Saturday, January 05, 2008

Cleaning my Desk: HSPs, Perfectionism and Procrastination

A few days ago, someone sent me the link to a YouTube video about procrastination. It was mostly rather funny, but I also realized the basic truth of much of it.

Whereas I am well aware that procrastination can be a problem for people from all walks of life, it seems to be an issue that affects HSPs more than most. This morning, I found myself speculating on why that is, and what we can do, as HSPs, to deal with "procrastination-worthy" situations more readily.

Elaine Aron writes, in "The Highly Sensitive Person," that HSPs tend to be both deeply conscientious, and often loyal "to a fault." Conscientiousness-- at least in my opinion-- can very easily slide over into "perfectionism," when you take it to extremes. Now, whereas the HSP trait is not a pathology or illness, it is also true that a great many HSPs come from somewhat abusive-- or at least "misunderstood"-- backgrounds. Such personal histories tend to also result in a person becoming rather more cautious in taking on new things. Besides, yet another HSP characteristic is a certain hesitance in taking on things that might cause changes or upheaval in our lives.

I know all of the above issues have been present in my life, and I also realize that they "play together" to leave me in situations where I tend to procrastinate. Most often, I let "little things" get in the way: The classic "I need to clean my desk before I can start working on my stuff" syndrome. And before I know it, I am also tidying up the files I need to put the stuff on my desk into. And on, and on, and on... gradually abandoning what I was really there to do.

As I said before, perhaps this affects everyone. But I recognize how my underlying motivations can be pulled directly from the HSP trait:

I want to make sure I do a good job (conscientiousness)
I want to start slowly (difficulty adapting to changes)
I want to make sure I know where everything is (worried about doing poorly, in front of others)

A wise person-- whose opinion I value-- once told me that there will never be a "right time" to do something, and if we wait for the right time, life may just pass us by while we are waiting. One of the things I have learned-- both as an HSP and as a human-- is that sometimes we just have to jump in, and accept that all we can hope for is a "90% solution," as opposed to a "perfect" solution."

In a very small way, I have seen this in the process of giving this old blog a face lift. A little voice inside me has been saying "You can't put up new posts that will attract people to come and read before you're done with all the changes, and adding all the links, and... and.... and... because people will think you don't care and just keep a messy blog not worth visiting, and... and... and." In a slightly larger way, I have seen it with the rest of my writing-- I tell myself I "can't" start writing articles till I have a "perfect" web site on which to present them. And I "can't" submit my book manuscripts until I have a glowing public reputation and readership for my articles.

Of course, the above holds little water in a practical sense, and is basically procrastination. The true answer is "There is no better time than right NOW."

TALK BACK: If you're an HSP (or not!), do you procrastinate? How has procrastination affected your life? Do you recognize that the HSP trait has had an influence?

Please leave a comment!


  1. Nice to find your site!

    I'm an HSP, and also a big procrastinator!

    I like to have ALL the data before I begin a project. I research and research a ton before anything gets started.

    I always feel better doing the "90% Rule." Actually, my I perform my best when it's 80:20! Think about a bowl of noodles: the first 80% is easy to eat; the last 20% is much harder to capture! Those last few noodles are always evading being eaten by sticking to the side of the bowl with determination... Well, not the best analogy, but you get what I mean!

    Another thing that helps me is, like you, to just jump in. I call it "jumping in the middle." Of course when I do this, I haven't done as much research as I would like. Ultimately, however, I feel less stressed when I see the end result really isn't so bad (and with A LOT less stress.)

    Finally, it helps me if I use different vocabulary for all the things I have to do. I try to say, "Oh! I get to clean my closet today," rather than "Crap! I HAVE TO do X, Y, or Z."

    Said with some enthusiasm, it really does take away some of my need to start off perfectly.

    I look forward to reading your blog!

  2. I can really identify with everything you said on your blog about yourself - and also with the person who left the above comment.

    I am nearing 60 and have struggled with these things my whole life without being able to name them or find others like me.

    I can't wait to read more.


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