In Praise of Procrastination

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Procrastination is often seen as a negative trait that can cost you dearly. Paying attention to the reasons behind the procrastination could have quite surprising results.

I’ll be the first to admit it: I’m a procrastinator. I’ve been one for most of my life. I often put off or put out of mind what I sense I’ll find distasteful in some way once I really get into it. To be sure, my procrastination has almost always cost me in some way, which is why I’ve so frequently lectured myself on the evils of doing it. I’ve also counseled many individuals over the years who’ve struggled with procrastination. I’ve done my best to give them what I felt was good advice on how to defeat it as well as support and encouragement for their efforts to overcome this “bad habit.” Just recently I came across an article that cast procrastination and procrastinators in an interestingly different light. I really enjoyed it, and at first I thought I might just be experiencing a little gratitude for it affording me a way to feel okay about myself as a procrastinator. But it didn’t take me long to gain an appreciation for just how rich the article actually was and the profound wisdom it contained. I found it so illuminating that I’d like to share some of it’s main points for the benefit of my fellow procrastinators out there in the blogosphere.

David Whyte is a wonderful writer and poet. My wife introduced me to his work some time ago and I’m ever so glad she did. Perhaps it’s the poet in him, but he has a way of succinctly getting at the heart of matters. I don’t have to go too far into any of his essays to find myself seriously pondering the issues he raises. Whyte has a fairly good following on Facebook, which is how I came across his article on procrastination. Here are some of his more poignant musings on the subject:

Procrastination, when studied closely, can be a beautiful thing: a parallel with patience, a companionable friend, a revealer of the true pattern, already, we are surprised to find, caught within us; acknowledging for instance, as a writer, that before a book can be written, most of the ways it cannot be written must be tried first, in our minds; on the blank screen, on the empty page or staring at the bedroom ceiling. Procrastination enables us to understand the true measure of our reluctance.

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What Whyte is saying here is that if we contemplate our procrastination more deeply, we’re likely to come into a more intimate contact with both the source and the nature of our resistance. In coming into greater awareness about our resistance, we can learn not only some important things about ourselves, but also about the true challenges of the tasks we face. Most especially, we’re likely to learn more about the poverty of faith we have in ourselves. It’s this lack of faith that often accompanies and even nurtures our resistance. As he puts it:

Procrastination apprentices us to the very nature of our own reluctance, to understand the hidden darker side of the first enthusiastic idea, to learn what we are afraid of in the endeavor itself; to put an underbelly into the work so that it becomes a living, satisfying whole, not a surface trying to manipulate others in the moment. Procrastination does not stop a project from coming to fruition, what stops us, is giving up on an original idea, because we have not got to the heart of the reason we are delaying, because we have not let the true form of our reluctance instruct us in the way ahead.

This past week, I took Whyte’s advice to heart and began contemplating a situation in which I’ve been doing a fair amount of procrastinating for some time. I’ve been involved in a long term project and have been foot-dragging on some actions I’ve long known I needed to take. I’ve been finding all sorts of reasons to not attend to things very well and letting many relatively less important things distract me. Instead of simply faulting myself for the procrastination, however, I decided to sit with my resistance for a while, to really contemplate it, to reflect on its nature, and, to the best of my ability, to understand it in an accepting as opposed to condemning way. In the process, I came face to face with the fears I have associated with taking the actions I’ve long known had to be taken. I discovered that I feared certain consequences likely to ensue upon taking the actions, and I wanted to avoid them. I also realized I had insufficient faith in my capacity to “roll with the punches,” learn from any failure experiences, and eventually succeed through persistence. That’s when it hit me: procrastination itself was never the real problem. It was merely the manifestation of the enemy that lurked beneath. Fear and a lack of faith were the true culprits. As soon as I began dealing with those rascals, it’s amazing how much energy I found to really get moving on an action plan to make things better.

I can’t say my plan of action has been devoid of problems or setbacks. I can’t say that I’ve made a lot of progress so far. But I have made progress. I’m definitely on the path. I also know that if I keep the faith, I’ll eventually get where I need to go. Of course, that’s partly because I’ve now more seriously committed myself to the endeavor. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have done that unless I’d made some peace with, embraced, and gotten to know my resistance a whole lot better. I have David Whyte’s helpful advice to thank for that.

So for the benefit of all you procrastinators out there, remember not to kick yourself for stalling. Pay attention to your reluctance. Afford it some respect and attention. You’re likely to learn a lot about yourself, your fears, and your real needs in the process. Better yet, you’re likely to finally get going!

All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more clinical psychologists or other qualified mental health professionals. This specific article was originally published by on and was last reviewed or updated by Dr Greg Mulhauser, Managing Editor on .

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