This has been a difficult post to write. Not because of the subject matter, but because I’ve re-written it several times.
The titles will tell you how it’s changed. It started out as “3 Things You Should Stop Doing in 2017.” Then it morphed into “Are These 3 Bad Habits Holding You Back?” Finally, after working on it for a couple of hours and feeling like it just wasn’t coming together, I figured out why: Instead of giving advice, I just needed to tell my story.
Hence, the new approach: “3 Bad Habits That Held Me Back This Year.”
Today is December 1, 2016 and we’re one month away from the beginning of the new year. This is a great time to think about the last eleven months and reflect on changes we need to make in 2017. In that spirit, I’ll lead the way and share three bad habits that have held me back this year.
Notice the way I’ve framed this: I didn’t say mistakes. I said bad habits. These are not one-time misses, they are ongoing habits that have plagued me for a long time. By writing about them openly, I can process through them and help others grow as well. I hope this will encourage you to think about your own bad habits and how you can address them.
Bad Habit #1: Trying to Be Perfect
A few years ago I came up with a song idea I thought was great. I wrote the song and wanted to post a performance on YouTube. I didn’t have good video editing equipment at the time, so I needed to record it perfectly in one take. I spent several hours in my basement playing and recording the song until I got it right around 2:00 a.m.
Every note had to be perfect because I couldn’t stand the thought of someone saying, “He missed a note.” In hindsight, the song was actually really dumb and only got a few dozen views on YouTube. It was so lame I ended up un-listing it.
I wish I could tell you I don’t struggle with perfectionism anymore, but I can’t. It has definitely gotten better over time, but it was especially difficult as I struggled with how to approach my next book, Born to Create. The book is a parable-type story (fiction that is designed to teach) focused on the principles I outlined in this post.
The worst imaginable outcome for me was the idea that someone would think I was a bad writer, or that the book was stupid. And that fear of others not thinking well of me—that desire for perfection—kept me from working on the book for a long time. You’d think the fact that I’d already written two books would make it easier, but in fact I felt more pressure to produce something even better.
Maybe you can relate to the constant tension between perfectionism and excellence. They might seem like the same thing, but they are not. Perfectionism is the dark side of excellence. Excellence is all about doing the best with what you have. Perfectionism is all about trying to be the best.
Excellence is about service to God and others. Perfectionism is about ego.
As you’ll see, these three bad habits are tied together. Bad habit #1 leads directly into #2.
Bad Habit #2: Being Indecisive
Sometimes it’s a real blessing to have an analytical personality, but other times it’s a curse. The downside of being able to see various possibilities and outcomes for any situation is … well, that you see all the various possibilities and outcomes for any situation.
My personality is suited well for my role as a writer and professor. However, it often prevents me from taking action. It’s hard for analytical people, who specialize in thinking, to act like entrepreneurs, who specialize in action.
You can even see this tendency in my indecision about what this post should be. Should it be advice-oriented or confession-oriented? Magnify this indecision by 100 choices you have to make every day, and you will understand the struggle of the analytical mind.
People are indecisive because they are afraid of making the wrong choice. At its heart, indecision is a fear of failure (which goes back to perfectionism). What I’ve often failed to realize is that when it comes to creativity, there is usually no correct choice. There are only choices that will lead to different outcomes. It’s not usually a matter of good or bad choices, it’s a matter of different ones.
After I interviewed John David Mann and was able to pick his brain about storytelling, I knew that was the direction I needed to go. The way forward was not through another non-fiction book like The Artist’s Suitcase, it was through a story. (Another great resource that convinced me to use storytelling in my next book is Donald Miller’s free ebook How to Tell a Story.)
I wish I could tell you I’m conquering indecision, but I can’t. I fight it dozens of times every single day. But the one thing I can tell you is that you can’t overcome it alone. You need other successful people around you who can help you become more bold, decisive, and action-oriented.
Just as bad habit #1 feeds into #2, #2 feeds into #3 …
Bad Habit #3: A Lack of Clear Writing Goals
This is probably the most embarrassing bad habit to admit because writing is my main creative activity. I have written a lot of material this year, but much of it has not been focused on a clear goal or objective. This was partly due to spending a lot of time working on various side projects. But more than anything, it was due to not having a clear idea of what I wanted to accomplish with my writing.
I’ve come to understand how important it is to have clarity in your life—about your goals, purpose, identity, and so many other areas. I’ve been thinking about it much more since turning 40 a few years ago, and I’ve been writing about it lately (see this post and this post).
Over the last couple of months, I have spent a lot of time thinking through what I want to accomplish with this blog and with my writing. As Steven Covey said in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, “Begin with the end in mind.” My writing goals are much clearer than they were, but I regret that I wasted a good chunk of this year more or less wandering in the wilderness and trying to figure out my direction.
That said, I’m not going to beat myself up too badly over this one because sometimes you have to drift for a while before you find a place to land. You just don’t want to drift any longer than you have to. And you definitely aren’t going to find a good landing place on your own. That’s why you need the support of a creative community.
Speaking of a supportive community, our Born to Create Facebook group is a great place to start. I hope you check it out.
Being confessional means that you are honest about your shortcomings. Being stupid means that you refuse to do anything about those shortcomings.
I definitely don’t want to be stupid. While I have some regrets about this past year, I don’t want to waste time feeling bad about my mistakes. I would rather allocate that energy to more productive things, like writing and helping other people. Hopefully, my thoughts here will encourage you to do a little self-examination and move forward with a commitment to make improvements in 2017.
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