My sister Eva 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 and beauty 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 (=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, only in different ways.
Our behaviours are actually much more closely related than it seems:
We both grossly underestimate the time we have in a day.
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 and staying busy 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’m not worth anything.
Whichever category you find yourself fitting into, the solutions are the same. Here’s what I’ve learned will help you move forward in a smoother and more sustainable way:
- Both types overschedule and suffer for it, so it’s a necessary first step to create a more spacious schedule. Learn to say no to yourself and others, in order to give yourself a reasonable chance to go through with what you set out to do.
Saying yes to everything has been one of your strategies for getting approval, so changing this will bring fear to the surface, and you need to learn how to deal with it. (If you are a Creative Doer student, lesson 2, Sacred priorities, and lesson 4, Use your fear, have got you covered. If you’re not, read this and this and this for more inspiration.)
- Both overestimate the value of getting things done over the value of a good process. They ignore – or don’t know how to pay attention to – how it feels in the mean time, how it feels to actually do the work, and so they miss all those 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 lead you to a creative life that actually fits who you are and what you truly want to achieve.
- Both take everything much too seriously. The overachiever and the procrastinator firmly believe that real work is hard and costly. Inviting play into their lives and work again is not just a kind recommendation, but a necessary step.
Shift into play mindset. Do something that helps you forget yourself. Something that makes you laugh and relax. It doesn’t really matter if it looks like play or not, as long as it has those qualities. Nothing loosens the grip of fear like playfulness. Nothing gets your creative flow going better.
- Both think it’s entirely up to them. They both carry the whole world on their shoulders. And they both 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 to start changing this pattern, to begin to let go of some of that excessive controlling. You need trust because at first you don’t know that it’s going to work out. You have no proof that it could be 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 you 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 creative powers of this universe are waiting to support you? Waiting for you to get out of your own way and invite them in?
Can you trust that your work, your dream, comes with its own divine timing, and that as long as you do the work and pay attention to the guidance, you don’t have to figure it all out in advance? You don’t have to force anything into being. If the dream is true, it wants to happen. No need to push through. No reason to push away.
You’re not in this alone. You don’t have to rely on your own small powers only. 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: Absolutely everything.)