How is Procrastination Related to Perfectionism?

Written By: Albert Kwok, MEd, Registered Clinical Counsellor

We’ve all probably had someone tell us that “you just need to work harder”, like it was supposed to motivate you to get off the couch (or devices) to do something. 

I’ve been working with students of all ages for many years and have come across a common theme for students who’ve seem to have lost their motivation as just “needing more effort”, as if they were being lazy. 

But If it’s Not Laziness, Then What is It?

Upon further processing, I’ve discovered that it is actually unrealistic internalized expectations that results in procrastination and avoidance. This is a condition called perfectionism, which is not to be confused with striving for excellence.

Perfectionism is when you have high expectations of yourself, stemming from self-judgment, and/or socially learned expectations such as those from social media, society, or parents. 

What eventually happens is you become afraid that you can’t do something at a certain level, so you stop trying. As a result, you procrastinate and avoid the task in order to delay and avoid your anxiety around achieving some expectation.

In other words, if I can’t be perfect at something, then I will procrastinate. Hence, perfectionism is the opposite side of the coin of procrastination.

You Don’t Need to Be Perfect

The most common response I get from students when they understand that they are not being lazy, but just have unrealistic internalized expectations is, “so I don’t need to be perfect”. A big sigh of relief comes over the room like a big weight has been lifted off from them. 

How to Combat Perfectionism

A common treatment for perfectionism is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). CBT is great for short term symptom relief because it provides the education to begin a deep dive into the root causes of perfectionism. 

The next challenge is perhaps the most difficult for perfectionists, which is to work on feelings of shame, inferiority, and guilt. Perfectionists evade these feelings by avoiding and procrastinating in areas that they think they may not be good at, and thus being called “lazy” or “unmotivated”. 

The idea is to strengthen the self and NOT to lower expectations, thus, to have a realistic growth mindset.

The Difference Between Perfectionism and Striving for Excellence

The key to striving for excellence is to have a realistic growth mindset. That is, to have the practice of trying, failing, learning, and revising, over and over again until you’ve achieved excellence. 

My favourite metaphor is of students who receive their schoolwork back and NOT look at the feedback because of the fear of evaluation, when actually it is the feedback itself that helps them grow. Remember, a growth mindset is the practice of trying, failing, learning (from feedback), and revising until you’ve achieved excellence. 

When you can view feedback NOT as “I’m worthless”, “stupid”, or “not good enough”, but instead move towards, “I’m okay, this is a great start, I’m learning to get better”, then you can begin to have a growth mindset and move towards excellence. 

To learn more about how to get rid of perfectionism and strive for excellence, contact us at Brentwood Counselling Centre today.

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