THE BLOG

The Perfectionism-Procrastination Hamster Wheel

Aug 26, 2022

I was honoured to guest blog for Danni at EmilyEverAfterCo a few weeks ago, and now it's time for me to share that blog with you...

There’s a bit of a running joke that when you’re being interviewed for a job you can say that you are “a perfectionist” when asked about a weakness - the joke of course being that any employer would surely want to have an employee who is hell-bent on performing every task PERFECTLY!!!

But, would that same employer be so happy if the employee was so crippled by perfectionism that they continually procrastinated because they were afraid to start something that may not be perfect???

 

I am Kathryn  - CEO, Life Coach & Root Cause Therapy Practitioner at

Kites & Angels.

 

It is of course admirable to strive to be a high achiever, but once perfectionism starts causing procrastination and inaction - that’s where it becomes a problem.

Does perfectionism cause you to worry – check out this FREE Worry Tree Exercise

 

Procrastination

 

First, let’s think about procrastination…

 

The Oxford English Dictionary defines “procrastination” as

 

            the act of delaying something that you should do,

  usually because you do not want to do it”

 

How many of you can relate to this? 

 

I know I definitely have my moments – suddenly it is VITALLY important that I go out and get a few groceries, because in reality I am putting off doing the housework.  I can see several of you nodding your heads in recognition 🤣

 

One big cause of procrastination can be FEAR – the fear of failure or the fear of not doing something PERFECTLY.  After all, in theory, we can’t fail if we never started in the first place can we???

 

This is where people who struggle with PERFECTIONISM come in…

 

 

So… What is Perfectionism???

 

Again, the Oxford English Dictionary gives us a clear definition of the word “perfectionism”:

 

            “the fact of liking to do things perfectly and

  not being satisfied with anything less

 

It is also interesting to note that the dictionary also notes that the term “perfectionism” is sometimes used disapprovingly, and it is this more negative side to perfectionism that we are looking at today.

 

My eldest son is extremely bright and extremely driven, and a joke we have is that when he was at school, if he got 98% on a test, he would want to know where the other 2% went!!!

 

Meanwhile, I am there telling him that 98% is amazing, and his younger brother (who is equally bright) is happily coming home and saying that he “passed” his test.  Even if the younger boy only just passed and got an “Achieved” rather than “Merit” or “Excellence” he is just happy that he passed.  Spot the perfectionist in this scenario!!!

 

Such different personalities in all 3 of my boys!!!  But that’s a blog for another day 🤣

 

Back to perfectionism and its procrastination inducing effect…

 

I have worked with clients who are self-confessed “perfectionists” and 9 times out of 10 they are able to see that their perfectionist traits lead them to either procrastination or even outright avoidance.

 

One lovely lady really wanted to make her garden prettier as at the time it consisted of just a patch of grass.  She had been wanting to do it for ages, but at the time I started working with her she still hadn’t started.

 

The reason she hadn’t started was because she was so highly tuned in to her perfectionism traits that she knew that if she was going to start, it would HAVE to be completed all in one go – doing a bit at a time just wasn’t an option because looking at the unfinished project would make her anxious and frustrated.

 

A PRIME EXAMPLE OF THE PERFECTIONISM-PROCRASTINATION HAMSTER WHEEL!!!

 

This particular client is a very intelligent, highly skilled lady in a professional job, and undoubtedly there were areas in her life where her perfectionism served her very well, but this wasn’t one of them…

 

So – how do we break away from this limiting belief that everything we do has to be absolutely perfect or it is not even worth starting???

 

 

I have a favourite saying which I use with my clients – “Progress Over Perfection”, and as the words suggest it is especially relevant when dealing with perfectionism.

 

In the case of this lady, we implemented a plan where she would break “doing the garden” down into bite-sized chunks which could be achieved in one go.

 

So, for example, her first step might be to plant 6 rose bushes around the perimeter fence.  This task is small enough that it can be completed in one go (over a weekend maybe) but big enough that it makes a noticeable difference, and provides a feeling of achievement,

 

By making the tasks small enough to do in one go, my perfectionist client was able to say:

 

“This is the task – plant 6 rose bushes”

“I have completed THIS task to PERFECTION”

 

Do you see how that could work?

 

Although we continued throughout our sessions to work on strategies to reduce the perfectionism, this was not going to happen overnight, but this strategy allowed her to stop the procrastination and start working on the garden.

 

As I mentioned above, there are many instances in which perfectionism can be beneficial, especially when it comes to detail-oriented work and work which requires high levels of accuracy.

 

Think of an accountant - One wrong digit and all the balances in the spreadsheet could be wrong!!!

 

So if you recognised yourself in the scenario with my client – don’t despair!!!

 

GETTING OFF THE HAMSTER WHEEL

 

Because perfectionism and procrastination can each affect the other, it can sometimes feel like the two lead us to go around in circles without ever getting anywhere – hence my analogy.

 

So, how do we get off this hamster wheel?

 

We already explored one idea above – breaking down bigger tasks into smaller ones which can be achieved in one fell swoop, but which still move us further forward. 

 

Incidentally, this is also one of the ways in which we work when we are setting and working towards any big goals – whether we have perfectionist traits or not!

 

Another way to avoid perfectionism leading to procrastination is to work on shifting our mindset.  This is a strategy which will take longer to achieve, as often we are trying to break habits that have been with us for a lifetime.

 

 

Mindset shifts – “Should”s & “Must”s

 

When working on a mindset shift around perfectionism it is very helpful to start by eliminating “should” and “must” statements.

 

How often do you find yourself saying to yourself “I must do x, y, or z” or “I really should do this because…”

 

STOP!!!

 

“Should”s and “must”s feed our perfectionist thinking and often produce anxiety in us when we do not perform as we think we “should”!!!  By re-framing our own thoughts in these areas we take some of the pressure off ourselves.

 

Affirmations

I am sure that most of you who are reading this blog have come across the idea of using affirmations.

 

Anti-perfectionism affirmations can remind us to re-frame our thoughts, and the idea is that once we have been practising these affirmations and the re-framing for a period of time, it actually starts to become habit, and we no longer need to consciously say these affirmations to ourselves.

 

They say it takes 21 days to build a habit – so create some meaningful affirmations for yourself and put them on a post it note at your desk, or on the mirror – anywhere where you know that you will see it and read it often.

 

Some examples of anti-perfectionist affirmations could be:

 

  • Progress over perfection.
  • Done is better than perfect.
  • I am worth more than my performance.
  • I am enough.
  • I do not need the approval of others to feel worthy

 

Make the affirmations MEANINGFUL to you, as this gives them much more power.

 

 

And finally – the strategy with the most impact in terms of getting off the hamster wheel is to TAKE ACTION.

 

Use some of the techniques we have discussed here; remember your successes and celebrate them. 

 

Don’t allow the fear that perfectionism breeds in you to stop you from getting things done, from moving forwards, taking steps towards those goals and celebrating each step along the way.

 

Susan Jeffers wrote a book called “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway”, and that is exactly what we need to do.

 

The house is not going to fall down if the bed doesn’t get made as soon as you get up in the morning.  Take those 5 minutes to engage in some self-care instead if this is something you struggle to fit into your busy day.  (Check out these Self-Care Tips that WON’T break the bank)

 

No-one other than you will care about the occasional grammar-lapse or typo in your blog

- guess where that example came from 🤣 🤣 🤣 !!!

 

So go out there – know that you are worthy as the authentic and IMPERFECT version of you – and

 

I would love for you to join me in my FB Group Goal-Driven Women Making Changes where I post motivational and educational content around building confidence & self-esteem, incorporating self-care into busy lives, stress relief, goal setting and much more.

 

If you would like to find out more about how we can work together 1:1 either online or face to face, please schedule a FREE 30 minute Discovery Call to discuss your needs and goals.

 

 

Take care & keep smiling,

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