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The Vicious Cycle of the 3 P’s: Paralysis


The thought of it makes us shudder. 

Defined by Webster as “a state of powerlessness or incapacity to act,” it’s no wonder!

It’s human nature to want to move forward.

In fact, you may not be satisfied until you feel like you’re THE best at what you do. (Perfectionism? YES! I talked more about perfectionism in my first blog post of this series. If you missed it, check it out here: “Do you aim for perfekshon?“)

As I have explained, perfectionism often leads to procrastination.  You want to KEEP improving your product, so you do it, and redo it. Eventually, this process wears you out and the thought of it causes you to feel slightly queasy. You think, “I’ll do it tomorrow.  I really can’t let anyone see it in this state.  Besides, another day isn’t going to make a difference.”

When you drag yourself reluctantly back to work (three weeks later), you realize that you haven’t checked your email in 10 minutes, there’s a colleague that you should call, and there are weeds growing in your front walkway. These problems are certainly quite urgent, and you’d better get to them immediately.

So another week goes by.

Here’s the worst part about this vicious cycle: it leads to the final stage of personal Hell: paralysis.

“Tomorrow” becomes “next week”, which becomes “maybe in a month or two”, and ends up being “never.”

And your self-esteem suffers.

When you finally admit to yourself that you’ve let this important project go, it’s humiliating, anxiety-producing, and depressing. The desire to achieve your goal has not changed at all, but your ability to accomplish it has.

The Vicious Cycle of the 3 P’s is complete when you decide, “Now that I realize I’m a BLEEP-ing idiot, I have to prove it’s not true, to myself and to the world. Therefore, this will be the most perfect version of my project ever.”

“People will be overwhelmed at the glory of what I produce.  I may win a prize for it!” you think.  So perfect that I don’t want to take the first step…

This state of “project paralysis” can then become permanent.

So what do you do?

The solution is fairly simple, and ironic: by persevering in working TOWARD your goal for short periods of time (as short as 15 minutes), EVERY day, you can avoid this paralysis altogether.

Project paralysis is caused by anxiety, even if you are not aware of it.   To move past the anxiety that is holding you back, I have a few suggestions for you:

  • Don’t expect too much of yourself at first. If you allow yourself to accept your initial work as a “first draft” (not THE end result), you give yourself some breathing room and lessen the chances of feeling disappointed in yourself.
  • Realize that you are probably very anxious. It’s OK! Do what you can to calm yourself. Take deep breaths, reassure yourself of the process, and know that this is NOT abnormal. You are not alone.
  • Prepare ahead of time for your work sessions. Make sure you have everything you need, in one convenient place. Minimize distractions. Make a small list of specific things you will need to do to get started, the day before.
  • If you haven’t worked on your goal for some time, you must begin slowly.  Create a schedule, and write it into your calendar.  (Make sure it is realistic and doable.  Start with very short work sessions- just 5 minutes a day is perfectly acceptable.)
  • Try to work first thing in the day, if you can.  That way, your anxiety doesn’t continue to build as your project looms over your head.
  • Watch out for negative thoughts.  Write them down and take actions to counteract them. (For more on this, make sure you read last week’s blog post, here: procrastinate?)

I have worked with clients who had been stuck in paralysis for months, or even years. And although I did help them to get out of it, I’m always struck by what a shame it is that they were stuck for so long. This IS preventable.

And if you can conquer this cycle, your business AND your personal life will improve significantly.

If you have reached the Paralysis stage, Do Not Give Up – just follow the small steps I’ve mentioned to get back on track.

Have you every dropped a project or effort, and you never really figured out why?

Have you suffered the final fatal flaw that perfectionism and procrastination creates?  Face it, everyone has (don’t talk to me about dieting, exercise, and that book that I wrote 180 pages of and then dropped – that is what makes me feel like a [BLEEP]ing idiot).

Let’s share the pain and the solutions here.

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