My sister is the most conscientious, trustworthy worker there is. She’s your dream employee. Always on time, always pro-active, always kind and service minded. But when it comes to doing her own thing, making her own creative and entrepreneurial dreams happen, she procrastinates with the best of them.
It drives her crazy, and it drives me a bit crazy too, watching all that goodness she wants to offer come to nothing. Over and over again, delaying and postponing and procrastinating until whatever plan she had has gone dry.
I haven’t been able to wrap my head around it. How can we, who are so alike in so many ways (people often mistake us for twins), be so radically different when it comes to this? Because I rarely ever procrastinate.
I’ve always been at the opposite end of the spectrum, pushing and overworking and making things happen. Rarely resting. Always getting my fix from DOING, from being busy and oh so important.
I read a great blogpost that made me think about this in a new way, and I realized we’re not that different after all. I might be a recovering workaholic, and she might be the queen of procrastination, but both of us are reacting to the exact same triggers, and our behaviours are actually more related than it seems:
We both grossly overestimate the time we have available.
We both put a lot of pressure on ourselves.
We both tend to base our self worth on external factors (achievement, productivity, and recognition) rather than an inner sense of value.
Over-achievers often take pride in their title, and is encouraged to do so in our busy, productivity oriented society.
But the truth is that pushing and striving has little to do with getting the truly important things done or creating high quality work. What happens is usually the opposite. The busy person pushes her way towards deadline, no matter what, lacking the necessary overview, making hasty decisions, ignoring both inside and outside guidance along the way.
Not to mention the trade offs in health and happiness.
Procrastinators obviously don’t take pride in their title. On the contrary, they feel shame. Something must be wrong with them, right? Why can’t they just get it together and get things done, like those busy people over there?
Because just like the over-achievers, the procrastinators desperately hope to find a sense of self worth through what they will achieve (once they get it together). The stakes are sky high and while the over-achiever deals with the fear through numbing herself and pushing on through, the procrastinator turns away from the activity that’s causing the fear.
She simply won’t risk failing, so in order to keep herself from even trying she stays busy with a million other things, telling herself she’ll get back on track once she’s ready.
None of them deal with the fear that’s driving their behaviour. Both paths are equally destructive in the long run, it just happens that one of them is culturally sanctioned.
Two sides of the same coin. Two sisters reacting differently to the same deep-seated fear: If I don’t achieve I have no value.
Whichever category you find yourself in, the solutions are the same. Here’s what will help you move forward in a smoother and more sustainable way:
- Both types overschedule and suffer for it, so a necessary first step is to create a more spacious schedule. Practice saying no to yourself and others. Give yourself a reasonable chance to go through with what you decide to do.
Saying yes to everything has been a strategy for getting approval. Changing it will bring fear to the surface, and you need to learn how to deal with it. (I dive deeper into this in the Creative Doer book. Or you can read this and this and this for more inspiration.)
- Both value getting things done over a good process. They ignore – or don’t know how to pay attention to – how it feels to actually do the work, and so they miss the opportunities to adjust and tweak the work along the way. Paying attention to how it feels is your new homework, and it will not only improve the quality of your work but help you create a sustainable and enjoyable creative life.
- Both the overachiever and the procrastinator believe that real work is hard and costly. Inviting a bit of lightness and play into their lives and work again is not just a kind recommendation, but a necessary step.
Do something that helps you forget yourself. Something that makes you laugh and relax and help you put things into perspective. Nothing loosens the grip of fear like playfulness. Nothing gets your creative flow going better.
- Both think it’s all up to them. They both carry the whole world on their shoulder and they grossly overestimate the disaster that would ensue, should they put down their load for a second or two.
The cure is trust. And experience. You need trust because at first you don’t know what’s going to happen if you let go of some of that control. You have no proof that it could work any other way. But if you keep practising, keep returning to trust, eventually, you will have experience to back your trust. You’ll be able to say, “Yes, it actually worked out just fine, even though I allowed other people to help me, even though I didn’t fret and worry every minute of each day”. And then you can build on that.
Ultimately, it comes down to how you perceive the universe we live in. If I say that your creative dream comes to you wanting to be born, and that when you take it on, you’re stepping into co-creation with that dream, would you believe me? Could it be that the muse (the creative powers of this universe) is waiting to support you? Waiting for you to get out of your own way?
Can you trust that your work, your dream, comes with its own divine timing, and that you don’t have to figure it all out in advance? You don’t have to force anything into being. No need to push forward. No reason to run and hide.
So let your shoulders down, darling. You’re not in this alone.
If you knew this to be true, what would change about how you do your work?
(I can answer that for you: Absolutely everything.)