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Is it 'Procrastination', or a call to listen to your inner voice?

Updated: Apr 3, 2019

Charles Dickens in his book David Copperfield wrote, “Procrastination is the thief of time, collar him.” I’m not so sure that we need to ‘collar him’ I do, however think we need to we need to examine the thief, why his he there, what is he trying to achieve. As human beings we don’t do anything without reason, and we don’t continue doing the same thing unless there is some type of reward for his. Our brains drive us with giving us nice feed good hit of dopamine and if we’re not getting it from the actions we take through moving forward towards achieving our goals, why do we keep procrastinating, what is it giving us?

Let’s say I don’t want to do my finances, so instead I find a creative bit of writing to do. I get joy, happiness and a sense of achievement from that writing, it makes me happy. To my brain it’s a like a beautiful rose and, as a result, I’m rewarded with my dopamine hit.

The reality, however, is I’ve procrastinated, I still haven’t done my finances, instead I’ve done something else which, by it’s nature, is not going to contributed to getting my finances done. So let’s turn the viewpoint around and reword the metaphor, as it really isn’t a beautiful rose, it’s a weed and “A weed is still a weed, regardless of its name”.

But who was it that said, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”? Oh ... that other famous author William Shakespeare, and for me ‘procrastination’ is often like that.

Image of Person with choice of Tick or Cross at their feet
Procrastinaton or Inner Voice?

I’m rewarded for achievement, and that part of my brain that does that, doesn’t listen to my split personality that is saying, “I really shouldn’t be doing that, I really should be doing this instead”. I am, therefore, left with a split personality, one side of which is enjoying the reward and the other, it’s feeling the guilt of knowing I’m not doing what I think I should be doing according to my self-imposed rules.

So can you see where this is leading, if our goals and supporting steps to get there aren’t providing us with sufficient reward, by our very nature the chances are that we’ll find a different way of rewarding ourselves. If, therefore, procrastination is viewed as a simply reward generating process, then surely we can make it our friend.

By understanding our motivations work in this way, we can review what we are avoiding by procrastination, and then we can question it. Have we, through our goals, to which we have committed, set ourselves on a path where we are doing something that doesn’t actually motivate us? Perhaps, when we take a look, we may find that these goals don’t align with our values and needs, perhaps we’ll find that our actions no longer serve us as they previously did.

So looking at it this way, procrastination doesn’t have to be an enemy, it can actually help us to become more focused once we start to listen to what it has to tell us. Perhaps we need to listen to our inner voice a little better, criticise ourselves a little less and, here’s a thought for you. What if it were possible to stop doing those things that we find we don’t enjoy so much? What, instead, we do those things that we do when we procrastinate, just a little more? Perhaps, as a result, we’d find ourselves a bit happier. And if we were happier, maybe we’d be a little more focused and wouldn’t actually need to go look for other things to reward us in a way that our procrastination does.

At that stage, perhaps, we would no longer feel guilty about our perceived lack of focus, because whilst we’d still be do the same things, we’d have found something that gave us joy and it would become a basis for our goals.

And the difference would be that those things would no longer be seen as weeds … they’d all be beautiful roses.

Elaine Sullivan

Founder, Elaine K Sullivan Ltd


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