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Good Enough Caregiving (Avoiding Perfectacrastination)

Some caregivers of persons living with dementia get into the “perfectacrastination” trap. They are waiting until the “perfect time” before taking action. Maybe it is time to take away the car keys. Or it is time to move mom out of her house into an assisted living apartment. Or time to get the power of attorney executed. For whatever reason, they are delaying taking action or having a difficult conversation because “the time is not right.”

Guess what? That perfect time will NEVER happen because there is NO perfect time. But I understand! All of us do this in our lives. It is safer to stay in our comfort zones than to move out! We are wired to avoid discomfort. To avoid psychological pain. That part of the brain that is telling us something is scary, and to avoid it, is only doing its job by keeping us safe.

Good-enough versus Perfectacrastination

Over 20 years ago, I was a faculty member at Virginia Commonwealth University School of Nursing. I was teaching while getting my PhD at another university. I also was the mom of 3 busy children. I learned real fast that I needed to drop the bar or I was going to lose the shreds of my sanity. I was scared shitless, truth be told. What if I failed? What if my paper sucked? What if I was a terrible mom? I decided to adopt the “good enough” approach. I learned shortcuts. Some moms baked exquisite cupcakes for their kids’ school birthday party, handcrafting little confectionary rosebuds and monogramming the darn things with special icing. F*ck that, I grabbed a couple of dozen from Walmart the night before (btw, schools no longer allow homemade goodies because of allergies!!!! I was ahead of my time!!). Paper due? I adopted the motto, “it’s not done, it’s due.” I didn’t have to explain a grade of a B to my funders. I did have to justify any requests for extensions or incompletes.

This approach helped me in my professional life! While at VCU, I had a colleague who was “writing a grant” when I first met her in 1997. By 2007, I had submitted four grants…and they were all funded. I decided to submit, identified the deadline, and then pushed full-steam ahead. My attitude was, “I’ll receive comments from reviewers and resubmit.” Surprise!! Funded on the first submission! I also developed a network of more senior faculty who reviewed my work and joined my team as co-investigators (thank you, Drs. Mary Jo Grap and Cindy Munro!!). Meanwhile, this colleague never submitted any grants the whole 10 years I was there. She had fallen into the trap of perfectacrastination. It had to be perfect before it was submitted. Which means, it never was good enough.

Perfectacrastination is a trap for caregivers of persons living with dementia. You are going to have to have some scary conversations, make some very uncomfortable decisions. It is easier to stay in the comfort zone and put off that action or conversation or court date until “the time is right.” What usually happens when you delay, delay, delay is the situation turns into a crisis involving a 3 am trip to the emergency department. Or the doorbell rings, and you greet a state trooper with seriously bad news.

How do You Stop Perfectacrastination?

First, any action or movement is good. No matter how small. One step leads to another and you can ride the momentum. The time to look for an assisted living apartment, or a paid caregiver, is before you ABSOLUTELY need either. Talk to everyone in your life about what you need, or what you are looking for. This is building up your network and tapping into other people’s recommendations. Are you concerned about your father’s driving? Start reading up on some ideas and strategies now.

The next step to break the perfectacrastination cycle is to acknowledge any and every caregiving success. So many times, we focus on what we do wrong…as spouses, as parents, as employees, as caregivers. Scientists call this the negativity bias. Our brains are programmed to pay attention to negative stuff more than positive stuff in order to survive. This may have been ok when we lived in caves, but the negativity bias will do us in as caregivers. You know the drill. You feel like you messed up and you focus on that mistake. You start to doubt your ability. You feel sad and overwhelmed. And the cycle keeps going down, down, down.

Instead, starting today and right now, start writing down everything you did right. Doesn’t matter where you write it–can be a napkin, your fridge white board, the steam in your shower (or the condensation on your water glass). But write it. “I got him to eat some breakfast.” “We sat on the patio and held hands.” “She allowed me to help her get dressed.” By recording your wins, you realize you are doing more things right–and by right, I mean right for you and your situation–than wrong. And if something goes wonky, OK. This means you can check out more of the blogs (have the search box at the top) and get some ideas. Or join the FB Lives that I’ll be hosting on the closed MDYB group (very easy to get access). Or get some 1:1 help and coaching.

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Dr. Rita Jablonski

Rita Jablonski, PhD, CRNP, FAAN, FGSA is a nurse practitioner, researcher, tenured professor, and former family caregiver. Her research and practice involve all aspects of dementia management; she is best known for non-drug strategies to address dementia-related behaviors.

4 replies

    1. Seriously. Caregivers do so many good positive things in a day, but 10 to focus on the one thing that went sideways. Thank you for your comment and for your feedback!

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