How can I overcome perfectionism and procrastination

The malicious triangle of perfectionism, fear and depression

It is official. I have a healthy ... um, unhealthy ... dose of perfectionist procrastination paralysis. Well that's my name for it. The inability to start a task, or the consequent delay in starting that task, as the result of that task must be perfect. (Don't ask me how long it took me to write this. I am still in a panic because I know it could be better.) Current situation: Fear of posting an imperfect post.

I studied perfectionism in therapy many years ago. I should say that I have dealt with perfectionism in therapy for many years. But deep-seated issues tend to be ingrained. They come back to haunt and hunt us in a variety of ways throughout our lives. Think of this like the video game levels of the universe, except we have to be a gamer whether we signed up or not. The universe says, "OK, so you've licked the simple level of perfectionism. Let's see what you really have. Let's go: try advanced."

My generalized anxiety disorder, and bipolar disorder (especially the depression side) mixed well, if not destructively, with my need for everything to be more than excellent. The result for me was terribly cruel self-talk, pervasive feelings of inadequacy, constant free-floating worries, and persistent depression that wouldn't lift even if I did something well. My mantra was "it's never good enough, it's never good enough, it's never good enough." But when I got adequate and effective treatment in the form of counseling, medication, lifestyle changes, and my own wellness tools, my need for perfection decreased.

But perfectionism has once again greeted me and prevents me from completing tasks. See if you can relate. Please don't tell me if you can't because then I'll have an alienation identity problem too.

I put off writing a blog post because I want it to be perfect. Perfectionism drives more procrastination, what drives more fear what drives perfectionism, what drives procrastination, ... etc. etc. You get the picture.

My solution? Take a look at two main elements of perfectionism and use methods to counter them.

Elements of perfectionism:

  • The "what if"
  • The threatening mantra

Methods of Combating Perfectionism

For "what if":

  1. "Name That Fear" tactic
  2. Then what? technology
  3. Forwarding "Well what if"

For the threatening mantra:

  1. Practice a new mantra

Take my current issue: postpone writing this post.

1. "Name That Fear" tactic

What are the "what if"? Don't worry if they're not rational. "What if" thrives on irrationality. By listing my what-if fears, I am making them specific, not just a vague sense of premonition. With this, I examine how likely they are to occur and, if necessary, resolve the problem.

What happened if:

  • I'm writing my blog and nobody likes it?
  • This post isn't as good as my others?
  • Am I offending my readers?
  • Do people laugh at me, ridicule me and ban me?

2.Then what? technology

How likely is it that these fears will arise? Not much. But if so, what then? Take the fear to the end and see how I would deal with it. Because the good news is that I have coping skills.

What if I am laughed at and ostracized?

Unlikely as this may be, what if humans do laughing at me? Then what? I may be sad, lonely. Then what? Well I can call a friend who will take care of me. Then what? I will probably feel less alone. Then what? I don't care that people laugh at me. Then what? If I still feel upset, I can talk to my counselor, write in my journal, let my husband hug me, go for a walk, breathe. These are things I am able to do that will help me deal with when my worst "what if" comes true.

3.Forwarding "Well what if"

My tendency (if you haven't already noticed) is to anticipate the worst. I'm just wired like that. So do I have to consciously focus my mind on what happens when good things happen? What a concept.

What happened if:

  • Is my contribution well received?
  • I get a lot of positive comments?
  • I feel good with my finished product?

Perhaps not so surprisingly, positive case scenarios are more likely to occur.

What about "The Menacing Mantra: It's Never Good Enough, It's Never Good Enough"?

4. Practice a new mantra

I learned this from a counselor I worked with in my early twenties, and it was one of the most liberating realizations I've ever had: good enough is good enough. Really good enough is good enough.

I can't say enough Literally. To this day I tell myself (sometimes aloud) when I am paralyzed by perfectionism, fear and worry. It's a reset button in my brain. Like rewiring my neural circuitry and rerouting my synaptic pathways and the entire body to absorb that well enough is good enough. I can stop at just fine. Phew!

Well there you have my post which is good enough. What if you don't like it? Well, I can deal with that. What if you like it I can cope with that too.

Let me know what you think - good or bad. Really. Remember I can handle it.

© 2012 Victoria Maxwell.