I’m sure everybody has its own definition on that.
My MAC OS Dictionary tells me this: “procrastination: delay or postpone action; put off doing something : it won’t be this price for long, so don’t procrastinate.”.
You certainly have a different definition, I’m sure. This diversitiy comes from the popularity of the activity itself: everybody procrastinates, this is why a name had to be found for this activity, a name that each would define differently, but everybody would understand the same.
For me, procrastinations is the ability of someone to change his attitude and perception about what he wants to do.
Let me explain: at some point you made a decision about what you want to do. You wanted to buy a book, to eat lunch, to meet friends. Or you wanted to start a business. To write a book. To travel to Japan. But after a while – and this timespan might be a micro-second or weeks – you change your attitude about that. When you first decided you wanted that, your intention was to manifest your energy in doing that activity. But somehow, you changed that intention into something different: manifesting your energy in thinking about that activity.
Procrastination, in my optinion, is something that you learn. You use it constantly and develop it like a skill. You train yourself into it. You define mental patterns. And you start using those mental patterns over and over, until they become part of you.
It wasn’t always like this, you know. We haven’t been born with the procrastination habit. Look carefully at any child, and you’ll see that no child procrastinate. If they want to play, they play. If they want to sleep, they sleep. If they want to grab a thing they grab it, regardless of your advices or opposition. They start to cry only when you try to keep them from grabbing that. Your first choice when you decide to do something is just doing it, not thinking about doing it.
Procrastination As A Form Of Social Compliance
So when this sudden shift in our attitude towards doing really starts? I think it starts when we are first confronting with others. As children, after the first years of our life, we are more likely to become involved in social contexts, where we have to interact with more than the usual people we interact with. We start seeing and understanding other people. We communicate and we create relationships. Very simple at the beginning but, as we grow, more and more complicated.
This web of relationships grows around us and, at some points, it starts to put some pressure on us. for instance, you initiate play sessions with your close relatives or other children. When you do that, you must start accounting them. You must start incorporate them in your own system. And they are doing the same. They are incorporating yourself into their system.
And, suddenly, it happens: you feel the need to be accepted. Once you get out of your comfort zone of parenting in the first few years, you feel the need to be secure around other people, and you do that by being sure that you are in their system. That they are OK with you. Again, this is very simple at the beginning, might be a matter of sharing a toy among three kids that barely speak, during some children play session, but this way of understanding reality will become more and more powerful in our lives, as we grow.
And before we know, we start changing our behavior, and atittudes, and values, in order to be accepted. Society makes this even more difficult by putting all sorts of roadblocks in front of us: religion, financial status, social status, career. You have to do all those things in order to be accepted. In order to regain you initial balance. But that’s impossible. You can’t satisfy all the people on earth. Of course, you develop some protection mechanisms, you start to make decisions about what financial status wold be satisfactory for you and what takes it to achieve it, you start planning your career, start thinking about what kind of family you would want to have, but deep down, you will always ask questions about things you want to do, and their relation with the others.
You cannot really start anything if you don’t truly feel that this thing will be accepted by your close environment. Let’s say you want to start your own business. The first feeling is a thrill: you are a kid again and that independence is like a toy you want to grab. But micro-seconds after, you start thinking: what about my current environment? Would that be OK with that? My wife will accept this? What about my boss, he gave me that raise last month, you know…
And here you go, you procrastinate.
This model works for almost everything you want to do. You will always do what have the higher chance of being accepted by your environment, being a meeting with your friends or buying a new car. If that specific thing, or that specific action, is not fitting within your current environment, you put it in a basket. You never do it. You might start to look at it from time to time and tell to yourself you’ll do it, but you will never do.
The ability to change your attitude about what you want to do goes close to the feeling you have about what you want to do. If your attitude is hesitant, your feeling will be insecure, you will start to experience fear and confusion.
Outside Fear And Confusion
But the good news is that this ability is reversible. You may change the way you look at the things you want to do, and bring procrastination to a much lower level. It might even become zero, but that’s highly unlikely to happen.
How would you start to actually do thing, and not procrastinate? It’s so simple and so complicated at the same time: put that thing you want to do into your current context, and put yourself out of that context. Exactly: start seing yourself from the outside. If you do that, you will never have any fear of not accomodating your desires with your environment. Because you will be out of it all together.
Sounds confusing? It’s not, bear with me.
Let’s go back to that “starting your own job thing”. Let’s begin to look at yourself from the outside: you are that person that have a wife, a good boss, and so on. Look closely at that human being. What you should do if you would be him and want to start a business? Maybe talk with his wife and ask for her opinion? Take the boss out for a beer and friendly tell him about your ideas? Those are risk-free operations that you can actually do. You don’t have to actually put your energies and actions into developing a business, just try to accomodate it first with your current environment.
And try to do this by escaping yourself out of it, by putting yourself in an invisible zone of observation. Suddenly, the prospect of starting your own business becomes manageable. Possible. Even better, you understand that you can actually leverage from your current environment, instead of becoming antagonist to it: maybe your wife will support you for a year or two, and your boss will chip in some clients? Who knows?
There is only one way to find out: see yourself from the outside, change your perspective and the answers will come.
The habit of putting yourself out of your current context is sometimes referenced in spirituality as “witnessing”. It’s a very rewarding approach. It’s a skill that puts you in a virtually risk-free position. It’s like looking at yourself from an invisible and indestructible spaceship: nothing can hurt you there, so you can think about you and your environment whatever you want. Believe me, it’s a very rewarding habit.
You can master this habit – like any other habit – by exercising it. Just use whatever methods and tools suit you: meditation, yoga, or even fitness at the local gym. Whatever works for you.
The biggest lesson that will come out of this is that you cannot be hurt by your environment.
You never fail, you just learn.