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Understanding procrastination

Updated: Jun 4

Procrastination is the act of avoiding tasks that you believe you should be tackling. This avoidance behaviour typically stems from two primary reasons: fear and existential clash.

Reason #1: Fear

Fear is a fundamental emotion that often operates beneath our conscious awareness. In many cases, it is the driving force behind procrastination.

When you find yourself procrastinating, it's often because you fear your own incompetence in carrying out the task. This fear manifests in two distinct ways:

  • Fear of Losing Control: You worry that by starting the task, you might lose control over your time, which you perceive as precious.

  • Fear of Being Shamed: You're afraid that initiating the task will expose your shortcomings to others, leading to feelings of shame.

To confront this fear, try an experiment. In a slow, deliberate voice, express your underlying fear. Don't hold back. And do not intellectualise your reasons. Just talk from raw emotion. Sharing these fears openly with those who have a vested interest in your task can be even more powerful.

Why? Because this approach taps into the Paradoxical Theory of Change, which suggests that true change occurs when you accept and embrace your current self.

According to this theory, you can't pursue change as if it's a goal. It's like bending over to pick up a street can but your foot ends up kicking the can further down the road. This process continues in an infinite loop, despite your best efforts.

Change occurs when one becomes what he is, not when he tries to become what he is not. Arnold Beisser, 2004

Instead, accept exactly who you are - and how you are - right now. Then, you are likely to see change happening (i.e. the beginning of action), as a result of your self-awareness.

Reason #2: Existential Clash

People often commit to tasks they believe in but still procrastinate when it comes to execution. This procrastination can be attributed to an existential clash.

In the story of your life, you may have allowed yourself to be miscast in a role that doesn't align with your true self. This happens because of deeply ingrained beliefs such as:

  • "This is the right thing to do."

  • "I should pursue this career."

  • "I must support my boss without question."

Well, if you believe this action is the best thing to do, why aren't you doing it?

To counter this one, you need to reflect and tune into yourself. Try this experiment; close your eyes, remain silent for 60-90 seconds, and listen to your body. You may hear a whisper of existential truth: "This is not the role you were meant to play. This is not who you want to be."

Remember, in the long run, your core values and existential needs will always supersede your beliefs. Suppressing this hierarchy can lead to distress because you cannot escape your true self.

For insight into identifying your existential needs and creating action, meaning, and resilience in your life, I highly recommend reading 'Man's Search for Meaning' by Viktor Frankl. Frankl founded a school of thought called logotherapy, proposing that a search for meaning is the ultimate purpose in a person’s life. Through meaning we have direction, purpose and a driving force with which to push through hardship adversity and the struggles of day to day life.

Next Steps

Keep in mind that procrastination is a complex behavioural pattern influenced by various factors, including environmental and socio-cultural elements beyond your control. If you're looking to gain a better understanding of your procrastination patterns and contributing factors, consider seeking the guidance of a coach or psychotherapist.

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