Monday, December 04, 2006

P and P

I am blessed to have a dear friend who is one of the best psychologists I have ever known. She goes right to the heart of a problem, never dancing around a subject. Life is short.I talked to her once at great length about procrastination. Of course it took me a while to get around to the subject as I was afraid of what she has to say about me. Nevertheless, I had to know why I’m this way so I can cut it out.

If you want to continue being stuck in the rut of “I’ll do it later”, then close this blog now. But if you want to stop this nonsense and get on with it, then read on.

“Procrastinators are perfectionists.” Linda gave me a minute to let this sink in.

How can that be? Procrastinators are notorious for never accomplishing tasks or putting them off until they must be done then running around like a chicken with our heads cut off trying to finish up. Perfectionists, on the other hand are folks who strive for perfection. They don’t stop until their task is free of imperfections.

“There is no such thing as perfect Sherry. Think about it.”

I did.

What happens to a perfectionist when they realize that what they hope to accomplish isn’t turning out perfectly? They quit. They make excuses. They put off the task because it isn’t turning out perfect.

Hmm…sounds much like a procrastinator doesn’t it? That’s because the two go hand in hand.Now that we understand that procrastination/perfectionism is a two edged sword, what do we do about it? The answers are not as hard as you may think.

First, we have to identify which type of P&P we are. There are two types; normal and neurotic. Let’s start with the ‘normal perfectionist’. They set high standards for themselves but drop their standards if the situation requires it. A normal P&P will set high standards that are just beyond their reach, enjoy the process as well as the outcome, and bounce back from failure quickly and with energy. We (I say we here because I have identified myself as this type), keep our failures and fears within bounds. We see mistakes as an opportunity to learn and grow and we react positively to helpful criticism. (If we understand it that is)

Then there is the neurotic perfectionist. They never feel that they have done their job well enough. They are very intolerant of mistakes and extremely self-critical because they set standards beyond reach and reason. They are never satisfied by anything less than perfection and become horribly depressed when they fail. In other words, they set themselves up for failure. They become pre-occupied with failure, see errors as evidence of unworthiness and become overly defensive when criticized.

No matter which type of P&P you have identified yourself as being here are a few ways to kill the beast and get on with a productive, healthy and happy existence. By the way, I don’t know where this list came from originally but Dr. Linda Willett gave it to me.

Tricks to deal with procrastination:
 Take advantage of impulsiveness. When you get the urge to start working on that project, start right then. Don't put it off.
 Figure out what you need to do first. Then do it. What needs to come next will probably fall into place as you're doing the first step.
 Use your imagination. If something seems terribly hard to do, go over it in your mind, imagine doing it, or talk about it aloud with a friend.
 Be your own best friend: be positive, not critical, of yourself.
 Work in a study group
 Ask for help Use your friends. Talk about it with someone; let all your frustrations out in an e-mail to a friend or family member, etc. This may help get a block out of the way. (Don't spend too much time and let this turn into another procrastination technique, though!)
 Remember that nobody's perfect. Don't expect your work to be either.
 Rewards: give yourself rewards when you complete a task--and really earn it, don't just let yourself have it if you haven't accomplished your goal
 Tell people what you're going to do. Be affirmative, direct, and clear. Say "I will ..." (not "I'm going to try to ..." or " I think maybe I'll ..." or ...)
 Get off the phone. Yes, you. Delegate when possible. If you're the president of the ScubaSurfing club, you don’t have to do ALL the minor tasks involved in running the organization.Ask others to help you.
 Avoid busy-work rationalizations: Your room can in fact be messy.
 Relax before you start. This will help deal with fears and perfectionism, which you can handle better when you're relaxed.
 "The Secret to conquering procrastination": Start now. Just begin. Don’t agonize, do. It will be much easier to work on it once you’ve begun.
 Ask yourself if this is a piano. A what? A piano. Is what you're working on a piano or a barn frame (picture?)? Not everything you do has to be perfect. You can spend less time on the little things and when a piano (or a term paper) comes around, you can spend extra time on the minor details.

I’ll close with this; a parable called The South African Monkey Trap. Dr. Linda says the reason so many P&P’s never change is because we can’t let go of our idea of perfectionism, even when we know our thinking is wrong. I have this parable on my bulletin board next to my puter. See if it helps you as it does me.

The trap was developed by villagers to catch the many small monkeys in that part of the world. It involves a hollowed out coconut shell chained to a stake. The coconut has some rice inside which can be seen through the small hole. The hole is just big enough so that the monkey can put his hand in, but too small for his fist to come out after he grabs hold of the rice.

Tempted by the rice, the monkey reaches in and is trapped. He is unable to see that it’s his own fist that traps him. He rigidly holds onto the rice because he values it. He cannot let go, so he is trapped.

I don’t know about you but I don’t want to be trapped by P&P. I want to succeed in my endeavors so I am learning to open my hand. I hope you will too.

*Posted by Speck for Gwanny cause blogger is being a pain:--)


Jean said...

This is such a great post.

I'm a normal perfectionist with frequent trips into neurosis.

I will say, I'm not as bad as I used to be though.


Cheryl said...

Great post Gwanny. I fall somewhere in the middle. I always set high standards for myself, but often times they are too high for me to achieve them. Yes, I love those lofty goals.

I do see my mistakes as a way to grow, but I am extremely self-critical. And I feel no job is worth doing, if it is not done right. Luckily with my stories, I have more than one chance to get it right.

These are some great tips. I'll put them to good use.


Anonymous said...

Excellent post! Just what I needed too.