Per­fec­tion, the en­emy of good men­tal health

The Covington News - - Health & Wellness -

Per­fec­tion­ism is the be­lief that per­fec­tion should be strived for and that any­thing less than per­fect is un­ac­cept­able. We’ve all heard the words, “If it’s worth do­ing, it’s worth do­ing right.”

Per­fec­tion­ism in­volves the ten­dency to eval­u­ate neg­a­tively out­comes and one’s own per­for­mance, in­tense anx­i­ety and avoid­ance of eval­u­a­tion of one’s abil­i­ties by oth­ers, height­ened so­cial self-con­scious­ness, re­cur­rent low mood and worka­holism.

At adap­tive non­patho­log­i­cal lev­els, it can drive peo­ple to ac­com­plish­ments and sus­tain mo­ti­va­tion to per­se­vere in the face of ob­sta­cles and dis­cour­age­ment. In its mal­adap­tive, patho­log­i­cal form, it re­sults in de­bil­i­tat­ing lev­els of pro­cras­ti­na­tion as a cop­ing mech­a­nism for over­whelm­ing stress and anx­i­ety. It can take the form of “I can’t start my project un­til I know the right way to do it,” and self-dep­re­ca­tion when it is used to ex­cuse poor per­for­mance or to seek sym­pa­thy from other peo­ple.

In the work­place, per­fec­tion­ism is of­ten marked by low lev­els of pro­duc­tiv­ity as in­di­vid­u­als con­cen­trate on small, less rel­e­vant de­tails of the larger, more ur­gent task or project re­quir­ing com­ple­tion, fo­cus­ing on the trees ver­sus the prover­bial for­est.

Pro­cras­ti­na­tion seems al­most a nat­u­ral out­growth of per­fec­tion­ism in that per­fec­tion­ists would rather have oth­ers say they lacked ef­fort rather than abil­ity. The prob­lem arises when the de­sire to pre­serve a sense of self-worth that hinges on the ex­pec­ta­tions of oth­ers leads to such con­tor­tions of de­lay that the stress and guilt of per­pet­ual post­pone­ment be­come in­ca­pac­i­tat­ing. How­ever, Dr. Pier Steel, a Uni­ver­sity of Cal­gary pro­fes­sor and prob­a­bly the fore­most ex­pert on pro­cras­ti­na­tion, re­minds us that per­fec­tion­ism is not the cul­prit of pro­cras­ti­na­tion. There can be other forces driv­ing it, in­clud­ing task aver­sion, im­pul­siv­ity, dis­tractibil­ity and just plan lack of mo­ti­va­tion to achieve. The key to pro­cras­ti­na­tion is that the per­son be­lieves it would be bet­ter to start work­ing on a given task im­me­di­ately, but still does not start. Re­gard­less, pro­cras­ti­na­tion is a be­hav­ioral con­di­tion that re­flects low frus­tra­tion tol­er­ance — a per­cep­tion of neg­a­tiv­ity or un­pleas­ant­ness with re­spect to some as­pect of a task that is avoided through di­ver­sion. Un­for­tu­nately, frus­tra­tion is a re­cur­rent fact of life that at some point re­quires the pro­cras­ti­na­tor to learn frus­tra­tion tol­er­ance skills in or­der to func­tion in a healthy man­ner in the world. In sum, while pro­cras­ti­na­tion is a be­hav­ioral con­di­tion, in it chronic form, it is likely a sign of an un­der­ly­ing psy­cho­log­i­cal or phys­i­cal dis­or­der — such as anx­i­ety, de­pres­sion or ADHD — that can and should be treated with med­i­ca­tion and/or ther­apy.

Peggy Nolen is a li­censed pro­fes­sional coun­selor in Cov­ing­ton. Her ar­eas of fo­cus in­clude de­pres­sion, anx­i­ety, re­cov­ery from trau­matic ex­pe­ri­ence and prob­lems with drugs and/or al­co­hol. She can be reached at (770) 314-5924.

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