Perfectionism is defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as “a disposition to regard anything short of perfection as unacceptable”. On the flipside, perfectionism can also be viewed as a genuinely positive motivation to achieve excellence in specific areas of life. Which definition applies to your life? If you are a perfectionist, it is best if your main motivation is to really achieve excellence at something.
Nine times out of ten, self-proclaimed perfectionists are concerned with one thing only: upholding their own personal standards. How does this lead to procrastination? Well, if we look at what happens to a person when he tries too hard to create “perfect” results, we will see immediately that false perfectionism actually slows down a person’s continuous progress.
Why? The most basic reason is that a false perfectionist becomes more preoccupied with pettiness and fault-finding than actually excelling at something. If you want to see real perfectionism that benefits the doer and those around him, try to see how top athletes train for the Olympics or for any other major competition. Athletes are competitive, and they cannot avoid being perfectionists because their main goal is to come out on top.
So these people are indeed perfectionists, but you don’t see them arguing with their coaches or other athletes. You don’t see these people beating themselves up, and skipping training because they feel that they will never measure up to the existing standards.
Athletes may have bouts of anxiety and depression (these emotions are normal), but they immediately pick themselves up, and continue with the goals they have set for themselves. Failure is a possibility, but they put this fact at the back of their minds because they need to keep moving forward.
These people are also very aware of the exacting standards that they must meet, and they respond to the challenge by training and practicing consistently, day after day. Top athletes work so hard and so consistently that many of them actually get injuries during practice.
I am not asking you to work so hard that you end up in the hospital. However, if you have a tendency to be a perfectionist, but you are unable to meet deadlines and work consistently, your perfectionism may be the root cause of your habitual procrastination.
The first step in addressing a problem is to recognize the elements of the problem itself. The following are some of the recognized criteria of negative or false perfectionism that may also contribute to habitual procrastination. If you have several or all of these traits or tendencies, you need to break the habit now, before trying to address your procrastination habit:
- You have very specific standards that you have set for yourself and others. When you are able to measure up to your standards, you still feel unhappy because you feel that you could have done better.
- You are never sure of your ability to do something well. There is always an essential flaw or fault that will prevent you from excelling at an activity.
- Your only option is achieving the absolute best. Anything below this standard is failure.
- Just thinking of “not doing well enough” (based on your standards) causes stress and anxiety.
- You have a tendency to avoid doing things so that you won’t have to deal with the common negative emotions that arise when you think about accomplishing something.
- You begin to force people to follow your personal standards. Anyone who doesn’t measure up, or doesn’t believe in your standards, is automatically excluded from your pursuits and activities.