The Catch-22 of Perfectionism and Procrastination
How mindfulness and awareness of shame's critical voice can help.
Posted Jul 15, 2020
Perhaps you hear the word "mindfulness" and immediately think it's some weird, new age-y thing. It's not. It's been around forever.
Mindfulness is more than awareness or being conscious of something. If you're mindful, it can deepen your experience of the present. In The Mindful Way through Depression: Freeing Yourself from Chronic Unhappiness, the authors describe the relationship between consciousness (awareness) and mindfulness:
“…mindfulness is much more than paying attention more thoroughly. It is paying attention differently–changing how we pay attention… Being mindful means intentionally turning off the autopilot mode in which we operate so much of the time–tuning in to things as they are in the present with full awareness”
Try this: You're sitting or standing somewhere reading this. Notice for a moment how your body feels. If you're sitting, notice the weight of your body in the chair. Notice what you can hear. Notice if there's a breeze or if the air is still around you. Notice if you can taste anything. Allow thoughts or emotions to come and go as you note their presence.
That's being mindful in perhaps its simplest form: You, living much more in the moment and in the present.
Mindfulness accentuates the importance and energy of the now. But the practice of mindfulness has another, vital function. If you simply notice a painful emotion or a thought in the present, but you don’t fuel it in any way (like hating it or wanting it to go away), that very acceptance can disempower it. After all, It’s what we think about or believe about something that causes us to make a judgment about it – not the thing itself.
My own journey with learning mindfulness
Let me offer myself as an example. I’ve been very open about having anxiety—to be specific, panic disorder. I’m a student of mindfulness with much left to learn. But I’ve been trying to notice my anxiety when it happens–to stay in the present and to allow my anxiety to be, rather than forming a judgment about it or fueling it with fear.
My particular brand of panic causes my legs to shake. The other day I decided to pop my head into a new shop, which when I walked in was hot, stuffy and crowded. I immediately could feel my legs getting that "wanna run out of here" feeling. Instead of fueling the panic with the thought, “I bet this is going to lead into a big panic attack—I'll be horribly embarrassed and I'll never come in this shop again,” I simply noticed my legs. “Hmm…It feels like my legs are starting to shake.” I didn’t heap fear or shame on it. I kept my focus on talking with others, looking around the new boutique...and it faded away.
The more you practice staying in the moment, the easier it becomes, and the more habitual. It can become a new pattern, a new behavior, and a ready option for you.
With perfectionism often comes procrastination. Why? You're constantly evaluating yourself, and not living up to who you believe you could be. Your middle name is shame. Procrastination can simply be thought of as insecure perfectionism on steroids.
For example, perhaps you've had it in your mind to do something but you put it off because you can't fit it into your already overly-crowded schedule. So you push it completely (or almost completely) out of your consciousness—except you know you haven't done it -- and rather than admit, "Sorry, I can't pull that off today," or, "Hey, I'll get to that next week, but this week's just impossible," you further shame yourself for the avoidance
It's a Catch-22: Do it, but not perfectly, and there's shame. Don't do it—put it off—and there's shame.
Try being mindful of shame
Shame is a feeling. So think of feelings as waves in an ocean. Each feeling, each wave has a life of its own. It begins far out, deep in the sea itself. Then gradually as it rolls to shore you can see its shape, its strength, its power. But when its time is done, when it disappears into froth on the beach, it's replaced by the next wave. And all you can feel is the undertow, reflecting that the wave still exists but has gone under the surface once again. And this process goes on and on and on. Mindfulness is being aware of each moment of that wave’s–that emotion’s—apparent life, riding it until it inevitably comes to an end.
So what does being mindful of shame mean? What would that process look like or feel like?
The voice of perfectionism and perfectly hidden depression has told you that if you noticed emotional pain, it might never go away. But if you're mindful of shame, you can discover that you have the capability of noting it, connecting with it, feeling it, and then moving into the next present moment. "Oh, there's shame. Hmm..." If you don't hate the shame or avoid the shame or wallow in the shame, but simply notice its presence, you can learn that you can cope with it, and then let it go.
An emotion or thought only has power if you give it power—even if it's shame.
If you wonder whether or not you experience perfectly hidden depression, here's a questionnaire.