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The Paradox of Perfectionism and Procrastination: Finding Your Balance

perfectionism and procrastination

In the pursuit of excellence, have you ever found yourself caught in the trap of wanting to do something flawlessly or not at all? If so, you've encountered the intricate dance between perfectionism and procrastination—a duo that often performs on the stage of our lives, especially when we're under pressure.

What are Perfectionism and Procrastination?

Perfectionism is the relentless striving for flawlessness. It's setting high-performance standards accompanied by critical self-evaluations and concerns regarding others' evaluations. It's like aiming for a bullseye but forgetting that hitting the board is still a good shot.

Procrastination, on the other hand, is the act of delaying or postponing tasks. It's the invisible force that keeps you scrolling through social media instead of starting your project. It's the "I'll do it tomorrow" promise that often meets another tomorrow.

Can Perfectionism and Procrastination Happen at the Same Time?

Surprisingly, yes! While they seem like opposite ends of a spectrum, they're more like two sides of the same coin. Perfectionists, in their quest for the ideal, may procrastinate to avoid the risk of failure or the stress of not meeting their own sky-high standards. That feeling of failing is so strong that avoiding it seems like the only option if you can’t get it perfect. This is crippling and causes a “stuck in a rut” feeling.

Why Do I Struggle with Starting Something?

The struggle to start can stem from various roots. Fear of failure is a common culprit. If you're afraid that the outcome won't be perfect, you might think it's safer not to start at all. Another reason could be the overwhelming nature of a task. When something seems too big and you're aiming for perfection, it's challenging to find a starting point. We may have also heard things growing up and even now that reinforce our thinking of being perfect and the overlap of procrastination comes into play. Think of these common phrases or expectations for example:

  • You are expected to get nothing but 100%,

  • You cannot make a mistake or you will disappoint other,

  • “If you are not first, you are last” (yes, I know from Talladega Nights but still, I heard that thrown around seriously in my circle after this movie)

What are the Signs That This Could Be Happening to Me?

Here are a few red flags that perfectionism and procrastination might be playing tug-of-war in your mind:

  • You're constantly putting off tasks because you're not in the 'right mood' to tackle them.

  • You spend more time planning and researching than actually doing the task at hand.

  • You may feel an exaggeration of time where something will take too long.

  • You're highly critical of your work and think it's never good enough.

  • You avoid tasks with a risk of making mistakes or being judged.

  • You feel anxious, guilty, or even paralyzed about starting or completing tasks.

What Strategies Can Help?

Breaking the cycle of perfectionism and procrastination is about embracing 'good enough' and taking action. Here are some strategies to help you do just that:

  • Set Realistic Goals: Aim for standards that are high but achievable. Remember, perfection is not the goal; progress is. Even a step forward is progress, you do not need to take 10 at one time.

  • Create a Task Breakdown: Divide larger tasks into smaller, manageable steps to avoid feeling overwhelmed. If you are seeing that it is still overwhelming, those tasks may need to be broken down even further.

  • Embrace Mistakes: View errors as a natural part of the learning process, not as failures.

    • I love how Arnold Schwarzenegger talks about failure as it has been a common theme for him - he didn’t get to where he is today without it!

      • “Just like in bodybuilding, failure is also a necessary experience for growth in our own lives, for if we're never tested to our limits, how will we know how strong we really are? How will we ever grow? ”

  • Challenge Procrastination: Set small, timed challenges to get started. For instance, work on a task for just five minutes to build momentum.

  • Focus on the Process, Not Just the Outcome: Enjoy the journey of your work without fixating on the end product.

  • Practice Self-Compassion: Be kind to yourself. Acknowledge your efforts and the courage it takes to tackle tasks.

How Can a Therapist Help?

A therapist can be a valuable ally in your quest to overcome the perfectionism-procrastination paradox. They can help you:

  • Understand the Underlying Causes: A therapist can help you explore the roots of your perfectionism and procrastination. Sometimes it is not simple and there is more to the story that is causing a barrier for you to get over. This is really common.

  • Develop Personalized Strategies: They can provide tailored techniques to help you set realistic goals and celebrate progress.

  • Improve Self-Talk: Therapy can assist in transforming your critical inner voice into a supportive one. We really can beat ourselves up and the narrative we have about ourselves is not too kind, which really can create a challenge when trying to overcome this roadblock.

  • Build Resilience: A therapist can guide you in developing resilience to better handle setbacks and reduce the fear of failure.

  • Enhance Self-Regulation: Learn to manage anxiety and stress that may trigger procrastination.

In therapy, you'll find a non-judgmental space to work through the challenges that come with perfectionism and procrastination. It's a place where growth happens, where 'perfect' is seen as the enemy of 'good,' and where starting something—anything—is a victory in itself.

If you're ready to untangle the knot of perfectionism and procrastination, reach out to a mental health professional. Together, we can chart a course toward a more balanced, productive, and forgiving approach to work and life. The “perfect” time to start is now, and the perfect way to do it is your way—flaws and all.

Looking for a therapist to help with anxiety and stress when it comes to perfectionism and procrastination? Discover the convenience of online therapy with Better Minds Counseling & Services. We specialize in assisting adults with anxiety through our virtual mental health solutions. Brittany Webb, LPC CCATP, a certified clinical anxiety treatment expert and licensed professional counselor, is ready to help you tackle feeling stuck and get you back on your path! Schedule your free introductory session with her today!

Blog Disclaimer - These posts are not meant to treat, diagnose, or serve as a replacement for therapy. If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health emergency, please contact your local crisis center or dial 911. Here are more immediate resources as well.


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