Procrastination – a case of laziness or something deeper? - On the little monster inside
In my first article on procrastination I focused on a phenomenon of pursuing “fake goals”, i.e. the ones aren’t authentic to us. So if we find ourselves habitually postponing something, this can often mean that we don’t want to do it at all. In short - we’re after a fake goal, the one we think we want for ourselves but in fact it’s the goal we rationalized ourselves into thinking we need or want, often based on external influences. And it would be all fine and dandy but our mind has a beautiful protection mechanism that reaches directly into our subconscious and gives us directional hints. These often come in the form of self-sabotage and/or procrastination.
Ironically enough another major reason we procrastinate is hidden right on the opposite side of this argument. Sometimes it’s BECAUSE we want something so bad that we become so afraid of failing at it - we won’t start at all. Makes perfect sense, right? Well, our mind isn’t designed to make decisions based on pure logic, it’s an emotional creature whose main goal is to keep us alive. And if it has decided that failing would equate to strong pain then it’s safer not to start at all.
So let’s go down to the root of that fear. Let’s imagine working in a dead end job. Or worse - in a job that’s comfortable you don’t hate and it’s paying your bills quite well where you can enjoy all the perks of having a reasonable lifestyle. Nothing out of this world but good enough quality of life when you begin to be afraid of losing it and at the same time the perks of getting more with a career change don’t outweigh the risks of a loss. (Another quick side note on our brain wiring – we are very loss averse and prefer to keep the status quo if it’s safer than to take risks to gain more. Which again comes down to an evolutionary perspective of it helping to keep us alive.
And it’s all going well but in your mind you have this nagging idea of where you’d like your career to be in say, two years – could be something entirely different to what you’re doing right now or it could be getting ahead in your existing role. And in order to get there you need to do a number of steps over a period of time. And you know it. And in many cases you know exactly what it is you need to do too. And yet you put it off - for a month, two, then half a year, etc. And you tell yourself – I’ll start, I have a plan, just not today. And then a year goes by. And you haven’t done a single step in the direction towards your goal. Yep, been there, done that. For me, for a long time almost every big meaningful project in life started with some serious procrastination.
So what happens between getting that great idea in our minds and the desired result? Of course there is a number of factors involved but one of the big ones is inevitably – the fear of failure. And the little monster inside is the infamous gremlin perfectionist poking us with a stick saying “it’s not the right time”, “I’m not ready”, “I don’t have the resources” and a few of my personal favorites - “What if I fail?", “What will people say?”, “I will look stupid”. And finally there is a possibility that by starting and failing we’ll have to face the consequence of letting go of that idea and finding a new direction, or finding out that this new job/partner/house/insert as appropriate are not what we wanted - and this will ultimately lead to a question mark – What is it that I want? That means taking responsibility for our choices. And so we put things off thinking – I’ll do it when I’m ready.
The trouble with this is – we’ll never be fully ready for doing something we’ve never done before. And it’s perfectly normal to feel a certain amount of fear, in fact it’s only natural! But it’s when the gremlin perfectionist turns up its volume so loud that makes us paralyzed in starting with an even tiny step forward, like updating the Resume or picking up the phone and calling the person you wanted to for a long time. – is when it becomes a problem and we begin putting things off and procrastinating.
In my experience it becomes the case of becoming okay with not being perfect all the time, with falling flat on your face, with making wrong choices before we figure out what the right ones for us are. And also, inevitably – we’re not here forever. So better start moving and doing things we want today because as Steve Jobs put it – “Remembering that I’m going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking I have something to lose.” And it is a muscle that gets stronger with training, and ironically enough the better we get at starting and failing the weaker the inner perfectionist gets and the shorter the bouts of procrastination are.
Better done than perfect.