Procrastination and Perfectionism

I haven’t posted in awhile, and it’s because I’ve been committed to finishing this calligraphy project. And I did it! Here’s the thing, though: I told a neighbor I would write out this favorite quote of hers something like SIX YEARS AGO. I have mixed feelings about finishing this. I’m happy that it’s finally done, but man! I’m completely lame that it took me this long! And it wasn’t even that hard to do, once I got down to it. Last weekend we had a church activity featuring a talent show and visual art displays, so I finally decided that this would be my self-imposed deadline. Turns out a deadline was all I needed, even though it wouldn’t have mattered to anyone else but me whether I had had this piece on display or not.
This unfulfilled obligation had been a burden and drain on my mind, conscience, and energy for so long. So why didn’t I just get it done long ago? Well, because I clung to excuses, like:
1. I haven’t done calligraphy in years, so I’ll need to practice consistently for a long time to get it back.
2. It’s not that important anyway, and I’m sure she’s completely forgotten about it after all this time. (I haven’t even seen her since I moved two years ago, and probably never will again.)
3. I don’t have my art paper since it’s in storage in a box buried under a ton of other boxes.
These excuses are so dumb, but isn’t it interesting that we so often take chicken-exits just like these? This first one has to do with perfectionism. I’m sure we’ve all let this hold us back from time to time. It’s been said that “Perfect is the enemy of good,” and I must agree. Perfection is unattainable. It’s important to do quality work, but at some point, it’s even more important to just be done already and use our time, energy, and resources in more constructive ways.
The second cop-out has to do with an assumption I created about someone else. Even if you find out later that your assumption was correct, assumptions are not real, because you just make them up in your mind. What’s more, it doesn’t matter whether or not she forgot about it; I, clearly, had not forgotten. (Well, I actually did forget about it for a couple years, but I never completely forgot.)
The third excuse is simply one of convenience. It was solved so easily. I just went to the art store and bought a new pad of paper for like $8. Yes, I don’t like to go out and buy something when I know I already have it somewhere, but if a lousy $8 is stopping me from getting my goal, then I’m lazy and cheaper than cheap.
I learned a lot about myself as I examined my contrived excuses, which I had constructed in an attempt to assuage my guilt about not following through with my commitment. Although I’m generally an Upholder (see Gretchen Rubin’s 4 Tendencies in response to expectations), I tend to procrastinate especially those things that I feel reflect on me as a person. I erroneously think that taking more time will improve my performance on whatever it is, but that’s not usually true. It just stresses me out. And sometimes makes me even less effective. And besides, every artist or performer I’ve ever known is hyper-aware of every little flaw in their creations, but it turns out that almost no one else even notices or cares. We think people are always going around judging everything about us, but I doubt many people are really that petty. Just think about it. How much of your own thought-energy goes into judging others and what they’ve created? Probably, hopefully, not too much.
I’ve also realized that if something doesn’t feel urgent or timely, I require some kind of external motivation or I’ll never get it done. This is how I am with compiling family memories into photo books. Since it’s not an urgent undertaking, everything else always out-prioritizes it. So I’ve figured out that if I buy a voucher for a photo book, the expiration date on the voucher becomes my deadline, and I’m motivated to finish because I hate wasting money.
I wish I could just choose a day and time as an arbitrary deadline for any of my goals, but the thing is, if I invent the deadline for myself, I know it’s not real and I ignore it. Usually, if someone else chooses the deadline, then it’s suddenly important. (My husband is learning this about me, too. I can see weeds in the garden as well as he can, but I probably won’t weed unless he specifically asks me to get it done this week, or by tomorrow, etc.)
I’d really like to be one of those completely self-motivated people, and maybe someday I can be, but for now, I choose to accept myself the way I am and find ways to make it work for me. Are you this way, too? I think most people generally are. Having a mentor or simply an accountability partner can help you create and stick to deadlines for your goals (and action steps within a larger goal), and may even empower you in following through and being as effective as you can be.
I’d love to hear from you, readers. What kinds of excuses routinely hold back your progress? Do you require external deadlines? How do you motivate yourself to follow through?

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