In a moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing to do. The worst thing you can do is nothing. ~Theodore Roosevelt
In Parts 1
, I talked about the nature of procrastination, the behavior, the impact, and the common fears of failure and success that can keep us from achieving our goals. Here are two other, very common reasons people procrastinate:
Perfectionism does not allow room for failure. A perfectionist suffers from excessively high standards for themselves and others. They typically need a lot of approval, driven by a desire to prove their worth. If you’re a perfectionist, you might fear letting others down. You might meet and exceed expectations without deriving much satisfaction from it. Or, you might procrastinate to avoid the anxiety of trying to meet impossibly high standards. You might also work sporadically and obsessively, throwing yourself into a project and later, falling back, exhausted.
A client once shared that her house was always messy. She procrastinated around cleaning, and eventually the mess became overwhelming and uncomfortable to live with. She also felt a great deal of shame about it. When we explored a little further she realized she believed a “good enough” house should be spotless. She had visions of crystal vases holding cascading bunches of flowers, reflected in a perfectly shiny surface. Her house should look like the cover of House Beautiful.
Of course, she didn’t have the resources to meet this impossible standard. Her belief she had to have a “perfect” home sabotaged at the outset. Since her definition of “good enough” was impossible, she gave up trying, as she could never be satisfied with the state of her home. As we worked, she began to embrace a different “good enough” that had more realistic expectations. She now feels that she can have people over to her house to entertain and she enjoys it.
It’s likely the perfectionist grew up believing her innate value was dependent upon her achievements and accomplishments. If your family system supported this belief, failure was not an option. A perfectionist relies upon external validation to tell her she’s good enough, and being perfect is her only defense against external criticism. Perfectionism may often overlap with the fear of failure and the fear of success.
Some people procrastinate because a task, goal or dream is accompanied by an overwhelming wave of painful emotion. Fear, guilt, shame, anxiety, frustration, anger...all of these can stop us in our tracks when faced with a daunting task. The necessary actions are triggering deeply imbedded, negative beliefs which bring about the emotional overwhelm.
One of my clients had a dispute with the IRS, and it overwhelmed him on many levels. He began to unravel his feelings, and realized that whenever he spoke with his accountant, he immediately shut down with overwhelming fear that something bad was about to happen to him. He procrastinated with the paper work. His fear of punishment continued, and he felt guilty for not being “responsible.” His wife was frustrated at his reluctance to take care of this problem, and he felt unsupported and misunderstood by her. He felt angry and frustrated, triggered by a deeply held belief that, “Life is unfair,” and, “I’m all alone.” These hurtful beliefs and a combination of difficult emotions overcame him whenever he tried to deal with his finances, and the constant anxiety it caused wore him down. After he began to see and feel the pattern, the guilt-shame-blame cycle began to stop and he was more able to take care of his life and his relationship.
Most of us have had the experience, as children, of facing difficulties we didn’t have the tools to manage. Sometimes, overwhelm will bring us back to that stuck, deer-in-headlights experience, and we forget we now have the resources to sort out our problems, or get help when we don’t. Our urge to run and hide will have us procrastinate, hoping the wave of emotion will pass on its own.
Next: Part 4, How to stop procrastinating.
Have you suffered from perfectionism? Have you been so overwhelmed, you couldn’t complete a project? Please leave a comment–they make a difference for all of us!
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