5 Ways to Break Free from the Perfectionism-Procrastination-Paralysis Trap

  • Do you delay starting important projects or can’t seem to finish projects?
  • Do you spend a lot of time planning but are not taking action? 
  • Are you worried about what other people think or fear making a mistake?
  • Do you struggle with making major career or life decisions?

If you find yourself continually procrastinating on projects that are important to you, perfectionism could be blocking your success.

In today’s article, I’ll share five ways to help you break the perfectionism-procrastination-paralysis cycle so you can stop endlessly spinning your wheels and start making progress toward what you want in your career and life.

Does this sound familiar?

It’s 6 am on Saturday morning. You wake up early and proudly declare, “Today is the day I work on my resume!” (You’ve been putting this off for weeks.)

You open your laptop and dive in.

The minutes vanish as you stare at the blinking cursor. 

You are stuck. You don’t know what to write or where to begin. You feel your stress and anxiety rising.

You think to yourself, “I don’t know where to start.” “This is pointless.” “I probably won’t get the job anyway.”

You feel discouraged and overwhelmed as you shut the laptop and walk away to find something else on your to-do list (cleaning out the refrigerator,  reorganizing your sock drawer, or watching Netflix).

You spend the rest of the day feeling guilty and beating yourself up because you didn’t make any progress updating your resume (yet again).

If you’ve been in a similar situation, you are not alone. You are not lazy, and there’s nothing wrong with you!

The Perfectionism-Procrastination-Paralysis cycle is a common behavioral pattern many high-achievers may struggle with.

It is uncomfortable to begin a big task or project, especially if you are unsure how to do it or if it involves a lot of uncertainty. 

We want to avoid the negative feelings that a large, ambiguous task presents so we put it off in search of more positive feelings by completing an easier task, like watching Netflix. However, this only provides temporary relief.

Perfectionists put a lot of pressure on themselves. They often have an “all or nothing” perspective so they frequently procrastinate or do not start a project because they fear they will not succeed. 

I’ve missed out on several opportunities because I was afraid to step outside of my comfort zone, worried about making a mistake, or overly concerned about what others might think. 

This is my third blog article. There were many times when I wanted to throw in the towel, thinking no one is going to read this anyway so why bother?

Using the strategies below helped me get across the finish line!


Ways to Break Free from the Perfectionism-Procrastination-Paralysis Cycle


1. Set Realistic Goals

I’m notorious for trying to accomplish too many tasks in a given day (just ask my husband). As a high-achiever, I love setting and achieving my goals. However, I tend to set the bar too high. I don’t always consider all of the other important things I already have on my plate. 

It is important to consider what might get in the way when you are setting goals. What other activities are vying for your time, energy, and attention? It’s perfectly okay to aim for a certain goal and pivot if necessary.

Try using the AIM process to help set realistic goals for you. 

AAcceptable: What is the acceptable minimum (the least you can do) to move forward?

I Ideal: What is the ideal (the most you can do) to move forward?

M Middle: What is in the middle (a reasonable stretch goal for you now) to move forward?

I had a goal of publishing one article a week. However, I quickly realized that this goal was not realistic given everything I have on my plate right now. 

I could push myself to knock out something once a week but I would also lose the enjoyment that writing brings. It would quickly become just another item to check off on my expanding to-do list. 

My goal would become a “have to” instead of a “want to”. 

A reasonable stretch goal (middle) is to publish one article a month. As I continue to develop my writing skills, I’ll increase my goal to write two articles a month until I achieve an ideal goal of publishing one article per week.

2. Break Down Goals into Smaller Steps

Break down your big goals into smaller more manageable steps. 

Every mini step of progress builds your momentum and confidence, propelling you forward until you’ve reached your goal.

I recently started using the Pomodoro technique. This simple strategy helps me focus and continue to make steady progress on my goals especially when I’m pressed for time.

Try the Pomodoro Technique

  • Choose a task you’d like to get done. 
  • Set your timer for 25-minutes.
  • Focus on a single task until the timer ends.
  • When your session ends, check off and record what you completed. 
  • Enjoy a 5-minute short break.
  • Repeat the process until you complete the task.

3. Change Your Perspective

View mistakes and failures as part of the learning and growth process. 

We are human and it’s okay to try something new, slip up, and make mistakes!

We can get so caught up in the need to “get it right”. We worry about and overthink everything! We end up doing NOTHING! 

If you do nothing you stay stuck, endlessly spinning your wheels and wondering why nothing changes. 

Getting everything right is not as important as making progress.

It takes time to learn and master a new skill. Give yourself enough space and grace to enjoy the beginning stages. 

Something magical happens when you release the pressure and the need to constantly “get it right”.

You’ll experience the freedom to unleash your creativity, be present and simply enjoy the process of whatever you are doing. 

You’ll discover hidden talents just waiting for the opportunity to burst forth. 

What would it feel like to do something purely for enjoyment without the worry of having to do it perfectly or the “right way”?

We need to leave our comfort zone to grow and create new opportunities, even if we’re worried that we will fail, look foolish, or be rejected. 

6 months ago, I didn’t know the first thing about writing blog articles and website copy. 

My writing is far from perfect and that is okay. I’m practicing and honing my craft. I’m building new habits and experimenting with my writing style. Writing strengthens and stretches a talent I didn’t even know I had.

4. Celebrate Your Progress

Recognize and celebrate the progress you are making. Even one tiny step forward gets you one step closer to your dreams! As long as you keep moving forward you are making progress! 

It’s easy to check off a task and jump right into the next task or project without taking time to acknowledge all that you’ve accomplished. 

Celebrating your accomplishments can help you keep up the momentum and it also boosts your mood and productivity.

Here are some ideas to celebrate your wins both big and small. 

  • Write down your weekly accomplishments and victories
  • Treat yourself to your favorite rejuvenating self-care treatment 
  • Buy a special gift for yourself 
  • Indulge in your favorite food, drink, or chocolatey treat 
  • Do something fun that you enjoy
  • Take a personal day
  • Go for a walk, bike ride, or read a juicy novel under a shady tree
  • Connect with a friend you’ve been thinking about

5. Practice Self-Compassion

Give yourself some grace and stop beating yourself up when you make a mistake or feel like you aren’t progressing as quickly as you’d like.

Pay attention and get curious when the negative thoughts in your head start chattering: you’re not good enough, you don’t have what it takes, and you’ll never be successful. 

Just because critical thoughts play on repeat in your head does not make them true

Get curious and ask yourself, how true is this thought”?

If what your inner critic is telling you drains your energy and confidence, then ask it to kindly step aside and continue pressing forward.

At the start of each day, do something to strengthen your mind, body, and spirit. Take a walk, read or listen to something encouraging and uplifting, write, or just sit and enjoy the silence before jumping into your busy day.

Are you allowing perfectionism to steal your dreams of a fulfilling second-act career? 

If you are waiting for the “right” time, it doesn’t exist. The right time is when you start taking steps toward what you want in your work and life.  

Take the first step, CLICK HERE for your free guide: 5 Strategies to a Rewarding Second Act Career. 

Gena Anderson, CPC, SPHR, ELI-MP, is a Certified Career and Leadership Coach helping high-achieving women successfully pivot to a second-act career that brings them passion, purpose, and profit.



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