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The Truth About Procrastination Caused by Perfectionism

The Truth About Procrastination Caused by Perfectionism

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Published by Mark Mifsud
This article sheds light on the relationship of two commonly misunderstood concepts; Procrastination and Perfectionism.
This article sheds light on the relationship of two commonly misunderstood concepts; Procrastination and Perfectionism.

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Published by: Mark Mifsud on Mar 11, 2009
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02/25/2013

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The Truth about Procrastinationcaused by Perfectionism
 By
 Mark Mifsud 
 
 About the Author
Mark Mifsud started studying Psychology, Hypnosis & The Mind at a very young age and althoughinitially it was for a personal need, he immediately fell in love with the subject for life till he startedhelping others.He is the author of 
, a self help book which is the result of an extensivestudy on the common habits and thinking patterns of over 20 highly successful people. He is currentlyauthoring his second book with others planned after that. Meanwhile his discoveries have served him to beadopted as a motivational coach by a handful of individuals.Mark currently lives on the Mediterranean island of Malta and earns a living by working as a CurrencyTrader. In his spare time he enjoys following the video games industry and practicing martial arts.He is also known to have a sense of humour and to reward himself for jobs well done with small amounts of chocolate to keep his motivation at an all time high.
Is it possible that one of the causes of procrastination you need to resolve isperfectionism?The following article will help you to tackle this particular cause whether you are:
1) An individual struggling with procrastination2) A motivational coach or therapist willing to help others3) A member or leader of a team that is losing motivation4) Living with a person who’s constant criticism is draining your energy and motivationI decided to write this because we often hear that perfectionism can cause procrastinationbut then we are given a very inaccurate reason why. Sometimes the advice given hasnothing to do with perfectionism itself.When this happens on the internet or worse, in self-help material people have actually paidfor; we the benevolent experts, are doing these people a disservice. Please, let us besensitive and accurate.Here we have people who are searching for a solution to their procrastination, or who wantto improve their performance in general. They find an article or a blog hoping that it willgive them a new insight into their problem that will get them unstuck. Sometimes we getthem to attend our seminars and buy our books and programs through some sales pitch.Eventually they read about perfectionism and this argument is vague and misleading sothey end up wasting their time following the wrong advice. Why am I saying this?
 
Because some of our advice has been misleading.
Here is a case in point:
The expertstell us "
 Don't wait till everything is perfectly planned, or you'll never get started 
." Withinthe same paragraph, we will find this is mistakenly called perfectionism. This ismisleading for three reasons.
First reason is
; the one above is not the definition of a perfectionist. That is the definitionof one who plans ahead too much. Sure, I agree that some people spend so much timeplanning that they never get started, but that is not necessarily a sign of procrastination dueto perfectionism.The person could be feeling some fear of failure or fear of success and that would be thereason for procrastination. It is the cause that should be treated. The over planning is thesymptom; the person is over planning to avoid the failure or to avoid feeling guilty aboutdelaying another day. Treating the symptom is the worse suggestion that can be given andthat is what the above advice is telling us to do.
The second reason is
; over planners will know they are not perfectionists because theywill know themselves usually better than the expert does. Over planners have no ideawhen it is too much!Dear expert, your knowledge is precious, but a mistake like that will have the person whomostly needs to follow that advice to lose credibility in you; you won't be able to helppeople with mistakes like these.If perfectionists are to be helped, they must first be made aware of what the term meansbecause no real perfectionist considers him or herself a perfectionist. This leads us to
thethird reason
why the above advice is misleading. It is because it leaves out the trueperfectionist who is actually procrastinating because of his or her perfectionism.
Here is another example.
We recommend people to find someone to whom they can beaccountable, as a solution for procrastination. Some people expect to be self accountablebefore they have learnt to be accountable to others. This is unrealistic, but not necessarilya sign of perfectionism. It could be that the person values independence, is a loner or anintrovert but not necessarily a perfectionist.To some extent we all have some perfectionist traits. Some have less and some havemore. You could be a non-perfectionist in some area of life, say your relationships buthave the procrastination pattern of the perfectionist in another area. One in every ninepersons is estimated to be a perfectionist, or at least that is my non scientific but educatedguess.I have yet to see anyone talking about procrastination who actually knows whatperfectionism is (most of them are business people non psychologists). So let's get thatcleared up.
The perfectionist is a person who is always insisting that things should be the bestthey can possibly be.
 
There are only a very few people who want things to be perfect all the time. These takethe above definition to its extreme and we call them obsessive people but the majority of perfectionists are none like that.
How do you know if you’re a perfectionist or not?
If you label everything as eithergood or bad, black or white with no shade of grey in between, if you judge and weigheverything, if you feel anger very often you have the personality of a perfectionist. Abetter description follows.Perfectionists get angry very easily, are highly opinionated, criticise a lot and constantlycriticise themselves. They are very conscious of how they appear and what they dobecause they believe others are as critical of them as they are. Their inner critic is obeyedas it were the voice of God Almighty Himself which shouts instructions at them constantly"
sit properly, get your keys ready, move a bit to the right, yeah there, take a look around...
" They usually admire Thomas Edison's quote that says "
 I cannot look at something without feeling the desire to improve it 
". That quote is the central element of the perfectionist mindset.The perfectionist thinks that there are standards to be met, and life revolves aroundachieving standards.So how do these people relate to procrastination? Many of them define themselves as hardworking but one could be working hard at a task in order to avoid another, which is of course procrastination. Usually once they manage to get started on the right task they cancarry on.That said, they have no problem finding energy since their anger provides it. They haveno problem knowing what to do since the inner critic directs their actions.However their real problem is their perception of people and the world. They mistakenlybelieve that the other eight out of nine people are constantly criticising them with the sameseriousness they criticise everything. Dear perfectionist, most people do not care lessabout most of what you do and say.They procrastinate in their interactions with people. They are especially afraid of askingquestions about stuff they don't know because they have an image to maintain.Their greatest fear is humiliation. Usually when young you will find them procrastinatingat things like studying for exams. The reason is pride but they call it self esteem. If theydon't pass the exam they can say to themselves and others that it's because they didn'tstudy, they appear cool in their peer's eyes. If they somehow pass the exams they canboast that they didn't even study!Anything goes, as long as humiliation is avoided first. They will get angry withthemselves for failing, but not publicly, or they will be judged.

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Viky added this note
Could you please add some ideas about the types of jobs where perfectionists could be “perfect” ? May be something like quality control, updating databases or … I don’t know. May be you do.
Thanks for the post Mark Mifsud. I agree with the point that perfectionism leads to procrastination but I cannot agree that the means to an end are not equally good or effective. As a victim of plagiarism I cannot justify the person who has popularized his blog quicker than I could by stealing content evolved through my hard work.
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