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Procrastination Perfectionism

I'd never thought of myself as a perfectionist. My house is messy. I didn't get straight As. Nothing really irks me if it's not done in a certain way. One of my favorite art pieces is a little embroidered frame that says "Good enough is really good enough". Then, I learned about the other side of perfectionism, which I've affectionately called "procrastination perfectionism" throughout this blog, and it was like looking in a mirror. A host of unfinished projects, a list of not yet started projects (hello--this blog!), and (when questioned), a lot of family and friends saying quite easily that I was a procrastinator. It was a big EEK.

Especially in a world that is focused so much on productivity and actual product, procrastination gets a bad rap. So, before we go into the list below, I want to give a few caveats. Your worth is not your product. It's not what you have accomplished. It's not everything that you are able to do in a day and you are not "bad" because there are things that you haven't done in a day. Our societal upbringing has made us value these things and has hammered into our heads that we need to be productive to be worthy (thanks, capitalism). If you procrastinate on some things, that is TOTALLY OKAY. We all have different patterns, speeds, and ways of doing things that completely work for us. There is no perfect mold of a way to get things done that you need to fit into. The only reason that you might want to think about your procrastination is if you decide it is something that you actually want to examine.

For me, I realized that procrastination was getting in the way not only of the things that I had to do (cleaning-blech), but also the things that I really wanted to do, like building my private practice. Changing such a big part of me, especially a pattern that I had been unconsciously reinforcing over 30 plus years, seemed like such an undertaking. But, then I realized that the power of naming something was that I could investigate it, learn about it, and realize how it was showing up in my life. And maybe that's all that I had to do for right now. Here are some quick tips on how to think about procrastination perfectionism:

  1. Figure out your trigger words and feelings. Are there any phrases or words that come up when you think about doing something or are in the process of action? Words to look out for may be words like "should", which may come up like "I should be doing this better" or "I should be better at this already". A word like "should" is key trigger word for feelings of shame that may work to stop you from getting something started. It makes sense--if you are feelings like nothing you can do will ever be good enough, you start feeling like maybe you aren't good enough too, and then you are feeling really terrible and not in the mood to start to do anything at all. What is the point if it's not going to be good? If you want to, make a list of what these trigger words are for you so that you can notice them more easily when they come up.

  2. Notice it. Grow comfortable simply noticing that procrastination is showing up. There's no pressure to deal with it. There's no pressure to take the next step. All you have to do is simply sit with the fact that procrastination is present. Try saying "oh, here's procrastination" or "hello, procrastination".

  3. Treat it with compassion. There's nothing that defeats an inner critic, which often is what is driving our procrastination perfectionism, like a little self compassion. Think about addressing your procrastination with open curiosity and understanding. That might look something like: "I'm noticing procrastination is coming up for me because I'm starting to do something that I'm a little nervous about. Procrastination is trying to help me avoid something that causes me stress and I can appreciate where it's coming from. It's really common to want to avoid something that is causing you stress. I can have compassion for the parts of myself that are trying to protect me from hard things. I appreciate what that part of me is trying do."

You'll notice the list ends here. There are lots of tips that we will go into in the next blog on procrastination perfectionism (whenever that comes out), but the MOST IMPORTANT part of working on this part of yourself is noticing how it's coming up for you, when it's coming up, and focusing on how you are addressing yourself when it does. Once you start to do some of those things, you'll hopefully notice that you are able to treat your procrastination with a little more self-kindness, which will in turn make the things that you were procrastinating easier for you to get started on. It also really helps to make the task at hand easier to do--if all you have to do is notice something, not actually do anything after that, it actually seems pretty achievable.

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