The Gift of Procrastination

Have you ever dragged your feet on completing a task or making a certain decision? And then do you and others criticize you for procrastinating? What’s going on?

Do you ever view procrastination as a gift? How can you reframe it as a positive experience?

(Please note, I recognize that there are other types of procrastination that keep us from growing as people. This is not the type I’m discussing here.)

I know of a very successful artist who came to a point in her career when she froze in her artistic production. No matter how hard she pushed herself she could not get herself to paint again. Everything she tried, hypnosis, consulting with other artists, and having her partner drive her to get back to painting did not get her off the dime.

Her procrastination handed her a gift. It was an opportunity to reflect on her inner needs and values.

How so?

When we dug a little deeper into her procrastination we found out that she absolutely hated the marketing part of being an artist. She had once done this  but over a period of time her artistic expression came to a grinding halt. In her mind, she could not separate painting from marketing which in turn was associated with self-promotion.

Her turnaround came when she listened to the voice of her procrastination (“Stay away from self-promotion“) and learned ways to showcase her art without putting her in conflict with her inner values.

Think of the times when you procrastinated. What was your inner voice saying?

Some Examples

  1. An executive drags his heels on a job promotion opportunity. No incentives will make him budge on this decision and nobody understands his rejection of the golden  career opportunity. The gift of procrastination was an inner voice telling him that he needed greater connection with his family and friends more than the career significance that the promotion would give.
  1. A person in a long-term relationship just cannot seem to take the step of marrying the partner. The gift of procrastination was that the person knew deep inside that her partner’s model of marriage would be a trap that would restrict her independence.
  1. A highly social person went through a series of painful relationship breakups. This was followed by a period when he withdrew into his shell and avoided social situations. No matter how much his partner pleaded he avoided going to social functions. The gift of procrastination was that he needed to build trust in others again, go through a period of inner healing, and choose healthier friends.

The turtle goes into its shell for good reasons because it either wants to rest, avoid danger, or go through a period of healing. By the same token there are times when we retreat from the world, refuse to take a step forward, and on the face of it seem to be procrastinating. The key in such times is:

  1. Not to drive ourselves to do what our inner wisdom tells us not to do.
  2. Be very compassionate with ourselves in this time of transition.
  3. Do not succumb to the pressure of others to go against our better judgment.
  4. Identify and deeply respect the needs that our inner voice is addressing.
  5. Hit the hold button on action until we are clear what we need to do.
  6. Reframe the procrastination as potentially positive.

What is your area of procrastination? What needs of yours are being in expressed in this time of struggle? What is your inner voice telling you to do?

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About cedricj

I am a licensed psychologist and management consultant and have always been intrigued by how leaders can inspire people in their organizations. The bottom line is that people are not always motivated by material rewards, the use of the carrot or the stick, fear and intimidation,and command and control, Five human needs inspire and drive us. Kristine S MacKain, Ph.D and myself describe these inspirational forces in our book "What Inspirational Leaders Do" (Kindle 2008)
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6 Responses to The Gift of Procrastination

  1. Richard Neulist says:

    Thanks for the insight on the middle sin. All things aren’t what they appear to be. Ricardo

  2. WOW — I now can point finger at you (this article) if anyone complains that I procrastinated!

    Yes. I do and I don’t. I tend to procrastinate when the problem/decision is huge and complex. I do not like to rush because I do not feel comfortable when there are still facts and areas that I instinctingtively know is/are still incomplete.

    Sometime I like to procrastinate just to ‘agitate’ others to see what ‘mistakes’ they would bring forth. In this case I considred procrastination as a patience game. When one rush into something, unnecessary, one tends to overlook some issues. And I find that very often I can used ‘others’ mistakes to improve the situation.

    I think the important thing to look for is: when to procrastinate, and when to just move on. I am not always right, but when I do (benefit from procrastinate) I find it very rewarding.

    • cedricj says:

      Hi, procrastinating when the problem is huge and complex is a pretty normal form of caution. Of course we do not want to surge ahead with a solution if we are not in command of most of the important facts. Now in the case of procrastinating to “agitate” others or as you describe it as a “patience game”, I wonder what internal needs of yours are being met by that strategy. Could there be a better tactic in order to achieve the same end?

      My thesis that at times procrastination can be bad for us and other times hold the seeds of a healthy message is not easily sorted out except by looking at the underlying needs of the procrastinator. But you are so right in your conclusion that knowing when to procrastinate is the wise thing to do.

      Thanks for weighing in on this topic and being a part of our blog community.

  3. ee says:

    I am in love with you. This is the first blog that I found by accident and loved reading it. And this means a lot since I do not read any blogs at all. I will keep following you. Oh and maybe you have an idea about those myers-briggs types? It would be interesting to know since you are interested in the inner self, what you think about this particular character test. For me the test said that I am an ENTP personality and the description was suiting my traits. However, I was in between 2 characters and was asked to choose between ENTP and ENFP. I choose instinctly but read both descriptions and felt that both are very similar to my lets say inner self and values.
    But anyway, I was just wondering what you think and if you have heard about it?


    • cedricj says:

      EE, thanks for being a part of my blog community. I really cannot answer your question about the Myers-Briggs test since i have not used it for years. Maybe one of the other blog readers can respond to this question.


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