Procrastination is Power!?
I’m gazing out my window as I write my blog today. Happily the sky is blue and the sun is shining. Unfortunately, I cannot see the coast of Normandy as it remains under a haze of autumn mist and it’s been that way for about a week. I miss being able to gaze out to France because I find it very helpful as I gather my thoughts when I’m about to write. Perhaps clarity of weather helps with clarity of mind? And this month’s blog requires clarity because I’ve picked a subject fraught with subtlety. The subject is procrastination.
A few days ago one of my former workshop participants emailed me with a question: “Why do people procrastinate?” Now that’s a loaded question.
As a NLP practitioner, I believe that every action we take, whether we perceive it as good or bad, has a secondary gain.
Let’s look at an example. Say there is a project that needs doing at your company and one of the higher-ups asks for volunteers. You might volunteer to take it on to demonstrate your commitment and ambition, knowing that completing the project in a timely manner could result in an increase in your bonus or even a promotion. So far so good, but what about if you’re inner procrastinator takes over?
First of all, it’s important to remember that our mind is made up of the conscious, subconscious and unconscious mind. And like the tip of an iceberg, the conscious mind is what shows up above the ocean and only makes up 10% of the mind in totality. You conscious mind is awareness at the present moment. It is responsible for your actions. You are aware you are procrastinating, but why?
The subconscious and unconscious determines you reactions. They live below the water line and are your crew who guide the ship based on their training. The training they receive from your conscious mind.
The subconscious is where recent memories live and where telephone numbers and email addresses are stored. It communicates with feelings, emotions, sensations and dreams. The unconscious mind is primitive with instinctual wishes. It’s where your beliefs, patterns and maps of reality live. It’s at the deepest part of the ocean and inaccessible by the conscious mind.
Both the sub and unconscious mind’s role is to receive data and keep you safe to ensure your survival.
If you have taken on a project and it’s outside your comfort zone, your conscious mind may be full of negative self-talk and limiting beliefs. Potentially you may be saying something to yourself such as “I don’t know why I volunteered for this project. It’s way outside my scope of knowledge. I can’t do it. What was I thinking? I am going to look like such a fool!”
What we focus on shows up. If you continually experience a barrage of negativity consciously then your subconscious mind will dutifully provide you with those feelings of inadequacy and anxiety. If you haven’t taken time to effectively train your brain to minimize your negative thinking then your subconscious mind is going to make you feel UNCOMFORTABLE about this project.
Secondly, the subconscious mind is a bit lazy and will take the path of least resistance. That’s important to know because by not doing something new, you are not stretching your brain muscle and continuing to do things as you ‘normally’ would. Essentially you are acting out of habit. The subconscious mind likes habits because these patterns have already been engrained in our mind and therefore are easy to do.
The logic of the sub and unconscious mind is ‘it worked in the past and you survived it’. So it will help you get through another similar situation no matter how misguided, painful and unhelpful the results may be to you personally. It knows that if you procrastinate, you stay safe.
So the secondary gain of not taking on the project in the first place or procrastinating and delaying doing it is that you stay within your comfort zone. There is no way to be made a fool because you won’t produce anything that would demonstrate this. You’re in easy peesy lemon squeezy land.
Yet the truth is you’re limiting your potential.
Thirdly, we are simple creatures in that we do something or don’t do something to avoid pain or attract pleasure. If you have a number of items on your list for the day, besides working on this project, that cause you to feel good because you’re proficient a them and don’t have to think so much, guess what? You will most likely do the things that feel good.
From a psychological perspective, the pleasure principle may be a key factor for procrastination by avoiding negative emotions or delaying stressful tasks.
I also believe that perfectionism is a nasty culprit that can lead to procrastination. And I should know because I’m a recovering perfectionist. Being a perfectionist means having a tendency to negatively measure our own performance and perhaps intensely avoid others’ evaluations of our abilities. Perfectionists have heightened social self-consciousness and anxiety.
I read one article from a person who stated that procrastination is power. He attributed many great things to his procrastination because when he delayed getting things done, he had much smaller window of time to complete his task. He saw this as a positive in that he did what he had to do to get the task done within a shorter time frame.
I actually think he was using another helpful pattern.
Years ago my mentor said to me, “Pam, it’s a good idea to concentrate on what you’re doing when you’re doing it.” I took that advice to heart and I do that now because it allows me to focus and save time. It seems to me that this kind of pointed thinking has resulted in a very trendy movement, called ‘Mindfulness’.
Now, let’s get back to considering our procrastinating perfectionist. Over the years, I have personally found 6 words that have greatly helped me when something has been on my to-do list for too long and can help the conscious mind focus on our potential.
‘DO IT. DIARIZE IT OR DITCH IT.’
Be realistic. Are you ever going to get around to doing this thing? You will if you can picture in your mind’s eye the benefits of doing it. Think about how you will feel when it’s completed. Perhaps you will have a feeling of pride and accomplishment. If those feelings are worth having, then do it? Imagination and focus on the positive outcomes of doing some thing and you train your sub and unconscious mind. You let them know that there is no danger to your survival. In fact, there are benefits to not procrastinating and just getting on with it.
And if you find yourself really not wanting to do this thing, it’s probably because you said yes when you didn’t want to. Perhaps you thought it was something you should do but in reality you just don’t want to. Perhaps your motivation was fear of what others would say if you said no. That is poor rationale. Do something or don’t do something because it’s right for you.
Wow, this blog is getting lengthy! A testament to how complex the topic of procrastination can be. Thank you if you’re still reading!!
What I know for sure, it comes down to how you feel. The good news is if you are a procrastinator and you do not like how you feel about yourself for doing so, there are a number of NLP tools that can help. A NLP belief is, ‘We “are” more than our behaviour’. Whatever you have done wrong (if that is your perception), learn from it and don’t let it define you. Every behaviour has usefulness, including procrastination.