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Perfectionism & Procrastination:
The Twin Enemies that stop us writing Thank You Notes.

"Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it."
Dr. William Arthur Ward (1921-1994), American author, educator & motivational speaker
Why, despite our best intentions, do we put off writing thank you notes, and in many cases never write them at all? The answer, I think, lies with two tricky little human characteristics that we unfortunately all possess to some extent: procrastination and perfectionism.
You probably don't need me to tell you that writing thank you notes, cards and letters is one of the easiest things in the world to put off. Indeed, it's a rare person who doesn't have several (at least!) thank you notes that he or she feels guilty about never having written.

Well, it's true that gratitude can be one of the most difficult emotions to convey: so often a simple 'thank you' just doesn't seem enough. But I believe there's a lot more to it than that. I think many, if not most, of us suffer from two tricky little self-sabotaging characteristics that do all they can to foil our attempts to write thank you notes.

Ladies and gentlemen... let me introduce those two villains – the archenemies of the timely thank you note: procrastination and perfectionism!

Now, I'm no psychologist or real expert in these areas, but I've suffered from both over the years, and I know that they have the power to hurt. They hurt you, and they hurt the person who has given you a gift, shown you kindness and support, or helped you in some way... but who never gets to know how much they are appreciated because you never get around to letting them know!

So let's look at our two villains in turn.


Definition: needlessly delaying or deferring an action to a later time

Procrastination must surely be one of the least helpful and most self-limiting of our human characteristics. So many of us seem to have a natural tendency to put off doing things that would be better done today. Even – or especially – simple little tasks like writing a brief note of thanks.

We tell ourselves that we'll do it "later", or "when we're in the mood". A thank you note seems such a little thing, but putting off writing it has two BIG consequences:

1. It gets harder and harder to write – a late thank you note tends to require some sort of excuse or apology, plus the more guilty we feel, the more we tend to lose sight of our gratitude.

2. The effect on the recipient changes and loses impact – so instead of the recipient thinking, 'Oh, how lovely of them to write!', they start to think 'At last – I wondered if I'd ever hear from them'.

How many of us have fully intended to write our Christmas thank you notes by the end of the year, then made a resolution to write them in January, only to start to push the increasingly unpleasant and guilty-laden idea out of our minds in February... and finally drop it completely ("well, it's far too late now") by Easter. Having failed – our good intentions come to nothing – we quickly push the whole sorry affair out of our minds, perhaps just thinking we'll "do better next time".

But this sad little progression means that someone will never know whether you liked their gift, or possibly even whether it was safely received. In time you will forget that you neglected to express your gratitude, however the giver is unlikely to forget that you never took the time to say thank you. In fact, one of the most common themes I come across here at ThankYouDiva.com is the distress caused to well meaning and caring family and friends by those who fail to take a moment to say thank you – in whatever way – for gifts and presents.

So what to do? How to beat procrastination? Well, if you have thank you notes 'hanging over you' (what an awful outcome from a gift that was someone's wish for your pleasure and happiness...), remember that it's really never too late to send a thank you note. Use the 'do it now' principle: simply grab a pen and paper and write that note – go on, I dare you – right now!

After all, how many minutes are you spending thinking about it? The fact that you are here on this website, reading this page, means that it is weighing on your mind. Writing a thank you note will only take 10 minutes at most. It doesn't have to be perfect, it doesn't have to be long or elaborate, it just has to be done and sent!

If you don't have a note card to hand, don't let that stop you: use a sheet of printer paper, even a page torn out of a jotter, or best of all – because then you don't need an envelope – a colorful postcard.

And if you really, really can't write the note now (who are you kidding?), then type an e-mail, send a text message, or pick up the phone. Forget 'proper etiquette' and how things 'should be done' – just express your gratitude!

The good news is that the pay-off for finally writing that thank you note will be a lovely feeling of relief. Isn't that a fantastic reward?

Of course, we then promise ourselves that we'll never leave it that late again. Sadly these promises usually serve just to make us feel even more guilty next time we neglect to do the thing. Instead really savor the feeling of relief when you've done it. In fact, try to get a little bit addicted to the feeling of satisfaction that you feel when you have completed the task, then maybe you won't wallow in painful procrastination so long next time.


Definition: refusal to accept anything short of the very best

Do you think of perfectionism as a positive thing? After all, many of us were brought up not only to always 'do our best', but to aim for 'perfect'...

Well, here's another spin on it: Perfect is the enemy of good!

So often the idea that something has to be 'perfect' to be worthwhile becomes a real stumbling block to getting started, or to getting anything done at all. 'Perfect' puts the idea in your mind that you can't 'do it right' until you have gone out and spent a small fortune on the exact right note card, have found the best kind of pen, or have come up with the ideal words to express your gratitude and appreciation.

For many people the challenge of writing a thank you note revolves around getting the wording 'just right'. Sure, the wording is important (although perhaps not as important as you think), but the real key to sending great thank you notes is timing – you need to get them sent promptly.

The result of aiming for perfection, in all too many cases, is that you never put pen to paper at all, because there is never the 'perfect' convergence of all these things.

A friend of mine likes to gently provoke people by turning a standard axiom on its head and insisting that, 'If a thing is worth doing, it's worth doing badly'.

It sounds perverse, doesn't it? But if you really think about it, there's more than a grain of truth there. (Of course, for the provocation to work nicely he's leaving out the most important bit at the end: 'rather than not doing it at all'.)

After all, it's infinitely better to send an imperfect note, than no note at all!

More tips:

Here are some more tips that may help you to overcome tendencies towards perfectionism and get your thank you note written:

  • There's no such thing as 'perfect' – it's an impossible ideal that you will never achieve. Make friends with 'good enough' instead and you'll be so much happier!
  • When you've written your note, read it through right away to check spellings etc., then pop it straight in an envelope and go post it. Putting the note on one side to look at again 'later' gives you the change to decide that you need just one more go at perfecting the wording...
  • It's truly the thought – in this case your gratitude – that counts, and the form that your gratitude takes is really not a big deal. Similarly, the wording of your note is not so very important. Simply follow my 4-step process for writing thank you notes and voilΰ – you have your thank you note!
  • Things we should have done, but haven't, cause us stress. Although many of us are very good at pushing things we don't want to think about to the very back of our minds, we waste mental energy suppressing them and keeping them there. Just think of the relief we feel when we finally complete things we've delayed.
  • Stressing about thank you notes is a classic case of making a mountain out of a molehill. A thank you note is a little thing that is easily dealt with. Write it and move on with your life!

And finally...

If you still haven't managed to summon the motivation to write that thank you note, keep in mind that simply communicating your gratitude is the single most important thing.
  • If this means thanking someone by phone or e-mail (even in a more formal situation), then so be it.
  • If this means that your note is written on lined memo paper, then so be it.
  • If you haven't quite found the 'perfect words', then so be it.
  • If your note is written on the same floral note card that you used last time because you haven't got around to shopping for the perfect card, then so be it.

Just WRITE and SEND that note – you'll feel so much better knowing that you've expressed your gratitude!