It’s hard to get anything done if it needs to be perfect, because if you’re constantly criticizing the work there is always more work to be done. But the real problem comes in when you don’t even want to do the work because making it perfect seems too daunting. This is how perfectionism can lead to procrastination, and here’s what you can do about it.
Photo by Kim Sokol
Dr. Bill Knaus, writing for Psychology Today, suggests that we’d just tell ourselves to “STOP IT!” every time this behavior arose—if we lived in a perfect world. Knaus suggests that the real problem is rooted in contingent-based thinking, meaning a true perfectionist thinks their self-worth is contingent upon achieving perfection in a given situation. For example, “if I want to be smart, I need to do read the entire newspaper every day.” Reading an entire newspaper is not necessarily a realistic goal for most people, but perfectionism doesn’t allow for partial completion. The end result is black and white: you either succeed at your task or fail. When you fail, the task doesn’t go away. Yesterday’s newspaper is still something that needs to be read. It piles up, the work gets too hard to handle, and procrastination is really the only option.
This is a somewhat extreme example, but fixing the problem is rooted in fixing contingent-based thinking. Often times, perfectionism isn’t very logical and so you can’t fix the problem by saying “it’s unrealistic to read the entire paper every day.” Instead, Knaus suggests that perfectionists need to look at their own core beliefs. Often times—like most anybody—they contradict themselves. In this example, you might ask “is someone who only reads the entire newspaper every day a smart person, or does it take more than that to be intelligent?” If you believe that it takes more than just reading the daily paper to be smart, then that contradicting belief inserts a flaw into the other belief. When flaws come in, the process isn’t perfect anymore and it’s hard to be a perfectionist when you’re pursuing a flawed goal.