How to Overcome Perfectionism So You Can Stop Procrastinating

Perfectionism is a personality trait that typically includes self-criticism, desire to do most activities perfectly, standard to be perfect, resistance to the normalcy of making mistakes, and beliefs of being not good enough.  The demand for a high standard is not necessarily the problem.  Rather it is the need to attain and sustain this high standard at the cost of one’s well-being and peace of mind. This article presents the perfectionism and procrastination cycle, and how to overcome perfectionism so you can stop procrastinating.

Adaptive Perfectionism versus Maladaptive Perfectionism

Adaptive Perfectionism

Psychology researchers categorize perfectionism as either adaptive or maladaptive.  Adaptive highlights that there are individuals who hold high standards, achieve their goals, yet they enjoy their achievements without the uncomfortable results of the demanding and often inflexible need for perfection.

Maladaptive Perfectionism

Maladaptive perfectionism includes a high standard and demand on one’s performance.  The import difference is the effects of low self-esteem. No matter how hard the perfectionist works or how well they perform they see through the lens of not good enough. They dismiss their efforts.  In maladaptive perfectionism, the individual may experience anxiety, depression, and the fear of failure.  In addition, the demand for perfection coupled with a high degree of self-criticism brings anxiety regarding actions.  Individuals often, avoid activities, become immobilized, and procrastinate.

How Does Perfectionism influence Procrastination?

The following questions point to typical behaviors of individuals who delay a work activity.

Typically, individuals who procrastinate experience similar scenarios.

Do you delay doing a project you know you need to do even if it means it will be more of a problem for you if you put it off?

If you have a project to do are you already convinced you will not be able to do it to your high standards?

Do you then delay doing the project leaving you with less time to get the project to your standard?

Having had less time, did your project’s outcome confirm your belief that it would not reach your standard?

Did you then think something such as: “I knew I would not be able to do this well?”

The cycle of procrastination continues with the initial belief in a false notion that the project will not be done well.  This false notion invites thoughts linked to beliefs such as, “I can’t do this.”  The individual may experience anxiety over the demand to meet a deadline and the anxiety of believing it won’t be good enough and thinking it cannot be done.

In the short run, delaying the project will alleviate anxiety.  However, before long, anxiety returns when the deadline approaches.  With less time to complete, the initial sabotaging belief is fulfilled when it becomes impossible to produce a project that attains any resemblance of a desired standard.  It is impossible to achieve perfection.  Procrastination guarantees that the standard will not be held.   

Procrastination Trap

The need and demand for perfection creates stress because it is impossible to maintain and attain perfection.

No amount of standard will make it any different.

Research shows that overall, even having good standards and working longer checking and redoing a project does not make it better relative to someone who is not a perfectionist and takes an appropriate amount of time.

The need for perfection not only takes an individual longer, but it causes one to avoid doing it in the first place.  Avoidance can create problems, one may not reach their deadline, and might disappoint someone who is counting on the completed project.

When the demand for perfection meets self-criticism, depression and anxiety are likely to complicate any efforts.

Three Steps to Overcome Procrastination

If you think you are a perfectionist and struggle with procrastinating, try the following method. Your progress is determined by consistency and self-compassion. It will require patience and a daily dose of self-encouragement. 

1. Challenge your Behavior by Monitoring

Keep an eye on what your thoughts, your beliefs, and your behaviors around procrastinating.

Write about it in a journal around the same time daily.

Do self-talk to set the thinking pattern straight- example- “I must create a flawless document for my work project.” “I can’t do this.”

The belief:  It will never be good enough.


2. Restructure Your Thoughts With Recalling Successes

Self-talk is the key to cognitive behavioral therapy. Recall and recite what is true while disputing the negative thinking patterns. Your thoughts are as limiting as you allow them to be.

Restructuring thoughts allow you to dispute the limiting belief with truthful statements.

“I can do this; I have done this before. I can do this again despite the doubts I might think,

I know this approach is better for my overall peace of mind.

When I am done, I will do something I enjoy.”

3. Break Up Your Project Into Small Segments and Praise Yourself for Each Accomplishment.

When you do get started, use the pomodoro technique to help you stay on target. Any application or timer will work where you set intervals for work and rest.  Break up your project into twenty-to-thirty-minute work segments with five minutes off.  When each segment is complete, pat yourself on the back for staying on track. Research confirms that recognizing our own achievements whatever the size, helps build confidence and consistency.

This article discussed the personality trait of perfectionism, adaptive perfectionism, and maladaptive perfectionism. In addition, a review is discussed including the cycle of perfectionism and how to overcome perfectionism and stop procrastinating.

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