Today we are going to look at what procrastination and perfectionism have to do with each other. Do you have procrastination tendencies, like me? Do you wish you could stop, and just find the motivation to get the job done already? Maybe you are a perfectionist and you spend a lot of time making sure everything is just so. Today I want to talk about the reasons why we procrastinators are so darn good at delaying the inevitable, and what drives perfectionism, too.
The Reason Behind Procrastination
When we drill down into the root cause of procrastination, we find a heart that has some sort of shame. (Sorry to be so blunt about that, but we are here to be real!) It may not look like it on the surface, but if we really look down deep, we will find it. That surface answer to “Why am I procrastinating?” of “Because I just don’t want to” is not the real reason. The driving force behind not wanting to begin a project is a fear of not being able to carry it out well enough. The lack of motivation is from a fear base driven by shame, which also leads to and is tied into perfectionism. People who are perfectionists are generally world-champion procrastinators. Had you ever thought of the connection between the two before?
Looking A Little Deeper
In our heads, if we know how to listen for it, that deep shame sounds something like this… “If I don’t write this paper or finish this project perfectly, I will be deemed ‘not good enough’ and I will die alone and unloved.” That sounds like a pretty extreme view, and it is. That doesn’t mean it’s not what is truly going on deep in your heart. Our “Lizard Brain” is exceedingly extreme in it’s beliefs like this. This extreme notion is a core belief of perfectionists, whether they are consciously aware of it or not, and it is at the root of shame and abandonment.
We are driven to be good enough to be acceptable when we are kiddos, so that we will be accepted by our tribe, our family of origin, and so we value what they value and do what is expected of us so we won’t be abandoned. Whatever standards our family had, we are driven to meet them so we won’t be left alone and unloved. If we had critical, harsh, or somehow demanding parents or families, we learned that we had better not make mistakes in order to be loved. Enter budding perfectionism. When we fear that we may not be able to complete a project well enough, or if we subconsciously want to rebel against this harsh judgment, we procrastinate. It’s all intertwined.
Walking The Line, As Parents
So I often get the question, then, of how to walk the line between wanting my kiddos to excel and do well and be the best they can be, and not being too overly harsh or critical and expecting too much. Pretty difficult, right? By realizing how kids hear these kinds of statements in their heads, we can minimize the potential damage of high expectations while encouraging the best they can do simultaneously.
When encouraging kids to do the best they can, make sure that they know, through words AND actions, that they will be loved and accepted even if they can’t do something perfectly. Let them know that doing their very best is great, but their lovability and acceptability does not depend on that outcome. If left unchecked, encouragement to be their best can be interpreted as “if I fail, I won’t be lovable.” That kind of internalization of shame is the birthing ground for perfectionism, and ultimately, procrastination as well. We can help our kiddos process that message differently if we are aware of the danger of it.
An awareness of the depth of people and their feelings, how we internalize messages as children, and a vigilance in heading off misperceptions like these at the pass are all important ways parents can help avoid the development of deep shame, perfectionism, and procrastination. If the deed is already done and you already have the shame to drive these things, the cure includes finding your own lovability and acceptability, a large helping of grace and compassion for yourself, and a good dose of differentiation.
No clue how to do that? You are not alone! Come on in to my office or set up an online appointment, let’s chat. I have walked the path, (or more like army-crawled it through the mud…) and I know the way out. The way to peace. Take a look at this picture from a mug in my office. (It reads: Peace. It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble, or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart.) This kind of peace is exactly what I’m selling. I have found it, and I want you to have it, too. I know the way. Let’s make the journey together.
Healing Hearts provides counseling services to the surrounding communities of Indianapolis, Fishers, Carmel, Zionsville, Westfield, Noblesville, and Geist. Call or text today to set up your appointment. 317-218-3038
© 2015 Nancy Eisenman, MSW, LSW