The Surprising Cure for Perfectionism and Procrastination

cure for perfectionism

Do certain projects trigger your perfectionistic streak and make you procrastinate?

If so, I’ve discovered an unexpected way to get past the blocks — so you can get the tough stuff done.

This quick story illustrates how to shift out of perfectionistic procrastination:

“How’s your resume coming along, Beth?” I asked.

Silence. Then I heard a gulp.

“I haven’t worked on it. I just don’t know what to say about myself,” whispered my smart, super-accomplished client. This is a woman who ran 10 marathons last year. Achieved the highest sales results in her Fortune 100 company. Logged 100,000 frequent flyer miles calling on companies around the globe. And managed to paint four huge canvases, all while being a fantastic wife, as well as mom two two kids under 5. A go-getter of the highest caliber.

With kindness and curiosity, I inquired of Beth “Hmm, last session, we spent an hour together. I gave you a strategic perspective for crafting your revisions. I offered a bunch of suggestions for what to write. I suggested a structure to help you be persuasive to hiring managers. So, what happened? What’s really holding you back from this writing?

I’m so worried that I’ll say things wrong. I’m scared that I won’t get any attention or traction. And then I’ll be out of work for weeks, if not months” Beth confessed.

And then Beth blurted out, “I’m embarrassed to be procrastinating so much. I’m used to being in action. I’m known as athlete who can go the distance. But right now, I’m turning away from the starting line. I wanted to see myself jumping in and running with these revisions. But I’m just not going anywhere with this.”

Treading gently, I said “Any chance you’re procrastinating because you want this resume to be perfect?”

I heard a deep sigh, followed by Beth’s easy laughter. “Susan, I’m definitely a perfectionist. Usually, that’s a good thing. But now, it’s getting in my way, isn’t it? What do I do to overcome this tendency?”

I injected, “Beth, it sounds like you’re being super-serious about getting your resume done. Super serious the way you are about most — if not all — of your goals, yes?

“Of course. I take everything seriously” was Beth’s not-too-surprising reply.

So, here’s the unexpected wisdom I shared with Beth, and with you, if perfectionism is causing procrastination.

How can you be playful about this project?” I asked.

Beth muttered, “Hmm? I don’t get it.”

I asked the question differently:

“How might this project go differently if you approached it with a playful energy?” 

After a brief pause, Beth giggled. “Oh, I need to play. I’ve been making this so serious that it’s almost like I’m doing brain surgery. Which I don’t know how to do! I need to loosen up, don’t I?”

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I followed up by inquiring, “What elements of play could you bring into writing your resume? You know, “play,” that thing that kids do? That way of being that brings laughter and a smile to your face?”

In Beth’s case, she realized she could “play” with making her resume about being a “Sales Athlete.” She could write about the “high hurdles” she faced, the “long distances” she’d run, and the “awards and accolades” she’d received. All of a sudden, positioning herself was no longer a chore. The project of writing her resume had shifted — from being pain, to being a pleasure.

Oh, and she finished the resume revisions in record time. The result? Beth landed a dream job. The hiring manager, who happened to have his own athletic ways to play,  appreciated the “sales athlete” analogy. He immediately saw Beth in a positive light, and was thrilled to hire her.

What about you? If you’re a recovering perfectionist, like me, what can you to shift into play?

How to Transform Perfectionism and Procrastination into Play

  1. Notice when you’re being perfectionistic and procrastinating.  Usually, you become serious and even stubborn.
  2. Ask yourself “How can I be more playful with this?”  After identifying the behavior, ask the question to spark new approaches.
  3. Explore ways to be playful with whatever’s got you being overly serious. Try these:
    • What playful attitude can I adopt? Think of the activities you enjoy doing. Use that energy to infuse an energy of play. For example, if you love to dance, how can this to-do become a dance? If you love to ski, how you can zip down the hill and whiz through the twists and turns to make progress?
    • How can I make this a game of speed? Maybe it’s a game to get a first draft out fast, like in 20 minutes.
    • How can I play with other people? Sometimes, loneliness and isolation hold people back. If that’s your tendency, involve other players, like colleagues friends to give you encouragement or even input on your tasks.

Make it real…

So, what’s a task that you have been procrastinating on?  How will you make the shift from perfectionism to playfulness?

Let me hear from you. Let’s make it fun: share a comment on the blog about how you’ll shift, and I promise to cheer you on!

This article appears originally on The Sensational Shift.

About the Author

Since 2001, Dr. Susan Bernstein has helped existing and emerging leaders navigate through change, uncertainty, and conflict so they thrive. Through her executive coaching, her clients gain strategic perspective and psychological insights to elevate their leadership, build stronger relationships, and make a greater impact in the world. Before launching her coaching practice, Susan held demanding leadership roles at Franklin-Covey, Intel, and Accenture. She earned an MBA at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business and a PhD in Somatic Psychology at the Santa Barbara Graduate Institute. You’ll find Susan’s thought leadership in Fast Company, The Huffington Post, Thrive Global, and Psychology Today. Connect with Susan at