Week 2: Stop Procrastinating!

Pity the poor perfectionist. She lives in a world where every move she makes, every job she undertakes, every promise she makes binds her to yet another quest to be perfect. She can't, for instance, have people over for spontaneous dinners because she needs to do spring cleaning first. She'd love to turn the spare bedroom into an art studio for herself but wonders where her annual houseguests would sleep? She is filled with pride about her high standards. Her disdain for those with lower standards is well known. She is proud of her accomplishments although they are admittedly tiny in number. The perfectionist is a tough taskmaster.

The procrastinator has an equally rough road to travel. Everyone knows about her struggle. This lady is always late for appointments, can't turn in reports on time, and dreams constantly about the day she finally stops putting things off. After all, she has very lofty goals on her agenda. Unfortunately, because she is a procrastinator, her calendar has probably been misplaced. The dreams and goals on that personal agenda will have to wait until they are rescued from the land of the lost or postponed.

These personality types are interchangeable. We can easily postpone our dreams and desires one day because we don't have the time to be perfect and the next because we simply don't have the time! The ironic twist here is that perfection and procrastination are twin sisters born of the destructive marriage known as Fear of Success and Fear of Failure. Like Don Quixote, the perfectionist dreams the impossible dream. Her efforts are forever hampered as she waits for the perfect set of circumstances. In reality, there is no perfection in life. She would be wise to shift her perspective and strive instead to do her personal best. There is a subtle difference.

Our procrastinator, on the other hand, has to unravel the complex veil that shrouds her true desires and goals in secrecy. Somewhere along the line she has been told she is neither worthy nor good enough to succeed at whatever she tries to accomplish. When her adrenalin is pumping and her heart is racing, she is in her comfort zone. Drama is the cornerstone of her life. For many procrastinators, the adrenaline produced as they race at the last minute to make an appointment or turn in an assignment is how they define themselves. It is how they know they are alive.

Do you identify with either of these personality types? If you do, have you taken the Is Your Life Too Chaotic? quiz to see what level of chaos you are experiencing? Are you afraid that once you sign the Get Organized Community Challenge Commitment Contract, you will instantly fall behind? Are you convinced that you just don't have time to devote to the Community Challenge right now? After all, if you can't do it perfectly, or right this very minute, why bother?

Let?s try some journal exercises to see if we can?t uncover the seeds of these incapacitating beliefs. You may not jump up and turn into the happy homemaker after you answer these questions." You will, however, be laying the foundation for change. Rest assured it always happens when the time is right! Before we start, I thought I'd share a story from my past. You see, I am a recovered perfectionist!

I truly believe that reconciling with yourself about your environment comes from two sources: understanding and hard work. It is my wish for you that our journal work together will reveal the time in your life when the seed of perfection and/or procrastination was planted. I'd like to jump start this process by sharing my own story with you now.

As a child, I was driven by my parents to succeed. They expected me not only to do my best, but to get better grades than anyone else. Emotions ran high on exam days. Tremendous pressure was placed on me to quite literally make my parents happy with good grades. One event from when I was about eight years old proved my perception that if I couldn't be perfect, I shouldn't even try.

It was the middle of the school year and report card day had come around yet again. I came home to find my mother reading the New York Times. She started firing a series of questions at me. I was ready. "Wait, mom," I said, stopping her interrogation. "I got a 96. I got the highest grade in the class." Relief and joy flooded my being. I expected my mother to embrace me and thought I would be off the academic hook for at least a few days.

Imagine my surprise when my mother quietly disappeared behind the large pages of the Times. As she lifted the paper, she said simply: "Just a 96? Why didn't you get 100? Only a 100 is good enough."

The pain of that moment is forever seared into my memory. Too young to verbalize my feelings, I stood in stunned silence staring at the paper that shielded my mother's face from me. 'How often can I get a 100?' I thought in a panic. That experience would color most of my adult life. I not only chased academic excellence, I stayed away from courses and experiences if I wasn't sure I could excel at them.

My mother wasn't a monster. She loved me very much. She wanted to encourage me to do the best I could in life. Her method, however, is a testament to her lack of skill in this arena.

Understanding how deeply this experience affected me while taking responsibility for the way it colored my adult life, enabled me to heal. I cannot possibly be the best at everything I undertake. I can, however, do the best I am personally capable of and be at peace with the consequences.

What about you? Are you willing to accept responsibility for the dramas in your life that are caused by your need to procrastinate? What about the impossible mental pressure a quest to be perfect creates? Are you willing to unearth the origins of these destructive and emotionally debilitating habits? Are you ready to change?

Did you relate to the story I shared about my mother? Take a minute to look into your own childhood. This area is generally a painful one to explore. It's easier to call ourselves victims. This is a tough assignment. I invite you to be particularly fearless in the privacy of your journal.

I also encourage you to share your findings with others. Why not share some of your discoveries on our Get Organized message board? Your realization or story may be just the catalyst for change someone else is searching for. Isn't it wonderful to think how this Community Challenge cannot only help you change but be a source of empowerment for others? The greatest lesson to be learned from this sharing will be one simple truth: You are not alone.

Journal Exercises:
Please give yourself some quiet time. Read these questions and consider your answers before you write them down. If they spark some awareness in you, feel free to add your own questions and keep exploring until you have exhausted the topic. These questions are indicators of roads you may want to travel. They are not meant to be rigid homework assignments.

  1. As a child, were you a procrastinator or a perfectionist? If the answer was yes, how did your parents react? If the answer was no, when do you feel your life as a procrastinator or a perfectionist began? Was it a gradual slide, or did some important event -- such as the birth of a baby, a new job, or moving to a new home -- propel you into this behavior pattern?
  2. Were your parents either procrastinators or perfectionists? How did this affect family life?
  3. How does your behavior affect your family members? What about people with whom you work? Is there any possibility that on some level you enjoy the power you exert over others. We all know stories about famous movie stars who keep crews waiting for hours.

    How about you? Do you keep your staff waiting at meetings? Is it because you put your presentation off until the last minute? Or do you noodle with it right up to the eleventh hour because you want it to be perfect? Do you make family members late for school or work? Do you say 'yes' to everything that's asked of you and then agonize over how to achieve it all?

  4. What is the most common or obvious way your procrastination reveals itself?
  5. If you are the perfectionist, how does your desire to be perfect and in control manifest itself?
  6. Have you made previous attempts to change your behavior? What specific steps did you take? How successful were you? How is this time different? What do you think will contribute to your success?

Reward Yourself!
You deserve a reward for coming this far! List six things you think of as a reward. If you need some inspiration, here are my favorite ways to relax:

  • Enjoy a latte at the local coffee shop
  • Burn my favorite candle
  • Take my Golden Retriever for a walk in the park
  • Go to a movie
  • Call my best friend for a chat
  • Enjoy a nice, hot bubble bath

Once you make your list, select one thing to do today!

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