The Perfectionism/Procrastination Connection

Nov. 27th, 2017

Procrastination in and of itself seems like a simple concept. You basically know what would benefit you to do, but you don’t do it when you are hypothetically able to. Of course, that ability is taken away by many things and therein lies the complexity of this issue. Common examples include anxiety, fear of failure, lack of structure (or lack of clearly defined structure), a strong dislike of the task, and perfectionism.

It may not be clear at the outset what exactly makes perfectionism prevent action, if you’ve never experienced it or didn’t realize that was the cause at the time. Sometimes perfectionism causes a person to work and work and work on a project until they run out of time or beyond, trying to get it “perfect”. Which could be one cause. If you’re working on one project to the exclusion of all else, then nothing else will get done.

Another way that perfectionism interferes with productivity is a far more insidious one. When we are so fixated on perfection, and will not accept anything else, and we fear to produce something less than perfect, we are completely unable to even start a task. “If I can’t do it perfectly on the first try, I might as well give up.” This can even cause total paralysis where the person is unable to do anything because of the emotional turmoil.

Standard methods for dealing with procrastination may not work on this particular type. If we aren’t aware that perfectionism is the cause, “just do 5 minutes” isn’t going to improve the situation. Sometimes the perfectionism stems from some deep-seated wound or learned behavior that needs professional help.

So if therapeutic help isn’t necessary, what can be done? Addressing the perfectionism first will eventually lead to the procrastination easing if that is the cause. If you’re reading this blog it’s likely this article on ADHD and perfectionism will be of interest to you. Another layer is that of the individual type of perfectionism that is being dealt with. Exactly as in the case of procrastination, it is necessary to find out what is the cause. Finding out what fuels the specific case of perfectionism will make it possible to change it.

What will happen if you create something imperfect? What’s the worst that can happen? How likely is the worst to happen, realistically? How will you deal with that, if it indeed comes to pass? How capable do you feel of taking that action, to deal with it? Is producing nothing preferable to taking that action?

These are the kinds of questions I’ve asked my clients who have brought perfectionism related topics to me. Usually, we don’t even get to "How will you deal with it?" because once you begin examining fears such as these, they begin to become clearer. So much of what we, as human beings, fear is simply the unknown. Once we articulate exactly what we are afraid of, that fear often dissolves naturally.

How do perfection and procrastination manifest in your life?