Motivation experiment days 16-18: the joys of imperfection

On day 16 of my exercise in daily drawing I experienced a drop in my intrinsic motivation. After a few days of easily producing drawings I liked by tracing pictures, going back to drawing from my imagination meant struggling again with ideas for what to draw.

Drawing of a skull

Motivation experiment day 16 – drawn 6/05/2014

Having been involved in some planning for a pirate-themed birthday party, the idea of drawing a skull came to mind.

I had started doing my drawings mostly in the evening when putting the kids to bed, sitting beside them in their room. My five year old son took great interest in this drawing, and told me how cool it looked. As it turns out, sincere praise from a five year old can increase intrinsic motivation!

On day 17 I didn’t need to come up with an idea because this time my five year old, now very interested in these regular drawings, made a request that I draw a flower:

Drawing of a yellow flower

Motivation experiment day 17 – drawn 7/05/2014

He fell asleep before it was finished, but more praise was forthcoming when he looked at it the next morning.

On day 18 I was back to struggling for ideas, and none were being offered, so fell back on a habit of drawing cartoon faces.

Drawing of a worried man

Motivation experiment day 18 – drawn 8/05/2014

At this point, despite my children’s praises I hadn’t liked anything I’d drawn for the past few days. However, by this point I had realised that I tended to find myself producing occasional drawings I quite liked in amongst drawings that I felt either neutral or negative about.

I think it’s important to mention that if I was approaching this exercise with the expectation that at some point I would just produce drawing after drawing that I felt good about, then by now I would be losing all my motivation and stopping the exercise because not every drawing is better than those that came before. Perspective matters in our self-evaluations. Because I had committed to the exercise with the expectation at the start that I wouldn’t like a lot of what I drew, I was feeling surprised by the things I had drawn that I did like, rather than disappointed by an inability to produce something “good” every time I drew. This expectation had been shaped from the outset by the inspiration for starting this exercise, which I quoted in my first post on motivation: Motivation and the secrets to getting things done.

Expecting too high a standard of ourselves paradoxically prevents us from accomplishing things. Perfectionism incapacitates us. It kills motivation. As I wrote in a previous post, It Has to be Perfect, the only way to get past overly-high self-expectations is to begin to practice doing things well enough (and even sometimes badly!) and accepting the result. Otherwise the fear of failure will forever be an obstacle to discovering the full scope of your capabilities.

About Paul McQueen

Dr Paul McQueen is a Clinical Psychologist, holding a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology from the University of Melbourne. He has experience working in both adult and child mental health services in Queensland and Victoria. Dr McQueen is comitted to providing high quality, evidence-based interventions for a range of mental health conditions. He specialises in the treatment of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder and Depression.

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