Why We Procrastinate

why we procrastinateHere’s The Missing Link

I want to talk about the real reason we don’t do what we intend. Look it up on trusty Google, and you will find thousands of articles saying the reason we don’t do what we mean or want to do because of “fear”.

While that may be true in some situations, it is not the answer in most. My friend, Samuel, asked me the other day why he has been meaning to clear out the spare bedroom for ages and, while he thinks about doing it every evening, he just settles down to his evening routine and never gets around to doing it.

What is holding him back from clearing out his spare bedroom? I am one hundred percent sure it is not fear.

Play little semantic games around fear of the temporary chaos it will cause or fears around having to throw out or give away possessions, and you are entirely missing the point. These are not fears. Irritants, maybe, but not fears.

Many in the self-help community want you to think we hold back on doing what we want to do because we don’t “love ourselves” or that we are just “lazy”. Again, that may be true in some situations, but probably very few.

The real reason we don’t do what we want to do is because we send ourselves mixed messages by failing to separate mind from heart and spirit.

I hear the cry: “Oh, that sounds so esoteric!” Well, it is not.

Unless we are able to separate the sensations of thought, emotion and inclination, like Samuel, we will continue to “intend” clearing out the spare bedroom and keep berating ourselves for not doing so.

Thought is how we make sense of our world. In fact, that’s a clue. When thinking about things isn’t enough to get you doing them, there is something else at play. All the logic in the world is not going to get Samuel off the couch to clear that room out.

Emotion might get us going: He could guilt himself into doing it (or have his spouse do that for him).

But very often thought and emotion are not enough. The awakening of a value, the merit, or the significance of something related to the activity or outcome is responsible for many “instant cures” for procrastination.

This is what ignites us to action, often compelling us to do something. You cannot rationalize something like “honor” or “courage.” Qualities like these are not feelings, though they may be accompanies by both thoughts and feelings.

These are elements of the spirit. Thinkers, philosophers, and psychologists have long lamented the lack of language to describe the human spirit and its powers to motivate.

I wholeheartedly agree with Paul Tillich, who, in his 1952 book, The Courage to Be, said:

“One of the unfortunate consequences of the intellectualization of man’s spiritual life was that the word ‘spirit’ was lost and replaced by mind or intellect, and that the element of vitality which is present in ‘spirit’ was separated and interpreted as an independent biological force. Man was divided into a bloodless intellect and a meaningless vitality. The middle ground between them, the spiritual soul, in which vitality and intentionality are united, was dropped.”  

It is perhaps easier to see from a different angle: like a situation where we do something we hadn’t intended. Now we have a variety of ways we explain our actions: we acted on impulse, felt compelled, were driven to it, just had to, and so on.

These are all words of the spirit, the sensations around what fuels the inclination. Notice that the mind is nowhere to be found in these explanations – except that it is battling to find the language to make sense of them and distinguish them from feelings or emotions.

Whether it is something personal as in Samuel’s case, or something related to your business, like making those sales calls, hiring or firing someone, or taking the time to clear out your inbox:

  • If thinking about it is not getting the job done, and your feelings of aversion, fear or frustration are not helping, turn your attention your spirit.

In your spirit, you will find the right driver, the right quality, and you will be inclined to get it done!

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Author: Sue Hines

  1. MeredithMeredith09-17-2014

    As a born procrastinator, this really spoke to me. I think you’re right that fear is an oversimplification of the matter. I think for me, habit is a much bigger driver. I would be the one who intends to clean out the room, but instead gets bogged down in my usual nightly routine. Not quite sure what to do about that…
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    • Sue HinesSue Hines09-17-2014

      HA! There is a (not) simple answer, Meredith. The clue lies in “why”. If you get really clear on “why” you want to do something, it’s usually a lot easier to get moving on it or to put it in the right place on your ToDo list so it is not “nagging needlessly” at you.

  2. Jacqueline GumJacqueline Gum09-10-2014

    This really hit home for me…the entire separation of spirituality and intellectualizing has had me befuddled for a while. particularity in that it lends itself to hypocrisy…I’ve started writing that blog, but not finished it:) LOL I never linked procrastination to those feeling, but you’ve made some excellent points that have enabled me to see the connection! During the course of my writing career, I once had a big NY editor say to me…”Don’t tell me what you think about this chapter…tell me how you feel about it. Literally…how does your body feel when you read it?” Turns out, the reason I hadn’t finished the chapter was precisely because it didn’t feel right…nothing more.LOVED the post Sue
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    • Sue HinesSue Hines09-10-2014

      Fantastic, Jacqueline. I am so pleased you got value out of it. This is such an important topic, because it makes all the difference in both living and succeeding.

  3. It so funny that you should be writing about this at this moment. I have been dragging my feet on developing my new books and a product. I had to set myself down and have a good chat. What I realized in doing that was the cause to all my inaction is fear, fear of not doing a good job of it, fear of not succeeding. What I realized was in NOT taking action, I was actually failing… sigh!
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    • Sue HinesSue Hines09-09-2014

      Precisely, Susan. But do you see that fear is not the real de-motivator. By not doing things you were guaranteeing failure – surely then, if fear was the real issue, you would definitely not have procrastinated. The issue is likely something non-emotional, i.e., rational (don’t have the infromation you need, don’t have a solid outline, etc.) or spiritual (don’t engaged with the topic any more, need to re-kindle the spark of inspiration, etc.).

  4. maxwell iveymaxwell ivey09-09-2014

    Hi Sue; It seems to me that if thinking about it isn’t enough, and if using emotional triggers isn’t enough; then maybe you should have a conversation with yourself to determine what you really want. Perhaps there is some reason that samuel doesn’t really want to clean this room that have nothing to do with laziness. there could be emotional reasons behind it. Cleaning this room could symbolize the end of something to him like when say a parent has to clean out a room after their child has gone off to college. Cleaning that room may falsely lead him to believe that his roll as a parent is over or that his child no longer needs him or that he is getting old. when people say we need to get out of our own way, I often think they mean we need to figure out what road blocks we are putting in our paths and why. great post Sue. Thanks for sharing, Max
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    • Sue HinesSue Hines09-09-2014

      You are so right, max. There are often components of various different things that interfere with our getting things done. The key is to focus in on the “essence” of what each is – mind, heart, or spirit – and to address them in the ways appropriate for each. Recognizing them is not enough – it only makes them explanations or worse, excuses. when we mid-address them, they persist, morphing into more excuses. Once we diagnose each as being of mind, heart, or spirit, we are able to find the right solutions.

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