I’ve been thinking about procrastination for a couple of years now (a little bit ironic that it’s taken me this long to write about it I know).
I’ve come across the theory that procrastination is sometimes intuition about right timing. That if you keep putting something off, maybe it isn’t meant to be done yet (or at all). That makes a lot of sense to me, except when I’m putting off calling a plumber because my hot water system isn’t working.
And then there’s the idea that some people work best with a tight time line, as an explanation for procrastination; that the beneficial stress of completing a task just before the deadline suits some people. That’s true too, but it doesn’t explain why those same people procrastinate when there’s no deadline.
So, not for the first time, I became my own guinea pig.
A couple of years ago I was procrastinating about calling a plumber. In fact I had trouble calling tradespeople of all kinds (I was renovating a house at the time and so it happened often enough that I noticed a pattern).
I also procrastinated about language study. I would put it off until later in the day, which of course turned into the next day, then the next, until an hour before my weekly online lesson I would be furiously trying to finish my homework tasks. This cost me a lot in psychological energy (spending the whole day thinking I should be doing my homework) and in self-esteem (I always felt crappy being so last minute with my homework).
So I spent a bit of time exploring what was going on and trying to connect the dots, because I’m not a chronic procrastinator, it was just a few areas of my life and I was curious to see if they had anything in common that would help me resolve it, and maybe suggest a theory of why procrastination.
My big discovery was that for me, procrastination was all about power. I felt disempowered calling tradespeople. They all have more work than they need, so I needed them more than they needed me; I’m not qualified to assess the standard of their work and have to rely on their integrity to do a good job and worry that if I’m anything but super-nice they might take their revenge by doing shoddy work; and, if the job wasn’t something I could do myself, I was totally reliant on their help.
And it was a similar issue with language study. Anyone who’s learnt a second language will probably relate; you spend a long time being not very good. Like, a really long time. I was so focused on what I hadn’t learnt yet, didn’t understand, couldn’t remember, couldn’t say etc, that I always felt disempowered by what I didn’t know yet. Until you are fully bi-lingual (which most people never achieve unless they live in-country for many years) you always have a lot more to learn.
So this was my first theory; that procrastination was about avoiding situations where I didn’t feel very powerful.
I fixed the language study issue by creating a mandatory morning routine that included my Polish homework. It got done before I started work for the day so I didn’t spend the whole day thinking about it, I always exceeded my homework tasks, and I felt great about myself. Which turned my original theory on its head.
Procrastination isn’t about protecting us from feeling powerless, it’s a strategy to stop us feeling powerful.
I recently went through a period of several months where my fabulous morning habits were out the window. There was a lot of procrastination going on, over-working in some areas, and some very average self-care boundaries (not enough sleep, not exercising etc). I was slowly getting them back, but when I explored the why, I found the part in me that didn’t want to go to bed on time, didn’t want to exercise, etc, was a child-like inner character. All of sudden it dawned on me (not for the first time if I’m honest, some lessons take repeated learning), procrastination was all about power. I wasn’t taking good care of myself as a way to sabotage my own success, my own access to personal power (if you need more of this, check out my Power Up workshops).
Procrastination was a strategy of my own inner critics, my own self-doubt, to keep me in a dis-empowered state. All the things I procrastinate about (going to bed on time, eating well, doing my Polish study, exercising, meditating), they all make me feel fricken’ awesome!
Until writing this post I didn’t think I experienced chronic or pervasive procrastination. If anything I work too much, do too much etc. But then I got to thinking, what if my everyday life is just one big strategy to stop me feeling more powerful, to stop me doing something fabulous and risky, something audacious and innovative? That’s one big what if…
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