Why is it that we put off things that we know we should do now? Do we delay because our perfectionism creates anxiety about living up to our sky-high standards? According to Piers Steel, a Calgary professor who’s an international expert on the subject, this age old answer is off base.
I’ve tossed this one around a lot. I’ve worked with many hard driven and accomplished folks for whom the demon of procrastination still haunts from time to time. To this day I can’t say that I’ve met anyone who feels they’ve taken swift action on every priority. Perhaps this is just life?
A New View
Steel points out that the two primary underpinnings of procrastination are not due to perfectionism but are due to either impulsiveness or a kind of “learned helplessness”. So for some of us, things are put off because we “want it all now” and we simply can’t delay our gratification. We seem to lack the ability to endure short-term pain for long-term gain.
Yet for others of us, we put stuff off due to the discouragement of past failures that has us doubting our ability to achieve new goals. This becomes a big problem when we start believing that our goals aren’t doable, and we stop effectively pursuing them.
Both of these explanations make so much sense to me. I’ve experienced many a manager or individual who seems to represent a version of either camp. The one thing that seems to be common to both is an underlying belief of “I can’t”. You might be saying to yourself, in any number of ways, that you simply can’t bear waiting. To do so might risk being seen as ineffective or less of a leader or because having to wait is just too uncomfortable.
Similarly you might be saying, “Why bother, I’m only going to fail right?” So instead of taking direct action, you resign yourself to the thought that failure is so likely an outcome that it’s simply not worth the effort.
In either case, in one way or another you’re telling yourself that you can’t handle, do, be or achieve something you want.
This is why exercising your belief muscle is so important. In both May and December’s articles I’ve described some powerful exercises that have helped clients kick inaction to the curb. So stop putting it off and give ‘em a review.
What are you telling yourself you can’t handle or do? Or be? Where is it that you are telling yourself you can’t go?
Dr. Steele knows his stuff.
Procrastination is a bad thing and there are many good reasons and explanations for it.
An underlying, core cause, is a function of a lack of self-knowledge.
That is,if you don’t know what you want and need, you will be deflected from your purpose(es).
The “can’t” rational is powerful as you and Dr Steele say.
I have a short book on Amazon called
What’s Your problem?
No, really, what IS Your problem?
The Sherlock Holmes Guide to Problem Identification.
I discuss the obstacle of “can’t” in identifying problems (much less solving them) and show how emotional, mental and psychological blocks prevent us from “seeing” a problem well.
That causes us to think we “can’t” do it, or solve it.
In fact we haven’t identified the problem yet.
No wonder we can’t solve it or take action on it.
Frank, thanks for your comments. I look forward to reading your book!