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ocrastination--Part III

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Yes. There is an association between these three mental conditions. Read on so that we can discuss what your associations with these three disorders. Join us at Obsessive Compulsive Disorders...

"Perfectionism has long been thought to play a role in the development and maintenance of OCD and other forms of mental illness. Let’s explore the relationship between OCD and perfectionism.

What is Perfectionism?

Research on perfectionism has indicated that there are two main types:

Adaptive/Healthy Perfectionism: This type of perfectionism is characterized by high standards of yourself as well as others, persistence in the face of adversity, and conscientiousness. Healthy perfectionism usually goes along with goal-directed behavior and good organizational skills.

Maladaptive/Unhealthy Perfectionism: This type of perfectionism is characterized by excessive preoccupation with past mistakes, fears about making new mistakes, doubts about whether you are doing something correctly and being heavily invested in the high expectations of others, such as parents or employers. An excessive preoccupation with control is also a hallmark feature of maladaptive/unhealthy perfectionism.

In general, while adaptive/healthy perfectionism tends to be associated with good psychological well-being and high achievement both at school and at work, maladaptive/unhealthy perfectionism has been associated with distress, low-self esteem and symptoms of mental illness.

OCD Perfectionism

The unhealthy form of perfectionism has been strongly linked to OCD. Perfectionism appears to be particularly strong if you have a strong need for things to be done “just right” or require certainty. For example, unhealthy perfectionism tends to be very high if you feel that your compulsions have to be done exactly the right way. In these cases, it is not uncommon to believe that if the compulsion is carried out perfectly, a feared outcome, such as death of a loved one, will not take place.

Likewise, unhealthy perfectionism tends to be high if your OCD symptoms revolve around checking. Specifically, if you do not feel you have perfect certainty that you have locked the door or turned off the stove, you might return to check these items over and over again. Tied to this is the excessive fear of making a catastrophic mistake, such as leaving the door open all day or burning down the house by leaving the stove on. Ironically, checking over and over again reinforces the idea that you are not perfect or possibly even "losing your mind." This can make you feel even worse and less self-confident which, of course, sets you up to do more checking.

Finally, unhealthy OCD perfectionism may help to perpetuate obsessions. For instance, like many people with OCD you might believe that you must have complete control over your thoughts. As such, when a bizarre or distressing thought pops intrusively into your mind, you label these thoughts as dangerous because they are out of your control. This causes you to monitor the thought even more closely, which can help to create an obsession.

Tips for Dealing with OCD Perfectionism

Learn Cognitive-Behavioral Techniques: Techniques such as cognitive restructuring and behavioral experiments can be helpful in learning to objectively evaluate the likelihood and/or consequences of making catastrophic or even minor mistakes. Cognitive therapy can also be a useful tool for critically examining the beliefs we hold about ourselves and others.

Practice Giving up Control: As part of cognitive-behavior therapy and/or exposure and response prevention therapy, you may be asked to participate in exercises designed to build your capacity to tolerate a loss of control. This can involve being prevented from checking something or adjusting something until it is "just right." Although this can initially be extremely distressing, over time you will gain more confidence in your ability to tolerate a loss of control.

Adopt a Mindful Stance: Mindfulness emphasizes being less “invested” in our thoughts. Accepting that we have less control than we think over our thoughts can be very helpful in reducing the distress that often accompanies intrusive thoughts. Mindfulness meditation exercises can help to promote a more objective awareness of our day-to-day thoughts and emotions.

Psychology Today

Break a Perfectionism-Procrastination Connection

Learn to overcome perfectionism and procrastination simultaneously.
Published on March 12, 2010 by Dr. Bill Knaus, Ed.D. in Science and Sensibility

Humorist Walt Kelly titled his book, We Have Met the Enemy and He is Us. Kelly was onto something.

When perfectionism and procrastination combine, you can be your own worst enemy. By freeing yourself from this complex process, you can better use your time to accomplish more with less stress. Here you'll see a sample of how this process works, a case example, and some ideas for breaking the perfectionism-procrastination connection.

What is perfectionism? Is it stretching for excellence in areas of your life that you find purposeful? Is it a pattern of nit picking, pettiness, defect detecting, and controlling? Do you hold to lofty standards, demand perfection from yourself, and make your worth contingent on meeting these standards? Depending on your definition, it can be any one of the three. I'll focus on demanding perfection.

The Pitfalls of Perfectionism

Holding yourself to impossible standards almost always backfires.

If you dread the thought of performing poorly, you may experience anxiety. What you fear is based on what you think of yourself if you fail, or how others may judge you.

Contingent-worth anxiety thinking is a form of dichotomous thinking. You see future performances as successes or failures and measures of your personal worth. According to this judgmental process, you are a winner or a loser, worthy or worthless, strong or weak. For example, you expect a B+ grade. The goal is reasonable. The expectation is not. You get a B and feel like a failure.

In a perfectionist world of fixed convictions, it is not enough to do well enough; you have to do perfectly well. It's not enough to have typical performances; they must be exceptional. When attaining perfection becomes a contingency for worth, it is understandable why anxiety is a common consequence.

Perfectionism is a risk factor for performance anxiety and procrastination. You expect a great performance. You have doubts whether you can achieve perfection. You have an urge to diverge and do something less threatening. You wait until you can be perfect. This is an example of a perfectionism-driven procrastination.

There are at least seven operations involved in this perfectionism-procrastination process. (1) You hold to lofty standards. (2) You have no guarantee you'll do well enough. (3) Less than the best is not an option. (4) As you thinkof not doing well enough, you feel uncomfortable. (5) You fear the feelings of discomfort. (6) You hide your imperfections from yourself and dodge discomfort by doing something "safer," such as playing computer games. (7) You repeat this exasperating process until you get off this contingent-worth merry-go-round by not demanding perfection from yourself.

A perfectionism-procrastination combination contributes to what Rockefeller University professor Bruce McEwen describes as an allostatic load. This is a wearing and tearing of the body due to stress. If you hear your inner voice telling you that if you are not great you are a big nothing, you've found an anxiety belief that adds to your allostatic load. Uncoupling yourself from this thinking can help end this perfectionism-related stress.

Perfectionism is a changeable form of thinking. For example, you are always more complex than what you produce, so you can't be either perfect or imperfect. This is the concept of the pluralistic self and here is how pluralism works. You are a person with many attributes. Work at accepting this pluralistic view of you, and you are on your way toward easing up on yourself and achieving more of what you desire.

Let's look at Judy's procrastination-perfectionism situation and a cognitive incongruity intervention she used to change her contingent-worth outlook. Judy attended a procrastination workshop that I led. She spoke up and said her problem was procrastinating on moving to a larger apartment. An obvious question was why did she want to move? She told the workshop group that she needed a larger apartment because she was running out of space. Why? Her answer was surprising. Her apartment was filled with yellowing New York Times newspapers and magazines. She needed more space. How did she explain the collection?

Judy wanted to date a highly intelligent man. She expected to find him at a sophisticated Manhattan cocktail party. Here is the rub. She convinced herself that if an intelligent man spoke to her about a New York Times editorial, she'd look like a fool if she hadn't read it. So she daily purchased the Times and stacked each new one on top of the others. This was her precondition to appear smart, which was her precondition for dating an intelligent Manhattan man.

Anxious over the thought that she couldn't develop a perfect understanding of the editorials, she put off reading them until she could research the topics. Then she put off the research. Judy now procrastinated in two areas: researching the editorials and going to parties.( Her precondition was obviously unnecessary.)

What could Judy do differently? In a television skit, the comedian Bob Newhart played the role of a psychologist with a two-word solution to curb all problem habits. Here is his stock solution: STOP IT! In a perfect self-help world, when you afflict yourself with a needless anxiety, you tell yourself to STOP IT. Then you permanently stop. We don't live in a perfect world. So, let's try a different way.

Judy's precondition for success was a red herring. But first things first. We needed to rule out a hoarding compulsion. Several group members helped her start ditching her New York Times collection. Judy reported feeling better with less paper.

Judy turned to meet her contingent-worth challenge. She quickly grasped the idea that she
made her worth contingent on meeting unreasonable standards. She discovered how to challenge her contingent-worth belief by exploring an incongruity between her theory of worth and her theory of self.

Judy saw herself as worthy if she performed well and worthless if she didn’t. That was her theory of worth. But how did she see herself? She was a pluralistic person with a broad array of talents, emotions, beliefs, and experiences. That was her theory of self. Here is the cognitive incongruity intervention: How can you be either smart or dumb if you also are a person with hundreds of talents, emotions, beliefs, aptitudes, and millions of varied experiences? Her theory of worth didn't match her theory of self. (Judy left the workshop with a few good ideas on how to become less perfectionistic and stop procrastinating on meeting attractive men.)

To break a complex procrastination-perfectionism connection see End Procrastination Now or The Procrastination Workbook. To combat procrastination, tune into my free multimedia program: Combatting Procrastination Part 1, Combatting Procrastination Part 2, Part 3: 7 Principles for Change, Part 4: Procrastination Thinking. Here is a podcast on perfectionism and procrastination: Knaus\Pychyl\Podcast\Perfectio

Dr. Bill Knaus


Psychology Today

The Procrastination Equation

Everything you wanted to know about procrastination but put off finding out.
by Dr. Piers Steel

Procrastination and the Perfectionism Myth

Does perfectionism cause procrastination? Think Again.
Published on December 31, 2010 by Piers Steel, Ph.D. in The Procrastination Equation

Do you have high standards? Do you expect a lot from yourself, day-in and day-out? Do you love it when life is organized and orderly? Do you try to do your best at everything you do? There is a word for people like you: perfectionists. You worry over life's details, anxious to make every event just so. And you might like to know that some believe that your perfectionism is the root cause of procrastination.

But does perfectionism really cause procrastination? Lots of people think so. It's a neat theory you'll often hear repeated around the water cooler. There's just one problem with it: it's wrong. Research shows that perfectionists actually procrastinate less than other people, not more.

According to the myth, procrastination is caused by anxiety in one of its myriad forms. Sigmund Freud, for example, thought it was due to death anxiety—we delay because we live in fear of life's ultimate deadline. In particular, the anxiety produced by perfectionists supposedly induces procrastination. We delay because of our fear of failure, anxious about living up to sky-high standards. Shame on your aspirations to do better!

So how did anxiety and procrastination get all mixed up together? There is a relationship, just not the one you hear about. Most people are indeed apprehensive as the deadline looms, especially if they haven't left themselves enough time. People can almost become paralyzed over the work they left themselves for tomorrow, knowing that they should act but remaining immobile with anxiety. But this is an expression of having procrastinated, not a cause of procrastination. For anxiety to cause procrastination the two have to be connected, that is, anxiety-prone people have to put things off more than others. But according to analysis of about a hundred studies involving tens of thousands of participants, anxiety produces a negligible amount of procrastination at best—and even that tiny amount disappears completely after you take into account other personality characteristics, especially impulsiveness.

As best as we can figure, task anxiety will just as likely get you to start early as to start late. That is, worrying about a deadline will make you procrastinate more if you are impulsive, the sort of person to whom avoiding a dreaded task or blocking it from your awareness makes perfect sense from a short-term perspective. If you aren't impulsive, anxiety is a cue that you should get cracking—and, as a result, you actually start earlier. The real culprit is impulsiveness, not anxiety. (But you can't be expected to discern this effect through personal reflection; relying only on your own experiences, you will never know that anxiety decreases procrastination for many others.)

The myth that perfectionism creates procrastination makes even less sense. What traits do you associate with procrastination? A) Being messy and disorganized or B) Being neat and orderly? If you choose option A, good for you; you are right. Perfectionists best fit description B, being neat and orderly, and unsurprisingly, they don't tend to procrastinate. The research—from Robert Slaney, who developed the Almost Perfect Scale to measure perfectionism, to my own meta-analytical research article, The Nature of Procrastination—shows this clearly.

For example, there is a recent article by Dr. Caplan from Anadolu University entitled: "Relationship among Perfectionism, Academic Procrastination and Life Satisfaction of University Students." Dr. Caplan takes a fine-grained approach to studying perfectionism, breaking perfectionists down into three strains: other-oriented, socially prescribed, and self-oriented. Only the last of these, self-oriented perfectionism, includes the features we typically associate with perfectionism, i.e., having high personal standards and being rather critical if you don't meet them.

Dr. Caplan reconfirmed what has been found many times before, that "Other-oriented and socially-prescribed perfectionism traits did not predict academic procrastination" and "self-oriented perfectionism and academic procrastination are negatively correlated," that is, an increase in one is associated with a reduction in the other. In short, perfectionists tend to procrastinate the same or less than other people, not more. Of course, there are still some people who are both procrastinators and perfectionists, but not as many as there are procrastinators who are non-perfectionists (or perhaps, imperfectionists?). Odds are, you don't even believe that perfectionism causes dilly-dallying yourself. Across several surveys, only 7 percent of procrastinators blamed their sloppy habits on perfectionism.

So how did this myth come about? Why did we ever think the two traits were connected? The December 24th issue of the Globe & Mail provides a relevant excerpt from my book, The Procrastination Equation. Here's a summary.

The confusion comes from an unexpected source. As noted above, procrastinators themselves do not blame their delaying on perfectionism; instead, this misinformation comes from clinicians and counselors. Perfectionists who procrastinate are more likely to seek help from such professionals, creating a self-selection phenomenon that gives the illusion that the two traits are linked. Clinicians tend to see a lot of perfectionist procrastinators because non-perfectionist procrastinators (and, for that matter, non-procrastinating perfectionists) are less likely to seek professional help.You see, perfectionists are more motivated to do something about their dilly-dallying because, by their very nature, they are more likely to feel worse about putting things off.Consequently, it is not perfectionism per se that is the problem but the discrepancy between high standards and less-than-stellar performance.

Since diagnosis typically precedes treatment, understanding the real reasons behind procrastination is critical to stopping it. If we feel certain that perfectionism causes procrastination, then our cures will confidently head off in the wrong direction. This isn't to say perfectionism and fear of failure aren't important in their own right—each has the potential to become crippling. It is just that they aren't important here, with regards to procrastination. But we do know what is.

The research shows that there are three major, empirically confirmed, causes of procrastination: expectancy, value and impulsiveness. I will tackle each one individually in the upcoming posts. During the meanwhile, consider taking a look at your own level of procrastination, either online or with this complementary The Procrastination Quotient iPhone app. Are you a garden variety dilly-dallier or do you have "tomorrow" tattooed across your back?

Looking for a fun book that informs? Take a peek at The Procrastination Equation. It is the perfect gift for last Christmas. Order your copy. Check out the reviews.

Join us at Obsessive Compulsive Disorder to discuss the abundance of information that has been provided. We look forward to discussing OCD with you.
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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    Thank you for writing this intuitive article. Very detailed and that's very helpful for an OCD cause we tend to loose faith in articles, people, treatment, or anything unless it answers out thousands of questions running through our mind and if it's not precise or has a clear general and particular proof of what the solution or conclusion is. And this is has specified beautifully.

    559 days ago
    Thanks! My son was diagnosed with OCD at a very young age. I have researched a lot about it over the years. This is one of the best written articles about the procrastination connection I have seen! Renea
    1728 days ago
    Actually you don't add OCD as another condition. It wraps things up to explain how the other issues are intermingled. Don't think of it as adding something else to your list. Look at it more as finding what drives you. Anything you don't like, you can now change it because you have identified it. You will find that many of these things are not bad they are something to enhance since you know they are there. emoticon

    Pilates Lovers
    Obsessive-Compulsive Disorders
    1737 days ago
    Perfectionism got passed on to my poor son. We had a terrible time with reading because of it! I know I'm a perfectionist & I procrastinate myself into trouble, but I never considered myself OCD. Great! Need I add this to my long list??? emoticon
    1737 days ago
  • KERRYG155
    I am and always have been a nonperfectionist procrastinator! Or as I call myself, just darn lazy!
    1771 days ago
    1771 days ago
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