
What does it mean to be compassionately objective?
Compassionate objectivity is a mindset. One in which you view yourself and your work with empathy and understanding, where you consider a situation from all angles and see it accurately, with all its nuances and complexities—exactly as we’d do for a friend if they started criticising their own efforts. If we want to overcome our perfectionist tendencies and be productive writers, we need to learn to be kind to ourselves.
How do we practise being compassionately objective?
To be compassionately objective, we must ensure we set achievable goals, and if we fail to meet those goals or make mistakes along the way, we should be kind and compassionate to ourselves. We should also focus on the process of writing and publishing, rather than constantly thinking about what our book will be once it’s published. If our focus is too far ahead, the process can become overwhelming. Instead, we must learn to take each day and each writing session as it comes. Our focus should be on our short-term goals so that eventually we can achieve our long-term goal. And lastly, rather than criticising our failings, we should reward our efforts. It’s easy to put ourselves down when we fail, but rarely do we pat ourselves on the back for simply showing up.
In short, to be compassionately objective, we should:
- Set achievable goals and be compassionate about our failures and mistakes
- Emphasise process over product
- Rely on internal rewards
Examples of compassionate objectivity
While learning to be compassionately objective, I kept a journal as Rettig suggests. Every time I had a negative thought and attempted to criticise myself for failing (or what I considered to be a failure), I stopped and turned those thoughts around by responding to myself in a compassionately objective way. Here are some examples of my journal entries:
Negative thought: You’re not sticking to your daily schedule. Really, how hard is it to stick to a schedule!
Compassionately objective response: No, you haven’t completed today’s tasks in the order you set out, nor did you allocate each task the allotted time you specified. Instead, you let your inspiration guide you. You wrote a synopsis for your WIP, polished your first chapter, did three loads of laundry, applied for a writing mentorship, cleaned the dishwasher, and made a start on a blog post. You rock!
Negative thought: You didn’t hit your expected word count during your writing session. You FAILED to achieve your goal!
Compassionately objective response: No, you didn’t hit your expected word count. But you were focused for the entire two-hour session. And you planned the scene and figured out where you needed to take your characters before you started writing. That’s clever!
Negative thought: You’re abandoning your manuscript to start on another. You call yourself a writer? You’re a failure!
Compassionately objective response: You are NOT a failure, and you ARE a writer! You were brave enough to share the problem you were having with your accountability partner, and her response made you realise what the issue was with your manuscript. I’m so proud of you! Now, when you’re ready to work on that manuscript again, you’ll know just how to improve it.
Keeping this journal was a fantastic method for learning how to be compassionately objective. After a lifetime of self-criticism, this new way of thinking was strange at first, but it has made all the difference to my confidence and self-belief. On another note, I put that second manuscript on hold too to work on another, which I’m pleased to say will be published next month! Being brave enough to be flexible and compassionate when you don’t achieve your initial goals can lead to great things!
If you constantly criticise your own perceived failures and shortcomings, I challenge you to keep a journal and practise compassionate objectivity. Go on, see where it takes you!
Join me next time when I share the importance of rewarding writing successes.
As always, thanks for reading!