Why perfectionists procrastinate

The biggest myth about perfectionism is that perfectionists are always on top of everything, making sure everything is done perfectly. The truth is that many perfectionists are serial procrastinators. Perfectionism, as defined by Brené Brown (her book, Daring Greatly, is an eye-opener and I can’t recommend it enough!), is a strategy to avoid uncomfortable feelings, namely shame. This means engaging in self-sabotaging behaviours to avoid the possibility of doing something badly or wrong. One of the most common is procrastination.

When I first started reading about this, it made so much sense. If I stop to question why I still haven’t done something, I can always link it to one of the below reasons.

When we put things off, we’re comfortable

We feel a sense of relief at not having to follow through with something. We’re right in the middle of our familiar comfort zone – that state of indecision and inaction. We’re avoiding the possibility of something not being the ‘right’ thing. We think it’s better to do nothing than do the wrong thing. Indecision is a protection mechanism: it means avoiding discomfort, such as experiencing negative emotions, shame or hard work.

Procrastinating keeps life interesting

When we haven’t made the decision about something or haven’t done it yet, there’s a whole world of possibility. We have no idea how things will pan out and this uncertainty is actually pretty exciting for humans!

It’s a habit

Uncertainty and inaction feel familiar and form part of our identity. When we do have those times where we get everything we wanted done, it feels so bizarre that we revert to our previous habits.

Humans are loss-averse

We’d rather not lose something than gain something new and unknown. We choose inaction over action in order to avoid risk of loss. This is why many people will choose unhappiness over uncertainty. Yet, if we define risk as the likelihood of a permanent negative outcome, inaction is often the biggest risk.

Fear of life being too good

As illogical as this sounds, we can get quite addicted to the feeling of striving and hard work. If we actually completed everything we wanted to do and things were going amazingly, we might feel like something was missing.

When we put things off, we gradually lose trust in ourselves: when we don’t do what we said we would do, we’re essentially telling ourselves that tomorrow we will be a better, more capable person than today (i.e. that today’s self couldn’t do it, so we’ll hand responsibility over to our future self). If you constantly go against your own word or back out of your own plans, you can’t develop this relationship. Why would you set goals or commit to anything if you don’t believe you will follow through?

Perfectionists can spend hours writing lists, brainstorming, doing the research, feeling like we’re doing so much, but constantly staying in the comfort zone of not actually doing it. We can feel an enormous sense of overwhelm because our list never seems to reduce in size. The two tools I’ve found the most helpful in overcoming procrastination are habits and working on my self-perception as someone who gets things done. I will be writing more blog posts on both over the coming weeks, so keep an eye out 🙂

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