Breaking the Perfectionism–Procrastination Infinite Loop

I am learning that perfection isn’t what matters. In fact, it’s the very thing that can destroy you if you let it” ― Emily Giffin

Jane finishes a meeting with her tutor, full of ideas that she’s going to put into her thesis. In her mind, everything is crystal clear, and she can’t wait to get started. This is the first day of the rest of her life – a brilliant paper, the highest possible grade, then a six-figure salary – better and better.

Slowly but surely, the deadline for submission approaches. She wants her paper to be flawless and amazing. Even though she has solid ideas, she keeps putting off starting the actual paper. Her enthusiasm has begun to wane. Waning enthusiasm transforms into dread. She realizes she needs more data, more research, more inspiration in general. But, she will start. Tomorrow.

Three months later, and the paper is due. In a week. She’s kicking herself, panicking and stressing to get it done. Someone said something about a ghostwriting service…

Mediating Variables

Perfectionism is neither the only factor, nor a direct cause of procrastination. Studies show anxiety can cause procrastination. We put tasks off because we are afraid of failing. The vast majority of people get apprehensive as a deadline approaches, particularly if they haven’t given themselves enough time to finish their work. This, however, is the effect of having procrastinated, not the cause. The two need to be linked for anxiety to cause procrastination. In other words, anxiety could be a mediating variable.

If this were true, then neurotic persons, who are more prone to suffer from anxiety, would procrastinate more than non-neurotic ones. Research has shown this is only partially true. Hundreds of studies have proven that anxiety does indeed cause procrastination, but only to a minimal extent.

So who is the real culprit?

Impulsiveness

If you’re anxious about a project or task, you’re equally likely to start early on it as you are to start late. Worrying about the task will lead to procrastination if you are neurotic and impulsive. Impulsive people tend to avoid or neglect a task short-term if they are wary of it. These brief periods of neglect accumulate, and that’s when they have a problem on their hands. Right, Jane?

Like neuroticism, impulsiveness is a personality trait that we’re born with. As such, it is difficult to overcome and impossible to eradicate. A good way to start is by realizing you have this trait and acting accordingly – it would help to make a schedule well in advance and get a little bit of work done each day. This will not only reduce apprehension, but you’ll also be ready well ahead of the deadline.

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