Most people at one time or other have procrastinated, which is normal, but when it becomes obsessive and chronic then there could be an underlying issue behind it. Procrastination can result in additional stress, a sense of guilt and crisis, loss of personal productivity and social disapproval for not meeting one's responsibilities or commitments. Avoidance also prevents us from entering into our creative process and keeps us from experiencing life to its fullest.
Procrastinators are more in love with the act of wanting, and live in the tide pools alongside the stream of life. They are very good at creating excuses or stories for putting off an activity. Without realizing it they become great artists at writing, producing and starring in these stories in order to avoid life. But crafting these excuses takes an extraordinary amount of energy that can be very disempowering. Imagine for a moment that you are able to become mindfully aware in your mind's eye, and in that magical moment see how this destructive type of energy could be shifted from resistance to self-empowerment.
In my book, Wise Mind, Open Mind I relate how one of my clients was able to have this type of "aha" experience. Jared, a web designer, truly wanted to create a plan for attracting more lucrative jobs and clients who offered steady work, but he could never find the time to do it. During one of our sessions I asked Jared to tell me everything he had done that morning, from the moment he woke up to the moment he came into my office. After he outlined all his activities I said, "Alright now let's spend a moment and simply breathe." This is an easy mindfulness awareness method where one focuses on the "in breath" and then on the "out breath," allowing us to calm the churning waters of our thoughts and emotions. After we meditated together for several minutes, Jared was able to bring to the forefront of his consciousness that a lot of what he was doing wasn't a priority and only busy-making "chores."
Upon further exploration, Jared came to understand that behind his procrastination was a fear of success. He wasn't sure if he could command top-dollar clients or manage a lot of them. He hated the idea of calling people cold or sending blind emails soliciting work. As well he was afraid he would become like his father, a successful but challenging entrepreneur and distant parent, preoccupied with his work. Through the process of mindful awareness Jared was able to make a new space in his mind's eye to clear away the clutter and develop what I call "mindstrength," the ability to build mastery over your thoughts and feelings, opening your eyes to whether the products of your mind are useful tools for self-discovery or merely distractions. Over time, Jared discovered that he was quite capable of handling several clients and negotiating good deals for himself, without feeling that he had turned into a cold workaholic.
So what are the pretexts you're using to avoid life? Here are the top seven excuses I hear from my clients. Do any of them sound familiar to you?
- I'll do it later.
- I don't have time to do it now.
- It's not important
- I'll eventually get to it. (This is a lie we tell ourselves, as a procrastinator never gets to it.)
- I'll do it when my children are older.
- I'll do it when I have the energy or when I'm in a better mood.
- The number one biggest excuse, though, is: I'll do it when I'm older and retire.
Many times in my capacity as a psychotherapist trained in mindfulness I've been invited to participate in the sacred end-of-life experiences of my friends and clients. So many of them, when they realize that the hourglass of life has run out, regret that they hadn't taken a certain trip, reconciled a relationship with a loved one or taken action on pursuing a life's passion.
To remedy procrastination, you have to experience the vital life force that sharpens and focuses the mind. One way to do this is with the traditional Buddhist walking meditation in which you focus on the slow process of putting one foot in front of the other and being mindful of the shifting sensations as you propel yourself forward. Once you're in a mindful state you can recognize if you've slipped into an avoidance behavior. If so, you can immediately shift out of this emotion with the simple thought, "I want to go forward into my future life as a ______ [website designer, entrepreneur, student or whatever it is that you want to do]." You can look at your subconscious thoughts and fears that are holding you back, stop identifying with them and let them float out of your awareness. Thoughts in the mindful space of awareness simply become like clouds in the sky drifting by. If they return, you can decide not to become attached to them and follow them wherever they take you. Instead, you can simply become curious and ponder their origin. Exploring your thoughts and fears can give you the insight to help you move forward with greater self-awareness, and away from the limitations you set for yourself that box you in.
It all comes down to a mindful choice and the ability to creatively source from a place of immediate passionate action. Mindful action takers live in the vibrant stream of a somatic flow state. Don't wait until your time has run out and it's too late for you to live your life to the fullest. Start now by writing down your action steps for a life of passionate creative possibilities. It may seem simplistic to say that all you need to do is start your bucket list in order to stop procrastinating, but this is the first step in moving through your resistance. So what are you waiting for -- write away!
For more by Ronald Alexander, Ph.D., click here.
For more on mindfulness, click here.