Digging Deeper: Finding What Is Really Causing You to Procrastinate
by Jennie Jerome
The other day, I was reading an interview with Seth Godin in the book Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind, edited by Jocelyn K Glei. In it, Godin discusses how fear is the biggest impediment to success. Well, duh. But get this: he goes on to say that it is not the fear of failure that plays the biggest role, but the fear of success itself! What? Yep.
He essentially tells us point blank why:
- We can never seem to find the time to do _______________, even though we have an “intense desire” to do so.
- We can’t seem to maintain the motivation to achieve long-term success, even though we are immensely successful in the short term.
- We can get freelance work, or write short stories, but can’t seem to make a career of it, or finish our novel.
In a nutshell, fear leads to self-sabotage. To get past it, we need to take the emotion out of it. Let’s look at each of these things in turn.
- Fear Leads to Self-Sabotage
According to Godin, “It is incredibly difficult to stand up in a board meeting or a conference or just in front of your peers and say, “I know how to do this. Here is my work. It took me a year. It’s great.” He goes on to say, “It is hard for two reasons: (1) it opens you up for criticism, and (2) it puts you into the world as someone who knows what you are doing, which means tomorrow you also have to know what you are doing, and you have just signed up for a lifetime of knowing what you are doing.”
This means we self-sabotage because we are afraid to put ourselves out there as an “expert” or “someone who knows what they are doing” because deep down we are afraid that someone will discover we are a “fraud.” We really haven’t written enough, don’t know enough, don’t have enough experience, haven’t had the right kind of experience, aren’t interesting enough, smart enough, or good enough to be making the claims that we are. They will criticize us, we will fall from grace, and we will fail.
Worse than that, we may actually have the answers and we may actually be an expert, which means we will have to work hard to maintain that status and continually push ourselves for excellence. This is tiring. And overwhelming. And hard.
Subconsciously then, “success,” and whatever that entails, is actually a lot more work than procrastinating and never finishing because it protects us from criticism and a lifetime of hard work. Ah-ha! Procrastination is a way of protecting ourselves from both success and failure.
- Take the Emotion Out of It
The prolific writer and humanitarian Pearl S. Buck once said about her writing, “I don’t wait for moods. You accomplish nothing if you do that. Your mind must know it has got to get down to work.” This means that in order to be a writer (aka, someone who has actually written something) instead of someone who has a nebulous idea that you may, someday-if you-have-the-time, put down on paper, you must work. Not dabble or experiment or try your hand when you feel like it. It means taking the emotion out of it and writing when you don’t feel like it, when you are not inspired, when you are tired, or when you just flat out don’t want to. It means dedicating a certain amount of time each day/week/month/etc. to accomplishing what you set out to accomplish. It means doing. It means work.
It also means letting go. When we birth a baby – or a book – eventually it leaves us. It grows, it morphs, it becomes different things to different people, and it is never again fully ours. If we take the emotion out of it and get it done, it will, someday, be complete. That means there is nothing left to hang on to, and this can be sad in a way.
Procrastination, therefore, is also a way of protecting ourselves from having to let go and the sadness that comes with it.
In both cases, procrastination serves a useful purpose:
- It protects us from criticism and a lifetime of hard work.
- It protects us from loss, change, and risk.
So the next time you find yourself procrastinating, be gentle with yourself instead of beating yourself up. Step back, and take a moment to look for the reason your subconscious is trying to protect you. Recognize it. Examine it. Evaluate it. Thank it. Then set it aside; not with malice or with judgment, but with acknowledgement and acceptance. Move past it.
Setting aside procrastination, the crutch of self sabotage, allows us to take risks and to grow. What better gift could we give ourselves than that?
Jennie Jerome is a marketing consultant and business coach specializing in strategy and negotiations. Her business is focused around determining where you are, where you want to be, and how you are going to get there. She is in the process of launching a new and expanded website, but you can connect with her here, or meet her in person at the Publishing and Book Promotion Meetup, organized by Laura Orsini. Jennie is a reoccurring guest blogger and posts here the 5th of every month. Please feel free to submit questions or blog ideas in the comments sections of her posts.