Procrastination, a beautiful word for an interesting behavioural trait in us humans.
The word procrastination (even trying to spell it on the computer is an art…) is a derivative of two Latin words: “pro”, which means “forward”, and “crastinus”, an adjective which translates to “what will be tomorrow”, “of tomorrow”. Procrastination therefore literally means “move forward to tomorrow”, or “to adjourn”.
In coaching we use the term more technically, to describe the behaviour we ALL display every now and then (or often!): putting things off until “another day”, so that we don’t have to do it today. I jokingly call it the “Mañana-syndrome”, referring to popular jokes about the Spanish speaking population, who, when you ask them to do something for you reply: “Mañana, señor!” (i.e. tomorrow, sir!).
Many amongst us proclaim: “I don’t do that! I never procrastinate!”. No? Well, when you recognise one of the below statements in yourself (or others), you belong to the human race! We ALL procrastinate, some more, some less, some often, some less often:
o your house is a mess, and you know you have to clean it, but you’d rather go and have coffee with a friend, or decide to suddenly phone a relative, and after two hours realize it’s now time to get the kids from school, and you cannot clean the house anymore!
o you are at work and things need to be done, but you go from one person or office to the other, chatting and drinking something, socializing and sending e-mails and sms-es until the cows come home, without finishing your job;
o You’ve been waiting MONTHS (or even YEARS) to write something in a journal, or to write a book, but something else always seems to have priority, or seems to stop you from starting;
o You would like to start a business or another (ad)venture for yourself, but feel that you -every time- need to do or know just that little bit more, or read just that one extra book, or take just that one extra course to be really ready for it;
o Times or tasks get rough, and you decide to talk a walk; literally. You walk away from the task at hand, distracting yourself, or even more drastic, you go and travel around the world for a while, or relocate to another town, only to find that the same problems pop up there;
o You are aware of things that need doing, but there always is somebody or something that needs your help right now, so you “need” to address that situation first, before getting around to your own stuff;
o You fill your days cleaning up, filing stuff, organizing, getting everything in order, only to find there is no more time left to tackle the important tasks;
o You are ready to ring for that new job, to get that new client, to tell your boss you really need that raise, to call your loved one to express your emotions fully, to go and visit a friend you haven’t seen over 10 years, to start eating healthily, but then………ah, well, not today. Tomorrow I’ll definitely do it! Really;
o You just do not want to know. You go into “zombie-mode”, not taking any responsibility at all, forgetting about appointments and agreements, and living in a daze. You are not sure what’s going on, but don’t really think about it either.
Sounds familiar to one degree or another? I dare to bet with everyone who reads this that you have or have had times where one of the behaviours above showed up. Nobody is totally free of procrastination.
Can you see how sly procrastination really is? You cannot say that procrastination is something that you can point at; it is not tangible. It usually shows up in “cloaked” ways, behaviours that might seem very sensible or even praiseworthy (eg. helping others), but are meant to yield one result only: NOT having to do or work on the project you need to, but do not want to.
Just be honest with yourself for a couple of minutes, and search your mind for things that you feel need to be done or finished, but still aren’t (for various reasons). It can be anything from not finishing the renovation of the master bedroom to signing up for that long-desired gym membership. And be strict: “no time” is NOT a good reason to leave something undone. In that case you should have taken less on your plate.
The feeling side
So how do you feel when you procrastinate? Does it make you feel great or grouchy? Good or bad? Does it leave you smiling at yourself, or can you feel a little guilt bubbling up inside?
In reality, procrastination does not have any emotional charge of itself. It just “is”. You were meant to do something, and you don’t. Big deal. Nothing to it. What makes it this emotionally charged monster is because we live by values, beliefs and rules about what is good and bad, right and wrong. Usually, not finishing things that we were supposed to do falls under the category “not good”. We stick an emotional label on that behaviour, saying that we should not behave like this. It is THAT thought that leaves us with the bad taste, not the procrastination itself.
The label being put on the act of procrastination is the one that initiates a cascade of other negative thoughts and events in our lives, that usually leads us to procrastinate even more. Here are a couple of examples:
o the fact that we procrastinate makes us fearful en doubtful. We start to fret about not getting things done, which makes us feel even worse, and paralyses us;
o Our own feelings of self-worth diminish. As we feel we cannot get things done and feel bad about it, we subconsciously start to filter for more of that behaviour, and will definitely find it. That brings our self-worth down even further, and creates a poor self-image. That, in turn, reduces our expectation of success, and we then want to procrastinate more, etc. etc.;
o We will create a poor reputation with others, who will then not throw exciting opportunities to us any longer, because we do not follow up;
o We will start to think that we are “good for nothing”, so why should we bother in the first place to get things done.
Why do we do it?
The one and only reason that we procrastinate is FEAR, False Expectations Appearing Real. Whether is it fear of success, fear of failure, fear of not being good enough, fear of being rejected, fear of change, fear of making mistakes, fear of having to live up to expectations, fear of the unknown, it is the fear in us that makes us choose the comfortable over the uncomfortable, the sitting still instead of the moving forward. And that is okay. There is nothing wrong with being afraid. The only question you will have to ask yourself when you are procrastinating -the golden rule that guides my life- is:
Does this behaviour honour me, and is it effective?
If you answer “no” to any of the two parts, it might be time to come clean, and reassess your actions -or lack of them- up to that point. It is time for change!
What can be done?
There are a number of solutions for the stale-mate position of procrastination, yet they all start with the open and honest realisation that you ARE not doing what you feel you should, and you DO NOT like that feeling. You cannot hope to solve problems that you do not recognise or acknowledge.
From then on it is not that hard, really.
1) One of the things to do is to consciously change the interpretation you have given to the non-action. Instead of beating yourself up, feeling guilty, feeling useless, or feeling powerless, you could look at it this way:
o it may not be the right time to act yet; a wall that’s destined to fall over will not do so before its time; pushing against it will not help. Feeling guilty about the fact you cannot make it fall neither;
o you are preparing yourself for the “big move” forwards;
o you ultimately WILL take action;
o the previous non-action was just a mistake;
o procrastination in one area does not mean your whole life is motionless;
o by procrastinating up till now you are able to clearly see what you do NOT want, so now you have got more options to decide what you DO want;
o Procrastination is not a bad thing; it’s just the label you put on it that makes it so.
If you are able to look at your idling this way, you will find not only that you will feel better, but also that you will attract opportunities in your life that allow you to take action at the appropriate time to do so. The governing law in our universe is the Law of Attraction, loosely paraphrased as “what you focus on is what you will experience”. If you focus continually on what has not been done, you will find plenty more things that have not been done. That’s how simple our mind works. If, on the other hand, you focus on the temporality of the lull, it allows you to prepare yourself for the more important things that are to come. And as your focus changes, what you draw into your reality changes; for the better, I might add!
There is NO WAY that you will not (ever) procrastinate. It is just a fact of life. What does matter is, how you react (or rather: respond) to it. Do you let it bring you down, or will you use it as leverage to jump even further?
2) Another solution is more “coach” oriented. It revolves around “taking action!”. Coaches love it when clients take action. Propel yourself forward, be scared and do it anyway; that sort of attitude. Here are a couple of ways to take that necessary action that will overcome procrastination:
o GOALS: Get clarity on where you want to go by setting goals for yourself. You might be surprised how many people have no clue where they want to go with their lives. No wonder they do not take any action; why would you if you do not know what for?
o CLARITY: When you have a clear outcome, everything becomes a lot easier. Goals are best formulated in short sentences where you claim a state of being, either by saying “I have” or “I am”, and then finishing it in present tense. Make sure there is a “final step”, something you know is the evidence of your goal achieved. For instance, if you want to earn a certain amount of money, you might formulate the goal this way: “it is 10 July, and I am sitting in the kitchen reading the bank account statement. It shows that I have $……. in my account”.
o HELP: yes, you have to take personal responsibility for everything that goes on in your life, but hey, asking help is a great way to move yourself along. Get a coach, hire a personal assistant, ask a friend to challenge you, pay some money and get somebody to do the stuff you do not want to.
o CLEAN: make sure you remove all unwanted objects and tasks from your mind’s eye. Get rid of “old stuff”, whether physical or mental. Old hobbies, old relationships, old habits. Dump as many as you reasonably can, and create a new, clean space to think and work from. Your actions will come more easily that way.
o PLAN: when you have more structure, you will have more clarity, and chances are that the whole mess of “stuff” you were looking at before is not so bad anymore! Diarise things, get a planner, be strict but flexible with how you divide your time. Make a list of “to do” things, and put a time limit on them. Do important things first, and then the less important ones.
o TIME OUT: take regular time outs. You need them. Don’t take that many that they become part of your procrastination strategy (we humans are very intelligent beings……), but definitely take frequent “helicopter snapshots” of where you are by stepping away from it all. The more you are in the swamp of all that you have to do, the less incentive there is to actually do it. When you refresh yourself and look at it all from the outside edge of the swamp, the less daunting it looks.
There are lots of ways to overcome the inertia, and to get you moving into the desired directions. Procrastination is the art of perceiving life as being stuck, not moving, inert. That’s a conscious choice, given the fact that everything in life moves (energy flows) all the time. If that is the case you can also make the conscious choice not to see life that way anymore, and become more aligned with the “universal laws”. You’ll find that, when you do, life becomes a whole lot easier, and much more fun!