Perfectionism is really procrastination

Perfectionism is really procrastination

perfectionism equals procrastinationHave you ever seen a little kid fighting with another little kid over a toy? They push and pull and play a really bratty version of “keep away.” There might be yelling, screaming, or even an epic temper tantrum.

At some point, an adult will intervene. One or both kids get a stern talking-to. “You have to share. You can both play with the toy.”

And I always laugh when one of those kids throws the toy down and pouts: “Fine. I don’t want the stupid toy anyway.” And then stalks away in a huff.

It reminds me of something my clients and I struggle with on an ongoing basis…

The “all or nothing” pattern of play.

Here’s how it goes:

  • “I should spend four hours on this. But I can’t, so I won’t spend any time on it.”
  • “I need to get this started, but I can’t until I get my desk/office/business/life/Universe organized first.”
  • In the beginning: “I’m going to exercise 20 minutes a day.” The following week: “Ah, screw it. I didn’t exercise once last week. I’m a failure.” [Stalks away in a huff…]

This “all or nothing” pattern of play is really perfectionism disguised as procrastination. For some, it’s “analysis paralysis.” For others, it’s simple overwhelm. And for others (often, for me) it’s fear – because I don’t know the how, why, or what.

Think about it this way: if there’s something you really want to do, doing a little bit is certainly better than doing nothing.

Perfectionism equals procrastination

Unfortunately, our mind LOVES the “all or nothing” pattern of play. It gives us sneaky permission to not do. It gives us permission to procrastinate until we have the full amount of time, or until all our ducks are in a row, or until we have everything perfect.

But OOPS! It’s not all perfect matchy matchy organized? Well, then clearly we are not ready to start, are we?

And our perfectionist brain feels better. Relieved.  Off the hook.

I would argue, though, that two minutes or two hours or two days of actually DOING something is far better than planning for eight minutes or eight hours or eight days and then failing completely and doing nothing.

If there’s something you want to do, do a little bit. Sure, it’s great to plan or map out a strategy or block our some time (hell, I do Time Maps with my clients all the time). Thing is, life happens. If what you planned to do can’t happen for some reason, then scrap the plan. But do SOMETHING. Take action. Move the ball forward.

It ain’t about perfection. That’s just you giving in to procrastination. That’s you having your own grown-up version of a temper tantrum. You might as well be face down on the floor, screaming, crying, and pounding your fists on the floor. And when you’re done with the tantrum, you’re going to try and tell yourself you don’t want that danged old toy after all.

Gentle reader, there’s a better way.

Let’s focus on progress instead of perfection. Every little bit of progress counts.

Pick your toy back up and just begin.

P.S. In her newest book, Big Magic,  Elizabeth Gilbert counsels:
“Done is better than good. The world needs us to begin – and finish. And what will make you finish is NOT discipline, it’s self-forgiveness.”
So, if you fail to “do” today, gentle reader, simply forgive yourself and begin anew tomorrow.
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