Wednesday, January 16, 2013


Procrastination as a way of life is a delicate, self-inflicted wound, a cause of misery in many lives. Most of us put things off a bit, but when the putting off is an engrained habit and applies to both things we don't want to do and things we do want to do there's a problem. It's a problem not easily shared.  It can feel shameful to look like you don't care about work or school or pepole.  Are you just lazy and undependable or is something going on with you?  There are many explanations for procrastination, some of them complex, but often they involve a voice from the past. Take Emily's case.

Bright, funny and energetic, but chores piled up in Emily's life and friends got annoyed when they didn't  hear back from her. It wasnt't about time; this had always been her way.  Eventually, it all got done, usually quite well, and Emily was left wondering why she behaved in ways not compatible with her desires. Here's a summary of what Emily and I discovered.

Early in life, Emily learned that work was to be dreaded.   Her father hated his work and there was huge tension in the house whenever he had to meet a deadline. Her strict mother saw all house activates as chores to get through.  She complained about everything.  Sunday nights were awful, everyone trying not to think about looming Monday.  Even though she liked it, Emily feared school.

Emily thought she had worked through the roadblocks her parents left her.  She didn't realize that their voices had become her voice.  I asked her, the next time she was in an avoidance cycle, to put words to the feelings she pushed down by watching TV, overeating and staying isolated.  It was a hard task because it made her think about the thing that had to be done; the project she had to write up for work.  She wrote: I don't know how to write it.  I'm lazy.  I hate working.  You can never get away from it.  Everything is work.  The world is a terrible place.  I'm only safe when I hide.

Once she put words to the jumble of anxiety she felt, she was able to counter with her own truth: She was good at her job, her work was respected, she enjoyed it most of the time, she longed for big success, she was afraid she might fail.  Each time at the beginning of an avoidance cycle, she called herself out, disclaimed the old messages and ffirmed her voice.  It took practice but she reduced her procrastination.

A lot of us have voices from the past that we don't recognize.  Whose voice commands you and what is the message?  Even if procrastination isn't your problem, you might find the question worth asking.