Procrastination and Perfection: How Fear Of Failure Can Keep People From Success

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Conquer perfectionism with a single admission: no one is perfect.

According to a recently released study by the University of Western Ontario, there is a strong link between perfectionism and suicide. The research was based on interviews of friends and family of individuals who had committed suicide. The study, published in the Journal of Personality, found that 56 percent of those who had committed suicide exhibited a “perceived external pressure to be perfect.”

And this wasn’t the first study to find a link between perfectionism and suicide. “Over 50 years of research implicates perfectionism in suicide,” the study says.

Many people who strive for perfection will not commit suicide, but there are millions of perfectionists who struggle with the negative consequences of perfectionism everyday. One of those main consequences is anxiety.

Perfectionism can stem from a variety of things. For some people, perfectionism starts at childhood due to pressure from parents or other factors that create feelings of anxiety. For others, perfectionism is spurred by a desire to control the world around them. For this reason, anxiety can often lead people to become perfectionists. People who feel anxiety often search for ways to alleviate that anxiety and striving for perfection or a world without stressors can seem like an ideal goal. This is also seen in people with obsessive compulsive disorder who believe perfection can produce positive outcomes. But ultimately this goal remains out of reach.

Psychologists and psychiatrists have reported that a large number of the people they serve who are suffering from anxiety, are also perfectionists. Anxiety due to perfectionism can manifest itself in a variety of ways. In general, perfectionists often set unrealistic expectations for themselves. As a result, they are often hindered because they struggle to meet those expectations and this causes anxiety.

“The relationship between perfectionism and anxiety is often not clear to the person who attends my consulting rooms. They typically attend because they are anxious, but often do not call it anxiety or even know they are anxious. I don’t ever recall someone presenting saying they are a perfectionist and want to change that. I believe there are two main reasons for this. Firstly, high achievement is praised in our culture, and it seems logical to infer that if you aim really high, you will get a perfect or close to perfect outcome and will be praised. Secondly, perfectionists rarely recognize themselves and the potentially debilitating effects of this trait. It is usually during the course of therapy that perfectionism is identified and addressed,” writes psychologist Sharryn Muir.

Unfortunately people who strive for perfection often experience the opposite outcome of what they are trying to achieve. This largely has to do with the ways in which perfectionism contributes to procrastination. People striving for perfection often spend far too much time on work, projects, and other tasks because they waste time trying to make them perfect. Conversely, others who focus on completing tasks and projects often get further simply due to the fact that they complete things more quickly.

In this way perfectionism is irrational. According to a study by researchers at York University, procrastination often stems from the fear of disapproval.The study looked at 131 college-aged individuals and found a strong link between procrastination and perfectionism. The drive to be perfect often creates anxiety, and to avoid this feeling people can put off doing things, which in turn makes them feel more anxious; it’s a vicious circle. This is what leads to procrastination. People put off doing the projects and tasks they want to excel at because they are afraid they will fail or they are afraid of what others will think if it’s not perfect. But by putting these things off they often have trouble getting things done on time or even completing things at all.

Despite the reality, perfectionists are often viewed favorably. Perfectionists, also sometimes called type-A personalities, are often the people others turn to to handle difficult tasks. That because perfectionists often emphasize the strengths of their condition without revealing the weaknesses, namely, the anxiety and procrastination that come with it. These people are often the ones others turn to to partner up with for group assignments in school and the ones people want to hire at work, but while being high-achievers, they can also be problematic. That’s because, according to the research out of York University perfectionism can often hold people back from finding success at all.

In order to counteract the negative effects of perfectionism, there are several tactics people can take. These can involve seeking psychiatric or psychological help, but ultimately they begin with a single admission: no one is perfect. This is the crux of what keeps perfectionists from achieving their goals and in the case of procrastination, not being able to actually begin pursuing their goals at all. Once people admit that nothing can ever truly be perfect, they reduce their expectations and can set more achievable goals. And in this way they can achieve a greater level of success.