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“Perfectionism” is not the obsessive drive to keep working at something until it’s perfect.

In the context of procrastination,…

Perfectionism is the dread of possibly producing something that is not perfect or not up to standard.

This took me a long time to figure out.  A lot of psychology texts link procrastination to perfectionism, but that never made sense to me — there’s no way I’m a perfectionist, I thought, you should see the state of my office — until I finally read it explained like this.  You see, it all has to do with the way we were praised as kids.

When we were kids, our well-meaning parents and teachers heaped on the accolades.  Everything that we made was “fantastic, beautiful, wonderful”; everything that we did was “great, superb, excellent”; we ourselves were “so clever, so strong, the best on the team.”  We got used to excelling at everything.  Perfection was easy.

But as we entered the adult world, we found the feedback altogether different.  “It’s not good enough; it’s not what I wanted; the client didn’t like it; I expected better; is this the best you can do?”  The change is shocking.  We are ashamed.

Once bitten, twice shy.  We expect perfection of ourselves, but we are not at all sure that we can achieve it anymore.  We dread the thought of handing in something that will disappoint.  Because we never learned to handle failure, or even criticism, the whole exercise fills us with fear and we are paralyzed before we even start.  Procrastination is avoidance behaviour versus a situation (producing work) that we have  sometimes experienced as personally belittling.

Now I agree: I am a procrastinator because I am a perfectionist.

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2 Comments

  1. I really enjoyed this post. I talked a bit about this in a post, as well. http://forgingforward.wordpress.com/2009/09/17/procrastination-is-our-favorite-form-of-self-sabotage/

    As this topic is of great interest to me, and procrastination is one of my biggest vices (rooted in perfectionism for me, as well), I plan to read your blog on a regular basis.

    Best,
    Avery

  2. Interesting blog. You might enjoy reading Whack-a-Mole: The Price We Pay For Expecting Perfection.


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