Procrastination is Not Laziness

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I was going to tackle my procrastination problem last weekend but I never got around to it.

By Sunday at 5:48 pm I realized I had blown it again. Throughout the week I feel like I barely have enough time to cook, eat, tidy up, write an article and do the odd errand. I lean towards the weekend, when I have two whole days to finally get some work done. To improve my blog, to catch up on my correspondence, to get some monkeys off my back like fixing things that need fixing, organizing things that need organizing, tackling things that need tackling.

But the weekends go by and I never catch up. I don’t use the time well. Time is not what I’m short on, even though that’s what I tell myself all week.

Sometimes I do sit down early in the day and pound something out, but then I give myself a well-deserved break and that’s usually the end of any productivity. I end up clicking around on the internet, then clean up, then cook something, then watch a bit of a documentary online, then try to work again, then get distracted. Then I decide to wait until after supper to do some work, then I start reading something after supper, then if I’m still home, it’s already after 9:00 so I decide I’ll get an early start the next day.

I avoid taking on the real important stuff. I create work of secondary importance so that I never really have to confront the really worthwhile things. When I get on a roll, I back off and stay backed off. I take breaks that turn into written-off days. I am addicted to hanging it up for the night, to letting myself off the hook.

The important stuff doesn’t get done, at least not before my procrastinatory tendencies have created an obvious, impending consequence of not doing it, like incurring a fine, really letting someone down, or getting fired.

So much of what I want to do isn’t terribly difficult and wouldn’t take a lot of time to get done. Looking at my projects list now I have items like: book an appointment for X, send in that change of address form, phone so-and-so about Y, write a short piece for Z. And many of them have been sitting there for weeks or months. I have the most bizarre aversion to tackling things.

Reaching critical levels

To some of you this is already sounding familiar.

I have lived with this sort of “productivity lag” most of my life, but it only recently hit me that it’s not just run-of-the-mill human busyness. Some alarming patterns have emerged in the past few months. I’ve been feeling chronic stress for the first time in years. I have been waking up angry on a fairly regular basis, and that’s not okay.

After a bit of poking around at the library, it’s become clear to me that I have a pretty serious procrastination issue. I also learned that procrastination is not caused by laziness or disorganization, but by deeper psychological issues, which I’ll touch on a bit later in this post.

As I said, it’s always been a feature of my life but it’s reached a critical point this year. The catalyst has been a change in my job. At the end of January I was dropped into a new role that I neither like nor feel prepared for. My protests were met with, “You’ll figure it out as you go along, it’s like this for everyone at first.” I have since worked it through, mostly, but not before it set off a pretty bad stress cycle that brought some ugly stuff to the surface.

Honestly, it probably would have been a much easier adjustment for most people to make than it has been for me, but my initial uncertainty combined in very ugly ways with my lifelong phobias of asking for help, admitting ignorance, and talking to people I don’t know on the phone. Paralysis set in. Stress, which has been a mostly-dormant force in my life for the last five years or so, became prominent again.

Once you lose track of the specific items that are causing you stress, you tend to regard it all as one big ugly entity that you want to avoid. My unaddressed duties and grey areas at work became mixed with my unaddressed duties and grey areas outside of work, to create a stifling mutant stressor that only leaves me alone while I’m sleeping. All the work I’ve done towards learning to effect the quality of the day can be easily short-circuited by my procrastination habit, and that’s what’s happening right now. It’s gone way too far and I am determined to address the bad habits that let it get this way.

My last few experiments have created huge changes in the way I operate and the environment I live in. Well I’m doing a bigger one this time. I’m taking on a problem that has probably taken more from me than any other behavior. I’ve lost so many opportunities, relationships, advantages, sources of income and growth. There is certainly nothing that has caused more suffering in my life than my propensity to avoid achievement or competition.

For what I’m capable of, I have been a resoundingly unproductive person. Almost every Sunday night I mourn another blown opportunity to catch up, and throughout every week I am leaning towards the next weekend. The weeks fly by, and if weeks are flying by, so are months. How we spend our days is how we spend our lives, and I’ve had enough of this.

Monday I’ll formally announce Experiment No. 11. While preparing for it I did some research on where procrastination comes from, which was frankly quite alarming to me and shed a sorely-needed light on why I have had such confounding, persistent trouble with getting ordinary things done. This post is quite a bit longer than usual but if you’ve had similar trouble, it might just shake loose something that’s been stuck for a very long time.

The real causes of procrastination

Let’s clear something up: I am not lazy. I have no shortage of energy, I have no interest in lounging on the couch, I don’t have TV service, I never wear pyjamas all day. Waking up after 7:30 is sleeping in for me, even on a Saturday. I actually like working.

Yet I exhibit a consistent failure to work through my day-to-day tasks, errands and projects in any manner than could be considered timely. Nearly everything must reach some sort of “scary point” for me to finally move on it. Like when I waited till the last possible day to submit my lease renewal, having had three months of lead time. In the end it took about fifteen minutes, but evidently I needed to be a day away from losing my home in order to do it.

I ended up reading one of the more highly-acclaimed books on procrastination, Neil Fiore’s The Now Habit. Reading the section on the psychological causes of procrastination really hit home.

It turns out procrastination is not typically a function of laziness, apathy or work ethic as it is often regarded to be. It’s a neurotic self-defense behavior that develops to protect a person’s sense of self-worth.

You see, procrastinators tend to be people who have, for whatever reason, developed to perceive an unusually strong association between their performance and their value as a person. This makes failure or criticism disproportionately painful, which leads naturally to hesitancy when it comes to the prospect of doing anything that reflects their ability — which is pretty much everything.

But in real life, you can’t avoid doing things. We have to earn a living, do our taxes, having difficult conversations sometimes. Human life requires confronting uncertainty and risk, so pressure mounts. Procrastination gives a person a temporary hit of relief from this pressure of “having to do” things, which is a self-rewarding behavior. So it continues and becomes the normal way to respond to these pressures.

Particularly prone to serious procrastination problems are children who grew up with unusually high expectations placed on them. Their older siblings may have been high achievers, leaving big shoes to fill, or their parents may have had neurotic and inhuman expectations of their own, or else they exhibited exceptional talents early on, and thereafter “average” performances were met with concern and suspicion from parents and teachers.

This was the part that made my heart sink when I read it. Not that anybody was trying to make things difficult for me, but I grew up feeling high expectations from the adults in my life and myself. For most of my schooling, I was always in advanced programs, always aced everything, and when I got anything less than an A, people asked me what was wrong.

I also noticed other kids didn’t get this treatment. They were congratulated for getting B’s and even C’s. So from the feedback I got, I learned that a report card (of mine) with five A’s and a B was indicative of a shortcoming somewhere, not success. I’ve written about this before so I won’t get into it here, but suffice it to say that I learned that the downsides of being imperfect are far greater than the upsides of being perfect.

Perfectionism breeds pessimism

It was a major revelation to me when I recognized a year ago that despite my preference for and sensitivity to the positive aspects of life, I am a pessimist — I have come to give potential downsides far more weight than potential upsides. This means that pushing projects ahead is — on the balance — a bad deal, because unless I’m pretty damn perfect there is much more pain to be had in doing that than pleasure.

This is obviously an inaccurate presumption, and I’m intellectually aware of that, but when it comes down to confronting it “in the field” it’s amazing how tricky the mind can be. I have a lifetime of habits routing me away from striving for prizes in life, and towards protecting myself.

For a procrastinator of my kind, perfection (or something negligibly close to it) thereby becomes the only result that allows one to be comfortable with himself. A procrastinator becomes disproportionately motivated by the pain of failure. So when you consider taking anything on, the promise of praise or benefit from doing something right are overshadowed by the (disproportionately greater) threat of getting something wrong. Growing up under such high expectations, people learn to associate imperfection or criticism with outright failure, and failure with personal inadequacy.

A person who does not have this neurosis might wish they didn’t make a mistake, whereas the neurotic procrastinator perceives the error as being a reflection of their character. In other words, most people suffer mainly the practical consequences of mistakes (such as finishing with a lower grade, or having to redo something) with only minor self-esteem implications, while neurotic procrastinators perceive every mistake they make as being a flaw in them.

So what they are motivated to do is to avoid finishing anything, because to complete and submit work is subject yourself (not just your work) to scrutiny. To move forward with any task is to subject yourself to risks that appear to the subconscious to be positively deadly because part of you is convinced that it is you that is at stake, not just your time, resources, patience, options or other secondary considerations. To the fear centre of your brain, by acting without guarantees of success (and there are none) you really are facing annihilation.

A backlog of avoided tasks accumulates, and each one represents another series of threats to your self-worth should you tackle them. So the fear mounts, knowing that there is a minefield of threats between you and the fulfillment of your responsibilities. You feel like you must do something and can’t do that thing simultaneously, which can only lead to a burning resentment of the people or forces that put you in that impossible place — your employer, your society, or yourself. A victim mentality emerges.

Because it is rewarding on the short term, procrastination eventually takes on the form of an addiction to the temporary relief from these deep-rooted fears. Procrastinators get an extremely gratifying “hit” whenever they decide to let themselves off the hook for the rest of the day, only to wake up to a more tightly squeezed day with even less confidence.

Once a pattern of procrastination is established, it can be perpetuated for reasons other than the fear of failure. For example, if you know you have a track record of taking weeks to finally do something that might only take two hours if you weren’t averse to it, you begin to see every non-simple task as a potentially endless struggle. So a modest list of 10-12 medium-complexity to-do’s might represent to you an insurmountable amount of work, so it feels hopeless just to start one little part of one task. This hones a hair-trigger overwhelm response, and life gets really difficult really easily.

All I want

As I mentioned, on Monday I will begin Experiment 11, which is direct attack on my procrastination problem. I’ll give you the details then about how I’m going to go about it.

All my experiments must have a clear aim. “Dealing with my procrastination problem” is too vague a goal here. I have to define what specific change I want to make.

What I want to get out of it is very simple. I want to be able to do something many (most?) people do every day, and would never consider it a problem:

I want to write down what I’m going to do the next day, and actually do it.

I am really good at the first half of that. Planning is something I do very well. I have planned the next day (or week) thousands of times. I’ve taped it to my door or bathroom mirror. I’ve set alarms, made promises, left trails of instructional sticky notes all through my apartment. But I am not sure if I’ve ever executed one of these plans all the way through. Honestly, in my 30 years I cannot think of one time I ever did. I will do anything but the 5 to 10 items I thought would be smart ones to do.

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why I’ll do anything but what I planned, but it’s not that they’re necessarily difficult tasks. Sometimes they’re so easy that I don’t feel any urge to do them right away, and therefore can justifiably do something even easier, like check my email, watch online documentaries, or try a new recipe.

My adversary is the unconscious reactive part of my mind, and by now it’s a world-class expert at manipulating me. It’s like being a prison guard for Hannibal Lecter. Sure he’s locked up, but he’s Hannibal Lecter.

So that’s my simple, humble dream in life: to list a few things I’d like to get done and go ahead and do them. I could take over the world, if I could only learn to do that.

UPDATE: This experiment was completed in Summer 2011 — Experiment log is here.

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Do you have a problem with procrastination? Is it a career for you, or just a part-time hobby?

R

Photo by Danielle Scott


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{ 165 Comments }

David Ashton May 4, 2011 at 11:09 pm

Been there, done that, got the t-shirt. Excellent post. I’ll be checking back to see how the experiment works. Good luck!

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Amy September 20, 2011 at 1:15 pm

T-shirt? What T-shirt :(

I would love a Raptitude T-shirt!

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Nancy December 12, 2013 at 10:34 am

OMG… do you know me? SUCHHHHH a good article. So… so true!!! No other words to express, lol, to you how happy I am that you DID get THIS article done.

Helps a lot…. am JUST seriously dealing with this and facing it in the past week. Getting tired of being like this. Can accomplish so much more…

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jagzero May 4, 2011 at 11:24 pm

this makes too much sense.

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Whitney Hyshka May 4, 2011 at 11:38 pm

I hope the experiment goes well! I have the same problem. I would like to overcome it and aim to accomplish everything on my to-do list. However, I am scared of failing. It’s a vicious circle.

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Melissa May 5, 2011 at 12:13 am

This is something that I am all too familiar with. Reading the reasons you cite for where the lifelong habit of procrastination is often born very much strikes a nerve (and brings up some rather uncomfortable memories, truth be told). I will be interested in reading about your experiment with overcoming this pattern, and may even do one of my own! Thank you, and good luck!

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Tobi May 5, 2011 at 12:20 am

I was raised with a ‘no excuses’ kind of thing. If I did less than expected, there was no excuse, I had to do the same math sheets (I was home schooled) over and over and over until they were PERFECT or else I couldn’t leave the dinning room. And my less than perfect score was met with disappointment and “there is no excuse”. I could have gotten a perfect score so I should have. I could have gotten my room perfectly clean so I should have.

This is probably why its taken me so long to get a GED. I just remembered I line daddy used to say angrily when I didn’t do something to his standard: “If you’re just going to half ass something why even bother doing it!!” That isn’t it exactly, and he probably had more than one way of saying it, but the message is the same. From what I read here, that’s probably the worst thing a parent could say. I’m do glad I’m adopted! But anyway, I really wish you’d hurry up and post that experiment because I REALLY want to know how to begin undoing their horrible parenting, they sure left a mess for me to clean up.

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R May 5, 2011 at 4:00 pm

This might not be the best way to say this, but I’m going to say it anyway. No one is perfect, including parents, including your parents. I’m not one, but I imagine being a parent is really difficult. People make mistakes. I was the recipient of some really poor parenting, but it was the best my parents, as people, could do. Almost every adult I know has/had some mess to clean up, but berating our parents on the internet doesn’t help.

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EcoCatLady May 5, 2011 at 8:18 pm

OK, now this sort of comment really pushes my buttons. Maybe your parents did do the best that they could, and I agree that nobody is perfect. But that does not mean that ALL parents tried hard and just fell short. Some parents, in fact, are sadistic child abusers who enjoy watching a helpless creature suffer for their own pleasure. I’m not saying that’s the case with Tori… I haven’t any clue about that situation.

I’m just saying that some people have real legitimate reasons to be angry at their parents, and to suggest that it is improper or unseemly to express that anger on the internet because it somehow makes you uncomfortable is just not OK.

It’s not that I think people should just blame everything on their parents and take no responsibility for their own lives, but it often takes years for someone who has suffered with an abusive parent to be able to voice their anger, and comments like yours are just plain not helpful.

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Tobi May 10, 2011 at 1:00 am

Daddy was one who tried his best and fell short. Yes, I’ll complain and blame but I’m a teenager and not worried about it at all. And even if they did do their best it doesn’t mean they didn’t still mess you up somehow.

Just because your parents tried their hardest doesn’t mean their shortcomings didn’t have any side effects. And just because you acknowledge the origins of your behavior doesn’t mean you’re not taking responsibility for it. Just because someone left a baby on your doorstep doesn’t mean you don’t feed him.

A girl March 7, 2013 at 12:37 am

Your comment pushes my buttons.
Some people will read it and excuse their animosity towards their parents by saying that their parents were being selfish and don’t love them or whatever. This idea only drives a wedge in every human relationship.
Regardless of what a parent or anyone else has done and why they did it, making judgements and being angry does not help anyone. I was sexually abused as a child, and I forgave that man because that is what children do. They forgive people. All the time I get messages from the internet and the media that I should be angry; I should not rest until he rots in jail for the rest of his life. But honestly, I want him to be able to move on and become a better person, and I believe he has. And I know that I would only be allowing his actions to hurt me more by not forgiving him. I let go a long time ago, and every time I am tempted to hold on to whatever bad feelings I “should” or “am entitled to” have, I remember that I have been free all this time simply because I have allowed myself to be.
So naturally, it makes me sad when I see people defending the cause of anger. Anger can only bring more pain. Forgiveness stops the cycle.

A boy July 30, 2013 at 9:12 pm

@A girl

Loved your comment. I was pretty touched by it, if you know what I meeeeaaaaan hehehhhh

Nate May 5, 2011 at 1:17 am

I’ll be curious to see how you do with this. It’s like I was reading my own stuff here. The absolute hardest thing is to do what I ‘planned’ to do. I’ve read Fiore’s stuff with mixed results, though I think it may be the best way to climb out of this… if there IS a way. In addition to perfectionist tendencies, here are two things I’ve noticed that may or may not help you.
1. I suspect defiance has a lot to do with it. I’ve recently started to realize that I have somewhat passive aggressive tendencies. Not of the ‘I’m an asshole’ sort. More like the ‘I do everything on my own terms’ sort. Like being late for meetings and such. This tendency is hard to catch because I don’t find myself having ill-will towards anyone. It’s very very subconscious. But if you really think about it, your higher self (to borrow Fiore’s language) making a list or schedule that tells your childish self what to do and where to be is the ULTIMATE authority figure to subvert. Yes I know we THINK we want to follow that list, but we never do. I think defiance is why. So…the fix? Service mindset… Trying to view myself as serving others, my coworkers, my things, the planet, my friends, etc. To just view yourself as a humble helper instead of master and commander. This perspective tends to eliminate the ego getting in the way of doing what we are supposed to do. It’s very hard for me to do this and I suck at it, but I think I may be on to something. It’s a strange balance of putting on your executive ass-kicking hat to direct your life, then putting on the humble helper hat to actually carry out the orders. Your subconsciousness likes to sabotage the heck out of that.
2. Letting go. I’ve also realized that deciding to actually move on a project or a set of actions for any particular time period (this evening, this year, etc)… more importantly means that I give up on other projects I COULD be doing instead. People like us are way better at coming up with ideas and wonderful dreams than actually deciding on a select few to follow through with. That’s fine, in this world are thinkers and doers and we need each other. You need to learn to mourn the the death of countless good ideas and things you want to do…. in order to actually DO the great ideas and things you REALLY want to do. Again, easier said than done. But I think a key problem with perfectionism is admitting that we can’t possibly achieve ALL that we know we can do…so instead of deciding what to cut out, we often settle on not-deciding at all in order for some of these wonderful ideas to be kept alive. Be at peace with letting go of those… I’m still trying to figure that out also.

Good luck, if you figure this out in a way that I can relate to then I’ll be extremely thankful. Hope I could shed some sort of light your way also. Great post. It’s very close to the elusive truth.

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David May 5, 2011 at 4:31 pm

In Fiore’s book he describes a whole host of secondary “spinoff” behaviors that accompany and reinforce procrastination once it’s a habit, and defiance is one of the main ones. I didn’t address it because the post was getting too long, but it’s definitely a major influence in my behavior. Because procrastinators feel like they’re stuck between a rock and a hard place, they resent (as I think I did mention) the person or institution that appears to be “forcing” them to be there. This creates another incentive to procrastinate. I know that there were many times when I didn’t do something just because I didn’t want my teachers/parents/boss to think that their apparent pressuring of me is working. There were even times when I was about to get around to something my parents had been bugging me to do, and then one of them mentioned it and that made me feel like I couldn’t do it then because it would only reinforce their (apparent) tendency to pressure me.

You make a great point about letting go too. I often feel like going ahead with one thing is a betrayal of everything else, even if I’m consciously aware that this conflict is likely to result in none of them getting done.

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Amy November 9, 2011 at 11:34 pm

I can definitely relate to this. I never wanted to do any work in high school and performed pretty poorly. Of course I ended up regretting this later on. Years later I decided to pursue further education on my own accord, and discovered that it was a lot easier to get stuff done…probably because no one was forcing me to be there.

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Beth January 8, 2014 at 5:06 pm

“ere were even times when I was about to get around to something my parents had been bugging me to do, and then one of them mentioned it and that made me feel like I couldn’t do it then because it would only reinforce their (apparent) tendency to pressure me.”
You mean that’s not a reasonable response?!
(I am so glad I’m not the only one who had that experience. I think I drove my mum mad.)

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Krishi May 5, 2011 at 1:36 am

Thanks for writing this. I completely empathize with what you have discussed, and I have gone through multiple phases where I have defeated the core “fear of failure” thought process. Unfortunately, I manage to slip back again, and repeat the whole process.

It seems to start with the big projects and events, but finally trickles down to even the simplest of tasks. I think there’s something more, than the fear of failure, to this whole issue.

I think that one significant problem with procrastinators (who are usually perfectionists), is that they tend to put all their eggs in one basket. If they are working on a particular project, their energies get completely channelized into this. Though a great quality, since it leads to very good results, the insidious effect it has on the sub-conscious brain is that the following belief develops – “My happiness is completely defined by the success or failure of this.”. When such a belief is formed, it’s but natural that fear becomes such a defining force. By it’s very nature, we have put ourselves in the primeval “fight or flight” mode.

To defeat this, it’s necessary to reduce (and not eliminate) the correlation between happiness and failure. The nasty feeling of having not succeeded is bound to arise when things don’t go as planned, and its especially more intense for perfectionists, and works great since we can use it to be more diligent/smart the next time around. But by not hinging our happiness on the outcome, we give ourselves some breathing space (actually a lot of breathing space for creativity to express itself).

I am trying out an experiment where I am trying to become aware of all sources of my happiness, with the hope that, in case of a events not meeting my expectations, I don’t get overwhelmed by negative emotions. In essence, I’m telling my brain, that though not succeeding will be upsetting (which also drives me to give it my best), my average level of happiness will not get disturbed much.

Still in experimental stage, and there are good and bad days. So cannot say for sure if this is the right approach. Any thoughts?

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Humayun May 5, 2011 at 1:41 pm

Hi. I Subscribed to your email updates and some other self help blogs but after reading them for a few times I stopped reading. I do check my emails and the senders but I don’t open them until something that triggers some thing in me.
I am a medical student and I do procastinate a lot. I don’t open my books and don’t study the daily work given to me. It’s really small as you said but I don’t do it. And the reason which you gave is that the fear because of high expectations, that EXACTLY is my problem. I don’t do well in studies now and it now has become a habit. I am looking forward to your new experiment and if you find a way then pls do share it with me. :( I want to be better.

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David May 5, 2011 at 4:36 pm

That’s really what it amounts to, I think — learning to maintain a sense of worth that is independent of (or at least only loosely attached to) the outcome of what one chooses to do. This is the point at which I’m going to attack this problem: the attachment to outcomes. After all, that kind of attachment has an obvious history of causing procrastination, which creates consistently disappointing outcomes (and consequently, consistently compromised feelings of self-worth.)

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EcoCatLady May 5, 2011 at 1:58 am

Ooooo – The description of the procrastinator’s psyche pretty much describes me to a T… or is it tee, or maybe tea? – ’cause you know, if I got that wrong then the entire world would know that I’m really just an idiot and a bluffer and I’ll be called on the carpet in front of God and everybody…

Seriously though, I had a brother 18 months my senior (read one year ahead in school) who was boy wonder. I’m not kidding. Every year my high school had an awards ceremony where each department would choose one exceptional student. Problem was – when my brother was a senior, EVERY department wanted to give him their departmental award. So they created a special award just for him, so that he wouldn’t be the only student being awarded that night. Try living up to that one!

And I did try… oh, how I tried… I was a 4.0 straight A student, class valedictorian, elite NY university, early acceptance to Phi Beta Kappa, the whole nine yards. But then, a miracle occurred!

I was a junior in college when I had my little “nervous hoe down” (like a nervous breakdown, only smaller and with comic overtones.) I tried to kill myself… well, in retrospect it wasn’t a very serious attempt – hypothermia seemed like a good way to go until I discovered that one has to get really damned cold in order to freeze to death.

But it did provoke a revelation of sorts… I realized that if my life was making me so miserable that offing myself via late night snow storm actually seemed like a viable alternative, then I really, truly had nothing to lose.

So I punted. I mean, if my only other recourse was becoming a human popcicle in some mid-winter campsite in upstate NY, then what did it matter if I was a total failure? So what if my parents disowned me, or if I turned into a bag lady, or if the New York times had my face on the front cover with the words “TOTALLY INADEQUATE” in huge headline type… at least I wouldn’t be dead.

So there I was, just a few months before I was to start my senior year, and I changed my major… much to my parents’ dismay. I became a music major because I liked music, well that and because I only needed one more course to complete the requirements. So I took the course, refused to study (an achievement in and of itself) and I got a B!!! Woo Hoo!!! Progress!!! It was the first and only B of my life and I was never prouder of any grade ever!

Then I pretty much dropped out of respectable society entirely and went to work with a bunch of hippies at a folk music school, where I lived on poverty wages. But alas, after 16 years I had managed to overachieve that little school into a thriving arts organization, and myself back into a nervous wreck. So I quit, and now I just work for (and on) myself.

I wouldn’t say that I’m cured, by any stretch of the imagination. The old “you’re not good enough” bug still haunts me, but I’ve learned how to face the knot in my stomach… it helps knowing that it generally has nothing to do with the task at hand.

Best of luck with your experiment. There is light at the end of the tunnel, and most of the time it’s not an oncoming train. :~) I’ll be pullin’ for you!

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David May 5, 2011 at 4:38 pm

I love hearing everyone’s stories with this phenomenon. I knew I wasn’t alone here. Thank you for sharing.

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Aparna April 20, 2013 at 12:05 pm

The article is awesome and there was so much in it which is exactly my situation. I am a procrastination-addict and I get pathetically guilty about it too.

I am glad to hear stories of overcoming procrastination.

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Rose May 5, 2011 at 2:42 am

I own the book by Neil Fiore, which I bought trying to deal with my own procrastination problem. There is however one important concept that he didn’t touch upon, (or maybe he did but I don’t remember), and that’s “demand sensitivity” and “demand resistance”, which have been coined in the book “too perfect” by Mallinger. I don’t own it but googling around I got a grasp of the concept. An example is loving to read until you have to do it for an assignement, then it becomes an immense chore you procrastinate on. It’s accompanied by resentment about the demands placed on you, and procrastination becomes one of the few ways in which you can sabotage the authority making those demands, even if it’s yourself.

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David May 5, 2011 at 4:44 pm

He didn’t use the phrase “demand resistance,” but he did talk a lot about that concept in other terms. Procrastinators learn to resent pressure from outside actors, because they appear to be the source of their problem. So when a once-voluntary task becomes involuntary, suddenly it is something much more threatening, and one feels justified in resenting the task and whoever is apparently making you do it.

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Lyn May 5, 2011 at 2:48 am

For large sections of this post I kept thinking ‘Is this me? Did I write this and forget?’ Thank you for writing this post at this time.

Achievement and expectation can certainly bring heavy baggage yet it is baggage that we can lay down as you are trying to do. I thought I had tackled my perfectionism and my yearning to impress others through achievement. I used to want to do and be so many things and I wasn’t entirely sure why. Now my list is very short: Love. Experience life as it comes. Notice the good.

Quite a stubborn amount of procrastination around simple tasks still remains though…your post has alerted me to the fact that this might be perfectionism in hiding and, to put it bluntly, that old friend ‘fear of failure’.

Time to whoop some ass. Failure doesn’t scare me. When I’ve done it, I’ve done it very well :)

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George May 5, 2011 at 3:39 am

Excellent post; similar experiences here.

I wonder, though, about the focus on working it all out, making thorough plans of what needs doing, trying to ‘fix’ it and make it happen – basically, the attempt to solve it by effort and by exerting control. I think these are the things that procrastination is built from. They are of themselves distractions from just doing things, and they entrench the idea that tasks are important and ‘really matter’.

I noticed that when I eventually used to hit the ‘catastrophically close deadline’ level I would then give up trying (and failing) to make things happen, through either exhaustion or because it was now hopeless to try and get the task done on time – and I’d suddenly be relaxed. The pressure would lift, and then I would do the task easily, and almost enjoy it (while wishing I’d started earlier), because it was now too late anyway, and the getting-it-done would just kind of happen. Which got me thinking…

Basically, I think the only approach that works is the approach a procrastinator works hardest to avoid: you have to give up, let things happen and take things as they come, because that’s what you end up being forced to do anyway, and that’s when things actually get done. You then find, to your surprise, that you don’t need to control things, and never did. When you aren’t trying to make yourself do things, you are more relaxed and open, and you find that the idea of what needs doing next just pops into your head by itself, then you find yourself doing it.

You don’t need to, and indeed cannot, ‘hold on to’ the whole plan of your life and control your actions against it. That doesn’t mean you don’t draw up plans, but you do it in the spirit of ‘exploring the possibilities’ for a project or for the upcoming day, of familiarising yourself with the landscape of where you are – as opposed to creating a checklist trajectory you will then try to bind yourself to by force. The actions themselves arise spontaneously – if you just get out of the way.

So, I’m thinking the procrastinator is someone who won’t let go of control, which blocks off spontaneity, and it turns out that spontaneous action is how you actually get things done. The origin of that ‘holding on’ may or may not be some sense of ‘existential threat’ about the task at hand, but the problem is actually the holding on, and spending time trying to solve or understand the apparent underlying problem, or trying to force action against a plan, is just more procrastination.

Really, in the end, the only way out is to decide that you are okay with annihilation…

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David May 5, 2011 at 4:49 pm

I think you are right on the money here, and the focus of my experiment is going to be the relinquishing of direct control over the results of my actions.

The only way to control the outcome is to ensure that there is no outcome. So nothing gets done. Of course, incompleteness is an outcome too, and it has its consequences. We can’t escape consequences, but it seems like if you don’t act, at least they have to come to you, rather that you running yourself into them voluntarily by acting.

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George May 6, 2011 at 3:00 am

Looking forward to following the experiment!

For me, it was the realisation that if I don’t fiddle about with things, I find that they are happening anyway, that made it clearer. Procrastination wasn’t really about me not initiating action, but rather about me inhibiting actions that were arising spontaneously – and then trying to make those same actions occur by force, at the same time as I was inhibiting them… making it all pretty tense and stressful!

It also reveals that a lot of things you do are actually little bits of ‘theatre’. For instance, making decisions by thinking about them is basically just you making a little bit of theatre for yourself, so that you have an experience of ‘coming to a decision’ and ‘doing something’ before ‘performing the action’. But in fact, you are you, and those actions and directions are already inherent or ‘enfolded’ in the moment you are in now.

A lot of things then make more sense, become effortless, from this standpoint – most bodywork such as the Alexander Technique or LearningMethods stuff are really about coming to a point where you just get out of the way, and I’d say that most ‘non-dual’ approaches amount to much the same thing. But it takes a lot of trust to just step off the ledge of (apparent!) control into what is apparently (and actually, you find, but not in a bad way) empty space…

Meanwhile, as soon as you stop ‘trying’ to generate and hold on to experiences all the time, I find that things such as the Douglas Harding experiments and the general recognition that experience (thoughts, perceptions, sensations) arises ‘by itself’ in a ‘unstructured perceptual space’, etc, come a lot more naturally than they did before when I was trying to force them (although I didn’t realise I was doing this at the time).

Anyway, enough babbling – good luck!

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Andreas May 5, 2011 at 4:07 am

This seems like an interesting blog post! However, I will procrastinate reading all of it until later since it is sort of long! I “have” to do some other things first.

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Liane May 5, 2011 at 5:14 am

Wow this was incredibly insightful and pwerful for me…as I put off doing things I need to do and instead read blog posts! :-)
Thanks!

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Célia May 5, 2011 at 5:20 am

Thank you so much for that post!! You’ve shed some much needed light into my own procrastination tendency :)

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Positively Present May 5, 2011 at 6:02 am

Great article! I’m adding The Now Habit to my reading list now. Sounds interesting! Procrastination is a tricky thing… Sometimes it’s really needed and sometimes people actually work better when they wait until the last minute. But, as you’ve done, it’s important to really examine it in our lives and see what the real causes are. Great post!

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Char (PSI Tutor:Mentor) May 5, 2011 at 6:20 am

Really~ you have only one thing to do each day…? Now that would be a challenge ~:-)

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Mabel May 5, 2011 at 6:54 am

Hi David,
It sounds like this experiment is another way for you ace another thing in life. Is that akin to feeding the monster?

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Shanna Mann May 5, 2011 at 4:19 pm

I second this question! (Not because I thought of it too, but because it really is a good question)

It sounds like I am in good company as a procrastinator. I was just like another commenter: Did I write this and forget? I get things done, but not the big things, the gamechanger things. There are always other things to take care of first.

So I can’t wait to see how you tackle that stuff.

Also… the best way I’ve found to beat the fear is to meditate. I seriously lock myself in the bathroom and sit on my hands in the tub and force myself to sit there until I’m still. It takes FOREVER, but it banishes the fear for a while. And I know what to do, and I do it. For a while. If you find a way to make it stick, let me know.

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David May 5, 2011 at 5:03 pm

This is an important point.

As you’ll see when I post the experiment, this isn’t going to be about executing 30 straight to-do lists perfectly. It’s essentially going to be this:

1) deciding what I want to do
2) examining my in-the-moment resistance to what I’ve decided to do (what self-worth-related consequences do I foresee here? Could I act anyway?)
3) refraining from indulging the impulse to defer actions I’ve decided to do

It’s really not about increasing performance standards, though that is almost certainly going to be a result of this. My experiment concerns the identification and rejection of a habitual, unhealthy inclination towards deferring action. I am addressing an addiction here, by identifying my triggers and becoming conscious of the anxiety and thought processes associated with them.

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Ceci May 5, 2011 at 7:06 am

Thank you for posting this, it obviously has to do with so many of us! It is nice to feel I’m not alone in this.

In my experience, the most difficult thing is avoiding doing the things that matter the most to me. Because they’re the ones I dread the most (failure at those feels like tragedy! If I’m not good at what I like, then what have I got left? Such are my irrational feelings about this), yet they’re the thing I most desperately want to achieve! It’s such an annoying internal struggle.

I’m really looking forward to reading how you will do this, and will definitely try to do it myself! :)

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David May 5, 2011 at 5:05 pm

Those are the things I avoid most too: the things I really want to do a good job of.

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grace b May 9, 2011 at 12:34 am

Same here. For example, I had a huge project this semester in college. I spent SO much time procrastinating and not working on the project, then I had to rush at the end to finish it. It was something that I wanted to do well at so badly but I became paralyzed by fear.

It is really hard to remember that we are NOT defined by our failures. I think that this idea of self worth is something that a lot of procrastinators struggle with, myself included.

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thunderbloke May 5, 2011 at 7:16 am

I am dealing with this exact problem as we speak and it’s really getting in the way of my life. Whatever your experiment is I’m doing it with you!

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carly May 5, 2011 at 7:48 am

thank you for this post. i am a new reader and this topic really speaks to me. i have also been a chronic procrastinator my entire life and even though i appear productive to others, i am constantly choosing in small ways to put things off and delay that possibility for failure. at this point it is nearly impossible for me to start tasks ahead of deadline because i rely on the adrenalin of doing things last minute that focuses my brain. i hope to use this and your post on monday as inspiration to battle my own procrastination demons.

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David May 5, 2011 at 5:06 pm

Nice to know others will be with me :)

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Joy Langtry May 5, 2011 at 8:24 am

David, I find this especially fascinating since my own big procrastination issue is around writing, and I actually see you as a role model in that regard.

Are you at all familiar with the Abraham-Hicks take on procrastination as aligned with a sense of divine timing? Sometimes when I force myself to perform a task, it’s not doable because the person I need is not available or there is some other block. When I feel inspired, often the task is a breeze and way easier than anticipated.

I do fit the model described by the psychological theories you have cited, and I believe they have validity. For me personally, though, I think my solutions lie somewhere in a combination of Fiore’s and Abraham’s recommendations.

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David May 5, 2011 at 5:07 pm

Good to hear from you Joy. I’ll look into Abraham-Hicks.

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grace b May 5, 2011 at 8:55 am

As someone who is dealing with the effects of procrastination pretty much all the time as a college student (until I graduate in roughly 9 days!!) I’m looking forward to a post-grad life where I can live on my terms. I’ll be checking up on your experiment. You and other commentors have REALLY reminded me of tendencies in myself that counseling is helping me to work through. Thanks!!

(also the application “self control” for MACs is really helpful when you need to get off the internet)

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Trish Scott May 5, 2011 at 9:00 am

Wow. Interesting. I used to have a problem with procrastination. I solved it by cutting out the making a list end of it and just doing whatever as soon as it comes up. I find lists are just overwhelm waiting to happen.

There is an area though that I never did get over which is very much part of this syndrome – Stage Fright. As a violinist it was a lethal problem. As you point out, “To the fear centre of your brain, by acting without guarantees of success (and there are none) you really are facing annihilation.” My stage fright was so debilitating that I left home, family and country to study with Kato Havas who had written “Stage Fright it’s Causes and Cures”. While studying with her was awesome and a real peak 6 year experience all together, I never got over stage fright. I was fine in a duet or any small chamber group but standing up alone and doing a solo was to me a guaranteed annihilation. I did become an awesome teacher because of my own depth of experience digging into all the dark crevices of a mind bent on destruction and the awesome technique I learned along the way. I enjoyed a wide musical range performing anything and everything with others but I never was able to make the leap to solo performance. I did get over being fussed about it but it is a hole that remained in my musical career. http://www.flyingfiddles.com/fiddles/

Good luck with experiment #11. And by the way you have planned and executed at least 10 experiments. You ARE good at following through :)

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David May 5, 2011 at 5:09 pm

I resisted the list-making part for a long time, believing it was too obsessive. I have found that to get everything that’s on my mind in front of me on paper does a lot to reduce anxiety, and even to make me a bit more productive. But I am much better at rounding up these floating tasks than I am at jumping on them.

The letting go part is key though, but I’m going to apply it to letting go of direct control over the outcomes, rather than letting go of defining what I want to do.

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Big Sis May 5, 2011 at 9:19 am

Great post. I could have written this article myself (thought not nearly as well, I might add). Except the part about wearing pj’s all day. I do that sometimes. And I do have TV service, though I don’t often seem to get a chance to sit down and watch anything, as much as I would like to.

This sentence pretty much sums it up for me: “So a modest list of 10-12 medium-complexity to-do’s might represent to you an insurmountable amount of work, so it feels hopeless just to start one little part of one task.” When I’m caught up on things, it’s easy to stay on track but when I get behind, It’s easier to let more things slide.

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David May 5, 2011 at 5:12 pm

Hi Sis. I am perpetually behind, constantly cleaning up the items that are reaching critical status. But I know that when I do get around to a lot of those “huge” tasks, they almost always take only a fraction of the time I thought they would. This makes be believe I could really cruise if I didn’t have a habit of taking the bait and letting them slide.

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Torrie May 5, 2011 at 9:22 am

Interesting take on this. Being a former over-achiever, I eventually realized that trying to get all that crap done left me feeling empty. I would strive like crazy, knock out the to-do list, feel happy for a few minutes than wonder “ok, what’s next”. Also, the list full of simple tasks is downright depressing. Once you finish the damn list, there is a whole new list of stupid tasks that need to be done. I realized I would never be “caught up” and yes, it’s nice to get the laundry done, but the laundry basket is full again the next day…very depressing and becomes the perpetual struggle to stay caught up. I do not know the answer to this problem. If I had a lot of money I would hire someone else to do the list of crap that needs to get done!

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David May 5, 2011 at 5:16 pm

There is a great piece of advice in one of my favorite books: “Remember that when you die, your inbox won’t be empty.” Progress is a treadmill in this sort of way, I recognized that a long time ago, and I’m cool with that.

The idea is not to get everything done. There will always be something to replace everything that does get done. I’m not deferring my happiness or relaxedness until the end of the list. I now find it quite easy to be relaxed as long as I’m not lagging in the “critically behind” area of the list, where to-do items start blowing up into complications they would never have had if I hadn’t let them slide for a month. My base-state is really quite relaxed. But I have let things get into that zone recently, so I’m constantly reeling from these kinds of complications and the self-esteem issues that come with having let them drift for so long.

What I want to do is learn not to delay on things I’ve decided to do just because delaying delivers a hit of relief from my responsibilities.

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Tracie May 5, 2011 at 9:52 am

I’m glad you came back to this subject, as I remember you talking about some of this before, and I always look forward to hearing about new experiments.

I came about my procrastination the long way. My older brother was a genius to the nth degree… but who never wanted to work at things, so he struggled to get Bs and Cs in school. I wasn’t gifted with the same genius, but somewhere along the way I learned how to do well, and became the girl who always got As. All through college, and the first several years of my post college life I had extremely long to-do lists that I powered through like some caped superhero.

The part of your post that really struck me was the part self-worth being based on achievement. That’s a thought pattern I’ve been working on for quite a while. In my new post-nervous-breakdown life… what I’m able to achieve in a day seems a lot smaller than it was 5 years ago. I was Superwoman. Now I’m supposed to feel good about the fact that I called the phone company about my bill… really? I’ve defined myself by what I can “get done” for so long that even trying to fix that problem means me lowering the bar, not actually finding another measure. Somehow during this whole time I’ve picked up procrastinating, and your post pointed out a couple of possible reasons.

I’m looking forward to your experiment log… not so much for the “can I fix this” results, but more to see what you find while trying. Good luck!

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Lindsay May 5, 2011 at 10:05 am

David, reading what you wrote sounds like you were inside my own head. Just last night I was telling myself, “I’ll tackle my list on the weekend.” In fact, I do that every single week. I fed up, too. I look forward to Monday’s post. I will join you in the experiment, because I need a swift kick in the ass to stop procrastinating. Like you, I will put seemingly simple things off (like calling to make a dr. appointment or mailing something) and yet…I don’t really understand WHY.

Gonna check out that book you mentioned.

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Liz May 5, 2011 at 10:20 am

This is me, to a T. I started a new job a year ago and I’ve been learning that the expectations I’ve had for myself all these years are ridiculously high. I’ve been working on lowering them to a more “normal” level but it’s a long process because I’ve always considered myself a “high achiever” and anything less than great was not good enough. And that was reinforced by a lot of the people in my life in various ways. But now I’m realizing how off the mark I’ve been, how skewed my expectations are, and I’m seeing that they are not helping me get what I want out of life. For years I’ve been feeling like I’m stuck in quicksand, like I’m not living up to my potential, and I’ve been working at figuring out why. What you wrote really, really clicked for me – I think you saved me months of soul searching and hard lessons. I’m going to stay tuned for your experiment and try to follow along so that I can shake this bad habit and hopefully, once that weight is gone, go rocketing off into the world like I’ve always imagined I would. :)

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Fariq Said May 5, 2011 at 10:27 am

Man. Your post really hit home to me. Now I understand my psyche a bit better. Stumbling upon your blog is quite a blessing.

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LunaJune May 5, 2011 at 10:40 am

For me procrastination is an art… I never make ‘to do ‘ lists because they always turn into ‘to don’t ‘ lists LOL My day to day at the Vet Clinic is always a ” oh what kind of stuff is going to happen today ? ‘
and I also run a small housecall service for my clients after clinic hours so those 2 days, saturday and sunday are like my own personal recharge time… being a homeowner and a single woman means there are sooooo many things on the ‘to do’ list…. I do great daydreaming about how I’ll do it when I find the time >
For me there is no fear of not succeding, I know that when I work I work my ass off, and when I stop I rest deep down to the cellular level and I know no matter how much I accomplish there will always be more things to add to the ‘to do’ list so when the moment comes when i feel so inspired I’m up in a flash and on it until I no longer wish to do it , and never make myself feel bad for things I haven’t done.

good luck on your list :~) while I’m daydreaming away I’ll think of you working on your list… when you stop to try a new recipe share that too :~)
have an awesome day

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Yolanda May 5, 2011 at 11:07 am

I’m married to this. I usually wind up just getting the job done by myself, or with an angry man who didn’t want to join me but couldn’t stand to sit there while I did it. I try to keep my mouth shut about it and don’t consider it right to scold him for it. It’s not like he’s useless, it’s just projects he never starts. I worry more about the need to be perfect. He can’t even accept the flaw of having a flaw. So how can I help him see that he’s allowed to be flawed even in the moment, not just in the big picture? That good enough usually is? That he is? That he can be wonderful even when he’s awful?
I think that’s the key, really, accepting your right to be imperfect, even inside of yourself, if only because the rest of the world is. (you know it is, you scold it silently often enough, right?)

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The River City's Harper May 5, 2011 at 12:56 pm

I’m 100% with all of you on this.

I’ve mastered my procrastination to the point where I’m fine with things I have to do: the things that relate to work or school. But when it comes to things that don’t have a deadline with consequences (blogging, working on pieces for submission, doing the yardwork, etc.) I inevitably choke. I never do them. And the other day I was just illustrating my perfectionist double-standard to one of my roommates, who is also a student, telling her that even if a B is a good mark for most people, it’s not for me, because I know I can do better than that. David, seeing you say very nearly the same thing here was definitely an eye-opener for me.

So I’m feeling the solidarity, my fellow procrastinating perfectionists! And David, I’m cheering for you in Experiment 11, whatever the results! :)

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Richard Haber May 5, 2011 at 2:25 pm

David,

If I could write well at all I could write this post. Being the last of the pre-baby-boom babies, there were high expectations for me and doing well was not doing well enough.

As a high-school jazz musician who could play sessions with the big boys, I was constantly chided for not playing classical music like my cousin Sheldon.

As a young photographer – too bad you can’t study that hard at being a doctor.

As an Eagle Scout – too bad you have to do all that stuff out in the woods and get dirty.

If one can’t succeed in the eyes of parents and other grownups, why try? The pleasure becomes being able to do it and not by completing it and being a disappointment in others’ eyes.

Nowadays, I make lists a la ‘Eat that Frog’ and find that it works somewhat. And when I do something that’s not on the list, I put it there and cross it off…

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R May 5, 2011 at 4:04 pm

This is me, to a “T.” I nearly didn’t finish a Ph.D. because I procrastinated so long. Then I felt like a failure for not finishing it years before. I’m looking forward to seeing what you do and how it goes for you. Also, if you have any more book recommendations, I’d be interested in knowing what they are, so I can pick them up, and maybe, someday, get around to reading them. heh.

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R May 5, 2011 at 4:18 pm

And that wasn’t a reply to the previous comment, just a comment. Go me.

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gem May 5, 2011 at 4:24 pm

I’d never really thought of myself as a perfectionist but this makes me think I should re-evaluate. Mostly me to a T as well although I try not to beat myself up about it. At the same time … when it’s kinda important stuff and you let it go .. ugh

I have always considered myself a bit lazy. At least I’m honest?

I’ll be watching too David. Good luck.

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Cara May 5, 2011 at 4:54 pm

Wow. Exhale. Phew. What a way to end a totally unproductive day (that I’ve been beating myself up about since around noon). You’re glad to find out YOU’RE not alone? Double goes for me over here, David.

Oddly, though, I find that a bit dangerous. Suddenly my procrastination feels “ok” because I’ve discovered I’m not the only one doing it. Therefore, your experiment can’t come soon enough for me.

I think the hardest part of the endless procrastination for me is just that – how hard on myself I am about it. I’ve always been extremely hard on myself anyway, but it’s reached new heights with all of these undone plans and projects that are piling up. And it is absolutely fear of “putting myself out there”. Fear of failure.

We’re all in this boat. Get that experiment rocking and let’s get paddling.

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grace b May 9, 2011 at 12:42 am

BIG DITTO.

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Viv May 5, 2011 at 5:30 pm

Hi. Great blog as always.

Has it occured to you, though, that the things you procrastinate about don’t actually need to be done? And if they do, then they someone do get done at some point or another.

This is great philosophy from Jason Mraz’s blog: “Fuck the Should, do the want.” And, why not? Really. Who says you should do what’s on a to-do list, when you’re already doing other stuff that doesn’t make it on to the to-do list. Why not see what you get done in a day and then put it on to a retrospective to-do list and tick everything off!

http://v4vivality.blogspot.com/2011/05/tell-me-what-you-want.html

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Abs May 5, 2011 at 6:22 pm

This is the second post I’ve read that speaks to me on a profoundly personal level. Its one of the moments where I don’t feel alone in my dysfunction. I look forward to next post.

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Shrek May 5, 2011 at 6:26 pm

I’m reading this and thinking about how i really should pay my bills that are due in an hour, and sign up for my classes that close tomorrow. Its nice to know I’m not the only one with a procrastination problem.
It’s so easy to make easy things seem so hard.
I do not consider myself a religious person, but I often look to the bible as a source of inspiration. I am reminded of a verse in Job where Job says,”I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a woman.” This verse obviously refers to chastity, but what I find compelling is that Job made a covenant with himself. Not with God, not with someone else, but with himself.
Maybe I just like the word, but it seems so much more powerful than a promise. Reading your articles has made me want to change the way I act, to make a covenant with myself to change the way I confront life.
It is easy for me to say this now, be motivated for about an hour, get a few things done, feel good about that, and go back to procrastinating. The problem is getting change to stick.

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Emily @ Comfortable Home Life May 5, 2011 at 9:11 pm

I feel like I could have written this post myself. Very well said. As I type this comment I’m staring at just one of my many to-do lists that always seem to end up half completed. I can absolutely relate with the list making. I’m superb at creating lists, writing everything down. Actually doing the things on the list? Yeah, right.

I’m downloading “The Now Habit” and I’m looking forward to reading about Experiment 11. Again, thanks for writing this!

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Julie May 6, 2011 at 12:32 am

A lot of what you said hit home for me. I’ve considered looking into the ever-controversial attention deficit diagnosis, but, as usual, I put these things off.

I think what makes it so difficult is that the value you described — the one that links performance and personhood — is wounded by the very act of procrastinating. It’s perceived as laziness and a lack of desire to put forth effort and try as I might, my actions confirm these suspicions.

I’m very interested to hear about your plan and how it works for you.

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Andreas May 6, 2011 at 4:08 am

David:
I am a procrastinator as well. I’m writing my master’s thesis right now so it is a problem for me more than ever before. Your description of the problem is excellent. The short description of my problem is that I am so afraid of failing that I don’t even want to try. Of course, I will do it anyway, but it will take longer and will be more painful process than maybe it should be.

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Emily May 6, 2011 at 5:42 am

Wow- you hit the nail on the head. When you listed the several reasons that underly procrastination. I had ALL OF THE ABOVE and then some! And major helpings of each! My older siblings watched it all happen and did not think I would survive the family but i did. I love the Hannibal Lector analogy, priceless! I just tortured myself for a month doing taxes that were not so hard to do, but this year was extra hard due to my tackling larger financial problems as a theme in my therapy this year. UGH. Of course I have known that my self worth is hopelessly wrapped up in how I produce, and this was nothing new to me, I’ve been in various kinds of therapy for almost 30 years now!!! I have had a HELL of a lot of therapy so I can function as an adult in this world….and can fake it very well now, but no one has been able to help me with procrastination. It is the devil. PLEASE keep us posted on your experiments, if you can conquer it……even to just some degree…. so can we all!

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meg May 6, 2011 at 7:34 am

David, I really relate to this post, and am interested to see what sort of project you create for overcoming the procrastination habit. I’ve been through the list-making and great plans stuff, and alternating between procrastinating and exhausting myself to get it all done in a wave of near-mania. Of course that approach just leads to no good.

My own suggestion to you and others in this pickle is to turn the entire paradigm on its head: don’t focus on the goals, but the process. Don’t think of “get the lease renewal turned in today,” but think more along the lines of filling in each blank mindfully and carefully, while sipping tea, and just focus on the process. It’s the end-goal, the “A” grade at the end of the project, that screws us up. Being goal- and not process-oriented means no pleasure is taken in just being, which is what we all want down deep inside, because pleasure in just being, in process, is unconditional. It’s like giving ourselves unconditional love and approval.

Living and functioning in the moment, the moment-by-moment process of doing things, can actually replace the destructive addiction of procrastination. Not only will productivity be restored, the quality will skyrocket and your stress and defensiveness will gradually evaporate. I have personally found that it also helps slow down the sense that time is passing too quickly, which is a real bugaboo for people who have high expectations of themselves.

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Gerrit May 6, 2011 at 8:12 am

I recently did a Myers-Briggs Type Indicator assessment with a friend. There is one dichotomy in which MBTI distinguishes between “judging” (J) and “perceiving” (P).

J people like to make plans and follow them. P people are more spontaneous and tend to experience the world rather than organizing it.

It is important to note that in these terms P people are not considered procrastinators. And my friend made a brilliant comment: “I do not call it procrastination. It’s incubation!”

Although I am a J, I can perfectly relate to this, particularly when it comes to writing: It seems like I am putting things off, I do not get the article done. But then, suddenly I get into the flow and I write two articles in half a afternoon. It’s like a seed has been put into the ground and what seemed like nothing happening was in fact growing beneath the surface.

I think it is crucial to distinguish between your natural style (which means you are at your best even though others (particularly J’s…) may try to proof you wrong) or if you are seriously procrastinating, thus only frustrating yourself and staying significantly behind your potential.

Be mindful!

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The-Dame.com May 6, 2011 at 2:00 pm

“my lifelong phobias of asking for help, admitting ignorance, and talking to people I don’t know on the phone”

“There is certainly nothing that has caused more suffering in my life than my propensity to avoid achievement or competition.”

- this is exactly ME!!!

This article is exactly what I need right now in my life. It is true, you ask the Universe for guidance and help with an issue and it provides. I recently realised I have a serious, life threatening addiction to procrastination. You summarised the issue without me having to “make time” to read a book about it.

I owe it to myself to overcome my issue and not to feel personally attached to the outcome.

Thank you so much for this and I wish you the best of luck!

ps: this also saved me an hour in the shrink’s office!

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Andy May 6, 2011 at 2:17 pm

I’m dealing with literally the exact same level of procrastination that you’ve described here. Procrastination has robbed me of countless hours, tons of money, and fulfillment. I think it’s high time I deal with this issue as well… maybe I’ll start tomorrow. =P

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KW May 6, 2011 at 3:25 pm

Wow. Wow. Wow. Like others before me have said, ‘this blog could have been written by me.’ This is new and very helpful insights into my procrastination habit, which ‘prevents’ me from doing all the things that are truly important to me.

Any other book recommendations?

Thank you.

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Mardou May 7, 2011 at 11:36 am

A book about procrastination that really helped me was THE PROCRASTINATION EQUATION by Dr. Piers Steel. I’ve put one or two tips from that book into practice so far (I just finished reading) and I DO think it’s made a difference.

I’m also going to pick up the Now Habit, after reading this article. Like others, I feel as though I COULD have written this article…had I ever gotten around to it. ;) I have missed so many deadlines, etc, because of my procrastination, and it has hurt my life in so many ways. I’m tired of it and one of my big goals for the year is to start to get things done, in spite of this fear.

Looking forward to the results of the experiment!

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Nate May 10, 2011 at 9:48 am

Interesting that Piers contributed to this discussion below here.

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Hans May 7, 2011 at 5:02 am

Good luck in your quest. Know that “He who knows other men is discerning; he who knows himself is intelligent. He who overcomes others is strong; he who overcomes himself is mighty.” (Lao Tzu)

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Kylie May 7, 2011 at 8:04 am

Reading this made me feel a little panicky – it is so me! I have placed myself in my talented and high achieving older brother’s shadow for a very long time, leaving me frozen – petrified to do stuff because I am so sure it will show me up for the bland, average person I surely am. I am working at breaking free of that story, I know it is of my own making, but it can still hold incredible sway at times. I am making inroads though, and I’m eager to find out more from your experiment David. Thanks for another great post.

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Andy Parsons May 7, 2011 at 9:12 am

To me personally that’s the most helpful article I’ve seen yet on Raptitude because it’s really made me think about WHY I procrastinate, and what caused me to start doing so.

It’s also given me a whole new way of looking at why I often find things incredibly stressful (and therefore try to avoid them) yet later with a clearer mind I often look back on those “incredibly stressful” situations and they seem pretty simple and I wonder how I could have found them stressful!

I know this was all triggered by the unrealistic expectations of my parents because I clearly remember instances where I got what I thought to be an excellent school report only to be rebuked for not getting an even better one. I clearly remember how this made me feel, and it certainly made me promise myself never to try so hard at school in the future, because that way I could avoid the disappointment of taking an excellent school report to my parents and being told off. At least if I didn’t try so hard, and therefore got mediocre results, then I could reasonably expect my parents to tell me off, but at least I wouldn’t feel like I’d wasted my time and effort the way I would if I’d tried harder at school!

I hadn’t really realised that I expected perfection from myself but I suppose I do and that can only lead to stress and disappointment on a regular basis because I’m certainly not perfect.

I did realise that I get very offended and upset when people criticise my work, but reading your article has made me more aware that actually my work is not me. It’s ok for my work not to be perfect, and to sometimes even be poor. It isn’t necessarily a bad reflection on me as a person. That’s worth remembering.

Like you I do sometimes wonder just how much more I could have achieved by now if I had utilised every moment of my time to the optimum level, rather than wasting so much time procratinating.

I’ll be very interested to hear of your experiment and it may be one I will want to try for myself. It’s about time I started to achieve the things I am really capable of!

Good luck with your experiment.

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Martin May 8, 2011 at 10:31 pm

Hi David.

Here is how I have seen my protraction seed and grow.

One of the big time hogs for me is RSS. There are too many articles fighting for my attention in my inbox, none of them are more important then work. They exist to fill the idle space in my life. At the moment the idle space grows as my index grows.  I need to cull the feeds that are a time hogs. How many feeds can I read and still be productive? Should I just set a time limit?

RSS is just one source, TV, chit chat and reading can all part of the problem. Work is never interesting enough to hold my attention, until I start.

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Piers Steel May 9, 2011 at 6:04 pm

Can I ask you to do one small thing? There are ton of perfectionism measures out there. Why not take one or two of them and see exactly if you are a perfectionist first?

There are a few very basic problem with the perfectionism-procrastination theory. Most people procrastinate. Most aren’t perfectionists. And perfectionists tend to procrastinate less than other people. Not exactly a ringing endorsement for the theory. It is possible that you may procrastinate because you are a perfectionist, but let’s at least check the facts. Contact me and I will send you some straightforward self-assessment tools. Then make up your mind.

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David May 9, 2011 at 8:00 pm

At the moment I’m not really interested in splitting hairs about what kind of “ist” an expert’s quiz determines me to officially be. I feel like I know what my problem is, what I am afraid of, what I’m attached to, and the effect it has in my life. The relationship between perfectionism and procrastination is self-evident to me, at least in my life. Perfectionism may not be the best name for my particular brand of avoidance, but that’s okay. What I’m doing seems to be working so far.

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michi May 20, 2011 at 8:35 am

I was actually putting off reading this post when I saw it in my RSS feed. I’m sure you can understand why.

I am in precisely the same situation, and for precisely the same reasons. I have also never finished a task list. If something is on the day’s list it is virtually guaranteed NOT to get done.

Gonna read the subsequent posts now for insights in how to bust FREE!!!!!!!!!!! :D

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Tatiana May 20, 2011 at 4:23 pm

I’m a procrastinator too, and I’m not sure I fit the fallen overachiever type. I tend to suck up and do things that ‘need’ doing, such as school work, or work work, but will procrastinate endlessly on exercise. I’ve got a million ways to Sunday to talk myself out of exercising.

I resent and get huffy over the very thought of exercise sometimes, even though when I do do it, I feel not only physically better, but virtuous too. The sense of accomplishment is very real and tangible, and it fits with my health and weight maintenance goals. I have tried to analyze why I resent exercise so much, but I haven’t quite nailed it yet. My current technique involves exercising Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday so that if I do not a thing the rest of the week, at least it’s not a total write off.

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jib May 23, 2011 at 12:45 pm

this one touched me straight in the nerve. I would classify myself somewhere in the middle – doing procrastination often between the rest :)

I am just curious – how do you imagine that writing down your tasks will help?
Why it should help? You will have one week in which you will know exactly what you should do and what you didn’t. And often length of done tasks list can be misleading – most important and valuable tasks will stay longer. And then you will have another week, and than again. I can’t imagine why it should help.
May be you should deal with initial cause – too high expectations, but you can’t because they really are high. But again – ho is putting those expectations – you parents, employer, yourself, evil me?

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David May 23, 2011 at 1:01 pm

I have been doing the experiment for two weeks now with a daily to-do list as my primary tool, and it has made a tremendous difference in what I get done and how I feel about myself. I think the key is that much of my resistance comes from deciding, so if I make a nightly commitment to decide what I’ll do the next day, that eliminates the main source of resistance I have to getting things done. I don’t worry too much about not completing the list, but it is amazing how many bothersome tasks I can put behind me when I’ve simply written them down and decided I’ll do them.

I don’t believe excessive expectations are the cause of my procrastination. I don’t think it is unreasonable to expect myself to get a couple hours of work done on the weekend, or to not let some broken item go unfixed for six months. My whole life I have had an uncanny resistance to completing very basic duties. It has never been a matter of “my best isn’t good enough,” but “I don’t know how to do my best.”

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Tanja May 23, 2011 at 10:39 pm

Hope your experiment changes everything for you David. I used to procrastinate about everything. About a year and a half ago my honey and I decided we were done with it. We started a new policy of doing needed things “right away”. It worked. I think going minimalist was a big part of why it worked, because there were less distractions.

I do love me a good to-do list though. For longer range stuff mapping it out clearly really helps me out. Good luck with your anti-procrastination!

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Kylie May 25, 2011 at 12:58 am

My room wouldnt be clean (for the first time in like 4 days!) , I wouldnt be showered and ready for bed, and I wouldnt currently be studying for my impending history and algebra 2 finals if it weren’t for this post. I really cannot thank you enough! :)

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Amanda May 29, 2011 at 10:08 pm

I’m going to bust out the broken record here and say that this post really resonated with me. I see myself in most of the things you said here, including the lifelong fears of asking for help, not knowing something and talking on the phone (calling strangers included). I have identified those things as being linked to fear of failure and fear of rejection – despite the near impossibility of the person on the phone rejecting me, I still force my kid sister to place the orders for pizza or Chinese or whatever or else I don’t order in at all. I would definitely self-identify as a perfectionist and I know myself to have previously stated that I “work best under pressure,” so I think your insight into procrastination will be a valuable one for me. I look forward to reading about your experiment. Hopefully it will help me learn how to accomplish those things on my list, and if I can combine that with learning how to make sure only the important things make the list in the first place, then I should be a million times better off. Good luck!!!

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Vijay June 12, 2011 at 12:22 pm

really made me think… made me look back on my 20 years of life…

Thank you for the psychological insight!

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hawley June 30, 2011 at 10:31 am

Wow. That’s a lot to think about, David. I’m not lazy? I am instead pathologically insecure? You make a lot of sense most of the time, but this concept is a tough one for me. For most of my life I have assumed I had no ambition and no drive. I am the sloth. I love to do nothing.

I didn’t consider that I was constantly afraid and therefore always paralyzed. It should have been obvious. In University, I preferred not to write exams for which I didn’t feel adequately prepared. It seemed better to me to get a score of 0 than to struggle through it and barely pass. There were plenty of assignments I never began because I didn’t think I could do a great job. I did only the ones I thought would come out well. I’m willing to work, but only if excellence is assured. And this is a habit I can change? Truly?

Thank you for your post. I thought I was stuck this way, and I so enjoy being told that I am wrong. Best of luck on your experiment, David. I would love to see one you escape the procrastination cycle. :)

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David July 3, 2011 at 3:06 pm

It may be different for different people, but your laziness is some sort of aversion, isn’t it? You are probably aware that life is more rewarding when you habitually do things as opposed to not doing things. Habits are just what we’re used to doing, so if you do things you aren’t used to, you change.

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Lisa Rothstein July 5, 2011 at 7:55 pm

Whoa — does this hit home for me. I totally identify with high parental expectations, and with the recognition you experienced in reading The Now Habit. (Ditto the obsessive planning and sticky notes, while doing anything but what’s on them,)

As a kid, I used to envy my friends whose moms thought they were fabulous when they got a B. Why were they OK no matter what they did, and I was only OK if I was perfect?

I ended up going to an Ivy-League college and having a successful career. I’m way too old to still care about what my parents think, but any minor innocent mistake on my part is still met with a barrage of disdain and ridicule that makes me feel like I’m 12 again. So, yes, when you’re just one honest mistake away from being a total failure as a human being, it’s no wonder we put off doing anything that might have judgment passed on it.

The irony is that I usually do a great job, but by procrastinating I risk criticism merely for being late.

I guess the trick is to realize getting it done now is the lesser of two evils — if I’m late it’s a guaranteed black mark, whereas if I’m at least on time I have a chance to be perfect :-)

I’ll check back to see how your experiments turned out. It’s nice to meet a kindred spirit. You’re not alone!!!
Lisa

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Taragh July 9, 2011 at 11:31 am

Thank you for such an open, honest and well written post. It’s refreshing to read such a good description of procrastination behaviour and thoughts; I totally identify with them. I’m off to read more and excited to find the results of experiment 11 with a view to learning, and breaking my procrastination habit. Best wishes.

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Omer Ekmekci August 8, 2011 at 10:51 pm

You see, procrastinators tend to be people who have, for whatever reason, developed to perceive an unusually strong association between their performance and their value as a person. This makes failure or criticism disproportionately painful, which leads naturally to hesitancy when it comes to the prospect of doing anything that reflects their ability — which is pretty much everything.

I am stunned with this introspection. Perfection leads to imperfection, disability to finish things no matter what kind of result.

I am so glad to meet this blog and you David. After reading your post about shyness i kinda motivated myself to do something about my shyness

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Anon August 17, 2011 at 10:30 pm

Great article. i’m glad you were able to search within yourself and find the reason for procrastination. Keep up the good work!

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Katie Benedetto August 31, 2011 at 10:47 pm

David, you hit me squarely in the forehead with this. Thank you so much for sharing. I’ve always had a difficult time with procrastination, though I know it’s not laziness – I’ve very often heard people say that I have the most energy of anyone they’ve ever known. I’ve made list after list too, getting really excited each time, each time setting my expectations far too high… and of course not meeting them. The overachiever profile fits me perfectly.

One thing that’s helped me lately: I started a “1×52 project” – one project (loosely web-related), every year, for a week. It’s a small project, and completely self-directed – the point being simply to explore and learn. It’s a situation in which I feel freer to fail. Haha, I still have to get to the bottom of this procrastination thing though, to pay the bills. :)

I can’t wait to see what your solution is, and see how it works for you. :)

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Robin September 16, 2011 at 5:42 am

I squirmed reading this – it’s me to a T.
Thanks

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Adrian November 2, 2011 at 6:34 am

I can’t thank you enough for writing this article! You’ve described me and my problem perfectly, if I didn’t knew better I’d think that you have some sort of spy camera on me.
A very very special thanks for mentioning Neil Fiore’s book, which I’m reading right now and it almost brings me to tears.

Procrastination has serious effects on my life, the state i’m in is one of the worst things I’ve experienced: Part time employment, un-payed bills that turned into cutting off of services (heat, internet connection – at times), starting projects that can turn into high profit generators (I’ve done simple and worse case scenario statistics on them – thus I “know” that they can render huge amounts of income in virtually no time – 4 months) – but never getting to finish them, or continue caring for them, blaming superiors, friends, business partners for my current state, decaying social life, delaying simple projects for weeks or months, lying to my parents and friends, and so much more.

Not to mention that, because I have so much low-esteem I haven’t got a vacation in 4 years, this hurts just by thinking of it.

A couple of years ago, I got in college, after the first year was finished and I got medium grades I ended up concluding that I don’t like at all what I’m learning and what I’m going to work as after I finish it. It wasn’t my thing, and I hated almost any subject that I was learning, except programming, which I always loved. This very thought, of not liking what I was studying made me feel like a complete failure… I cried for days, I even thought of suicide as a solution. Thankfully I did not do such a thing and ended up switching to another college.
My parents reinforced that feeling of failure: they told me not to tell relatives or friends about it. It was heartbreaking.

I was that kid in high-school that always got good grades, always participated in class and always was referred to by other parents when they talked to their kids as “why can’t you be like him”, I was the good kid.
The first time i went home with an A-, I remember crying all day, even though my parents tried comforting me about it… in my mind, I was a failure and I failed them.

My procrastination problem it’s not recent, as you can probably see. It has just grown to such a big proportion that it’s driving me mad, every day I live with a worry and fear that’s even making it harder to breathe, only on rare occasions I feel relieved and those occasions don’t last but a few hours.

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David November 4, 2011 at 6:42 pm

In my experiment I learned that you can’t turn it around overnight. But once you recognize it you can make small (but permanent) changes in a short amount of time.

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cyrille November 9, 2011 at 6:02 pm

In my search for what’s ‘wrong’ with me the diagnosis has changed many times, from depression to ADD to internet addiction to psychosis (lol) and yes procrastination, on which i’ve seem to have settled. Now is there something mentally wrong with me when I procrastinate ? do I need to consult a shrink? After some research almost everyone seems to do it to some extent, I my case pathologically , do you guys think you need help with this ‘illness’ ?. And what’s your take on Internet addiction and procrastination ?. In my case the internet use has worsened my procrastinating behaviour to the extend that I see a direct correlation between the advent of internet and my academic ‘career’ , I’ve been unable to read a book for the past 11-12yrs (do a search on ‘is google making us stupid’). However I’m not really ‘addicted’ to internet, as in can’t do without for prolonged periods of time (because I can) but it does give me that ‘quick fix’ that I need to avoid confronting my fears. Btw David thanks for your article , you’re story feels like looking into a mirror dude just scary !

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Tony Draxler January 17, 2012 at 10:02 pm

I have the exact same problem David! Procrastination is my biggest personal struggle. I read a fantastic article that delves into a different cause than the one you mentioned that I believe has some good points in it as well. Are you familiar with “You Are Not So Smart” by David McRaney? In short, he characterizes procrastination as an impulse control problem more than anything else. I’m sure procrastination takes many forms, but his reasoning is what resonated the deepest with me.
http://youarenotsosmart.com/2010/10/27/procrastination/

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Katie February 4, 2012 at 10:38 pm

This is me all over.

I had a mental breakdown at the end of last year. Quit my job hairdressing because it wasn’t challenging enough in all the right ways (i.e. intellectually stimulating. Once you know how to cut hair theres no more learning new things) & too challenging in the wrong ways (dealing with irritating people that expect the world from you for half the price).

When I left I became more depressed than before as I realised I didn’t know who I was anymore. I used to be Katie: hairdresser. Suddenly I was just Katie. Who is Katie without what I do? & then I couldn’t figure out what I wanted to do until I figured out who I was & what my interests are.

But yeah knowing there is a problem doesnt mean it is magically fixed. I hope you figure it all out & share so that you can help me & many others figure out our issues.

Thanks for the posts. Keep them coming, I love reading your articles.

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linda February 6, 2012 at 2:47 pm

aha’ is why my studio sits there and I paint in living room? dagnabbit….and I thought it was my dad father,my son,my daughter,my mother,my babysitter,my neighbor,my poor friend,my rich friend,my great aunt,my delima,I AM SORRY I FORGOT TO REMEMBER BUT OUTOFSIGHTOUTOFMIND…. out of my ..my mind’ I have been sitting here swearing to my husband I will paint the downstairs bathroom…..for 3 weeks now…..HUMMM.thanks

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Aragond March 8, 2012 at 4:19 am

So, it’s not just me that suffers from this.
And it’s not just me that feels the sting that any criticism of my work is representative of comprehensive failure.
And it’s not just me that is avoiding preparing this work that I have right now, this instant, because I am petrified of getting that same criticism.
And it’s not just me who spent his entire childhood being *told* that all they wanted was for him to do his best, but if that meant bringing home a C, well, that clearly wasn’t my best, now was it?
And it’s not just me that looks at colleagues who say “Oh, it doesn’t bother me when clients scream at me like that” as though they are a form of alien life.
And it’s not just me that has quit jobs, even whole countries, because the disappointment of superiors (regardless the viability of their expectations) became too much to bear, like this job and the screaming, perpetually-disappointed (who have gargantuan expectations they simply haven’t paid for) clients.
And it’s not just me that has worked all through the night on too many occasions because he didn’t want to be seen to let anyone down, or because that same fear paralysed him until the very last minute.
And it’s not just me that is avoiding doing what he should by scouring the internet for an understanding as to WHY he’s scouring the internets avoiding doing what he should.
A man could get pretty f***in’ depressed at all this and really be convinced there was no point trying any more, no point holding onto hope that this next job is going to be better, is going to be more successful.
Pretty depressed if he didn’t know he shared this problem with at least a hundred equally depressed people out there who suffered the same character failure as he.

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Lisa April 10, 2012 at 8:36 am

I can recommend “The Procrastination Equation” by Piers Steel (2011). I own “The Now Habit” as well and the startegies Fiore offers were (to me) neither exceptinally new/ground breaking nor did I found them very helpful. (If it was so easy for me do devide work into small chunks, I wouldn’t have a problem with procrastination!)
Furthermore, Steel focuses not only on anxiety but also on optimism, self-confidence and explains neurological causes as well.

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Michael July 5, 2012 at 4:32 am

I am in my 40s and have procastinated a lot about anything that I don’t enjoy. I found out that I have moderate ADHD. This means dopamine levels in the front of my brain are a bit low and perhaps some stuctures in the front could be underdeveloped. The front part of the brain is where executive functioning goes on. When emotional signals go out from the central part of the brain to the front, in normal people the front part processes the signal and even though something is boring or difficult the front part is where the motivation part is, and it controls the emotional signals and tells you to carry on with the task, and gives you enough stimulation to override the procrastination. With ADHD the front part doesn’t work so well. The emotion that this is boring or difficult for someone with ADHD doesn’t get processed at the front, it instead makes us look for something more enjoyable to do that we are interested in. I now take medication to increase the dopamine levels. It helps me to focus better and do boring stuff a bit more, though I am not fully fixed. The medication wears off every few hours. You may not have ADHD (or ADD), but maybe others out there do that are reading this and it may be the thing that is the source of their procrastination. It may be worth them investigating. I was quite bright at some subjects at school which meant it went undetected in me till I was in my forties. About 5 to 10 % of people have it. You can do tests online which might give a clue as to if people have it, and need to see a psychiatrist for a proper diagnosis. It is also called ADD as some people don’t have the hyperactivity symptoms, especially whenthey grow older and become adults. The medication helps about 8 out of 10 people.
Knowing what you are dealing with at least gives you some clue as to what is going on. Hope this helps someone out there.

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Claire July 24, 2012 at 4:41 pm

Everything I just read makes perfect sense. I feel like I could have written this. When I was younger (elementary school) schoolwork was very easy for me. As I got into high school things suddenly weren’t so easy and I started getting a couple B’s here and there. My parents, who weren’t used to this, began to accuse me of being lazy and telling me that B’s just weren’t good enough. I think my fear of disappointing them only made my procrastinating issues worst because I was always worried that if I wasn’t perfect I would be letting them down. Thanks for posting this, everything is finally starting to make sense! Anyway, I’m off to read about Experiment 11 now.

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Liz November 15, 2012 at 5:17 am

Thank you for this. I even started to read the comments – and then realised reading all this, is just another form of procrastination! Going to get on with my task list INOW!!.

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mr t December 9, 2012 at 10:33 pm

This is too long… I’ll read tomorrow

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rachna February 19, 2013 at 11:18 am

im a lifelong procrastinator, but i think its mostly because there is always something else way more interesting to do, at that moment, at least in the short term perspective.

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rachna February 19, 2013 at 11:20 am

im a lifelong procrastinator, but i think its mostly because there is always something else way more interesting to do, at that moment, at least in the short term perspective. Like i just postponed what i was supposed to do this afternoon, to read your blog, which i have luckily discovered today. and have been reading for last 5 hours!

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David February 19, 2013 at 8:39 pm

I can’t think of a better way to spend 5 hours, honestly ;)

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Antony February 27, 2013 at 3:23 pm

“despite my preference for and sensitivity to the positive aspects of life, I am a pessimist — I have come to give potential downsides far more weight than potential upsides. ”

It my experience the cure to this tendency is not to compare yourself to your perfect standards, which are always unachievable, but to the standards of what you produced in the past, in this way you are motivated by the progression in your abilities as you see your improvements and can assess areas you want to get the satisfaction of improving in.

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Charles March 2, 2013 at 1:58 pm

When I read this, I felt like I was reading about myself. I remember the “Oh, you got a scholarship – of course your brother topped the country”. I remember many times where I’ve become distracted by something, anything, to put off work. When it gets particularly bad, I refer to it as “Deadline Fugue” – where the time pressure builds but I find less and less important things to work on (like playing Doom every evening) instead of trying to nibble at the main problem. And yes, you will need to work at it. I’m 53 and it’s still a massive problem for me.

I’m currently experimenting with role playing – I’m “Charles” at home but I think of myself as “Chas” at work. And Chas has a thick skin that comments just roll off, as well as being someone who tackles what needs to be done. And if Chas makes a mistake, well, that happens.

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yogi March 11, 2013 at 11:51 am

I am currently procrastinating my project work and reading blogs and websites on procrastination, Ans i know that at this point it is damn necessary to complete the project. But i am continuing reading all this stuff and cant actually bring myself to work or study.It been one and a half years now since i started procrastinating things,
i know i have the capacity,And when i start working, every time i think that why i didnt started on it before. But as now,i am unable to coax maself to close browser and open visual studio. How to make myself up to the task. I have made lists,i have made promises,I have vowed to friends,but to no avail,I cant even keep my promise for more than a hour.My grades are degrading on a regular basis and i am at loss to have faith in myself.How can i help myself.May be admitting it out loud might help me.

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Alexander Praetorius March 14, 2013 at 11:14 pm

Your experiment will fail, that’s what i predict and you already gave the reason why that will happen:

My adversary is the unconscious reactive part of my mind, and by now it’s a world-class expert at manipulating me. It’s like being a prison guard for Hannibal Lecter. Sure he’s locked up, but he’s Hannibal Lecter.

Quit all the shit you dont like and make peace with yourself.
Easy words, hard to do. That means, get out of your socially toxic environment by confronting all the people which are toxic to you and indirectly put that pressure on you (could also because you think they do).

How to do that?
Talk to them and tell them what you really would like to do and how much you hate what you currently do. Either they accept or otherwise you have to leave them. Its not easy because its all about emotions and your brain cant do shit about it. If they wont accept or make you feel guilty or if they will talk you into continuation of your current path, you MUST abandon them. As soon as you are willing to do that in case they wont accept the change you want to see in your life, you will be free.

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Mostafa March 25, 2013 at 2:51 pm

man one of my problems is what you are taking about, i even remembered some of the things that happened to me and i felt something in my eyes
i advice you to read that ” http://ar.islamway.net/SF/quran/data/The_Holy_Quran_English.pdf “and do not ask me why just do it

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Karl-Chris R. Nsabiyumva April 10, 2013 at 3:20 am

You are my hero!
You and the friend who sent me here!

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jj April 16, 2013 at 11:44 pm

Wow. I hate every part of my procrastination. I used to be an achiever a doer and 8 can do person. The last 13 years of my life have been one big procrastination. Party. I hate it. Yes I have had compounded tragic events in my lagain back to back. My family kicked me when I was down. People I trusted stole from me and these are the minor events. I had to take care of my brothers and sisters after my mother died and father left. I was 15. I am a product of horrific child abuse. Dispute the childhood horror I made something of myself. Well it would take to long to tell the rest of my story. The short is all I worked for the home planned retirement was taken from me. Everything was gone taken from me. I tried for years to no avail. Now disable I am like the guy above and hate it. I want to be me again.

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jj April 16, 2013 at 11:54 pm

Well it looks like most of what I wrote was cut off like how I had to raise my brother and sisters when my mother died and father left. I was 15. And the part about being a product of horric child abuse. And how I made something of myself. Well I don’t feel like writing it all again. It figures the second I feel like opening up my story is cut out. So %&*() yourself and your editing

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jj April 17, 2013 at 12:24 am

How do all my comments get cut off? Anyway despite overcoming my past,building a great life for myself it was all taken from me. now disabled hating my coveted procrastination I want to be me again. @least the part of me that got stuff done. Am I afraid? Of what? Myself criticism? Is there a pill for that?

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Sarah April 21, 2013 at 12:58 pm

I just wanted to thank you for this because it really is a burden to know that you have to do this and that in the next 5 days but for some reason you can’t. Most people don’t take me seriously when I tell them that I’m suffering and that I can’t find a way out of this downward spiral. My friends are always making jokes about procrastinating so I feel like I’m a joke to them, too. After a really embarrassing breakdown, I’m at the point, where I realized that I have a problem and thanks to your article, I now have some clues where I can start looking for what causes my procrastinating. So again, thank you very much.
Sarah

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Melissa May 13, 2013 at 9:19 pm

Procrastination is ruining my life.
I never noticed my procrastination issue until this year, when I started my first year of college. Before I go into what my college career is like, you should know a little bit about how my life was before.
I grew up in a good home, where I was constantly using my imagination. I would often go into my own world many, many times. I never did any chores, as my parents didn’t require them, and I didn’t have a lot to do besides explore my wondrous world inside my mind, and share it with close friends. The times when I wasn’t playing or imagining, I noticed- here and there- that my father was big on believing in perfectionism. I would spill something, or my mom would be introduced to a big task and my father would not accept mistakes. If I had some food on my lap he would say, “You’re gonna’ spill it!” There was no threat of me spilling the food, but he would compose this statement like he knew what was going to happen. He tries to keep mistakes from happening!
So from then, I learned mistakes cannot happen!
Then I was submerged in High School. Don’t worry, nothing extraordinary happened there, I didn’t discover my procrastination issue just yet. My High School was such a laid back place. We had homework occasionally, but most of it could be done without even trying. This place did not instill the kind of skills a College student needs- such as motivation, self-discipline, and time management skills. I never learned these skills simply because I was not exposed enough to the opportunities to develop them.
Fast-forward to my college life! I quickly learned that I actually had to do stuff, and not just carelessly finish it. The classes I had gave out homework like Trick-or-treating on Halloween (not really, but still). I felt overwhelmed, inadequate to my peers, and that I didn’t belong there because I had not developed skills for student life.
Since I felt so inadequate, I rarely even tried to do what I needed to do. I thought, “there’s no way I am going to learn this” and so I never tried to. Sometimes I thought, “I can’t get this paper done, I only have one day now… So lets just watch some TV and forget about it.”
I often escape into the world of television to release me from the stress of my procrastination issue. And honestly, there’s probably many reasons why I have such a huge problem! It could be my “no mistakes” father, my lack of skills, or my need to please people. Whenever I am supposed to do something that affects my life (College), I don’t think I can do it, so I don’t even try.
No matter what the cause is, I really need help. I have failed 4 classes so far and it’s only my first year of college! I failed these classes because sometimes I didn’t do the work or didn’t study. I don’t want this to be my life, but part of me does. I think I like disappointing myself, like I am addicted to failure (maybe because it confirms the fact that I am a failure). PLEASE HELP! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! !

-Melissa L

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Melissa May 13, 2013 at 9:31 pm

I just had another comment, but I wanted to add on to what I meant of the television issue. I watch television to escape my tasks or issues, to run away from it, but I am not making efforts to change that. I seriously like giving in to my pleasure principle… Still need help!

PS: If you want to watch a video on Procrastinating watch the one by Charlie McDonnell. The dude is British and amazing.

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D von Wilt May 20, 2013 at 8:03 am

I don’t want to say procrastination isn’t a problem and that the reasons for it to occur shouldn’t be investigated and dealt with. i am also a procrastinator. And i have another view on the issue.

i’ve come to notice that my procrastination has to do with the avoidance of things that put me on the path of what other people acknowledge as being “successful”, or in other words, when an activity does not meet my idea of success. So it’s not only a matter of dreading the failure, but more intensely dreading the success – success that’s not yours to feel and that’s why the negative points of it seem so daunting.

So, for me, success is a life with a permeating sense of harmony. So whatever i have to do that’s tackling my wish/need for harmony (my taxes, minor tasks, dealing with money and problems, etc) are going to meet my idealist self – the part of me that is in touch with what makes me feel alive and thriving – and is going to refuse to do those things.

So we have to do our taxes, because our government says so… so we have to be increasingly rich because our families/society/culture say so… we have to not be lazy, because laziness is bad, so say the self-help book writers.

Procrastination comes to me when i’m walking a path that’s not the goal of my self. When i’m doing things that don’t give me a sense of enjoying being alive. And that is very important. So sometimes, instead of understanding and tackling procrastination itself, why don’t we tackle the sources of unreasonable demands?

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Henk Poley May 22, 2013 at 1:07 am

The concept of knowing what you want to do the coming day, when you wake up in the morning is called “ikigai” in Japanese. Might be useful for finding background.

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Mel June 13, 2013 at 8:30 am

I resonate deeply with your post.

I have struggled with it all my life. Reading your post, it is exactly as you say, I fear exposing myself to failure. I prefer people to think I am smart without letting them know of the failure in my knowledge that might be there.

This fear seems to be getting stronger than it ever has been before. I had not realised previously that it came from the very high expectations put upon me, and that sinking feeling of when I dont get straight A’s on report cards.

You have left me with quite a few things to think about as I attempt my Law assessment that is now overdue a week. The raw fear felt now after reading your article has unnerved me, but I hope to use it to motivate myself to finish this assignment.

Bless you Sir for your honest reflections that are obviously resonating with so many people

Mel

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LaLa June 15, 2013 at 11:18 pm

David-Now what? Your post and all of these other Procrastinators’ comments have helped me identify my biggest struggle in life. But now what? How do I apply this information to help me do what I have allowed myself not to do? I want to know how to channel the energy from my resentfulness into the ambition to overcome my own annihilation. The reparation of self-fulfilling prophecies- in order to conjure up pure, raw action (therefore leading to completion of a task and in turn …potential success) is broken in me. so how exactly do you step outside this vicious cycle of procrastination with a broken “thingumajig?” —-visualize myself not broken but misdiagnosed? Help!!! (I really am not making fun- sadly I am soooo serious) -Please help :-/

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Sajan Jacob July 9, 2013 at 6:42 am

Hey David,

This post really hit home. I literally got a sick-to-the-stomach feeling reaching the mid-point of this article. That usually never happens. As I look back at my life I realize that I was the type of student you described. I had talent and I rode on it. In the last few years of high school my talent didn’t matter. I crashed.

But even through high school I was a procrastinator. It’s in my blood.

Now that I have been enlightened about this psychological phenomenon I am going to take measures against it. I’m going to read up on your experiment and hope for the best. I want to create a timeless blog like yours and create a free lifestyle for myself as well. Except I can’t get around to doing it.

Also, I feel those moments of defiance when I am about to complete a task my parents ask me to do. When they repeat them selves just before I’m about it do it, I get snarky and try to undermine them by not doing it. I’m such a brat. I recently figured out that you need to fail in order to grow, but I had absolutely no idea on how intrinsic failure really is in the human psyche once it manifests. It manifests itself in various ways. Ours is/was procrastination.

Thank you so much for creating your blog. It’s a beacon of hope for many. I love it. I’ve learned so much from reading it, and I know many others feel the same.

Cheers

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Roger July 10, 2013 at 4:35 am

My 17 year-old daughter is going through this at the moment. The similarities are quite shocking. Good luck with the experiment. We’ll be listening (and taking notes).

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Chi July 31, 2013 at 9:41 am

Reading this, I wondered how you knew so much about me to be able to write this. At some point it felt like I was reading my own thoughts. Did your experiment work?

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Lina August 7, 2013 at 7:09 pm

Wow, amazing post, thank you so much for the clear detailed explanation about big reason of big procrastination.

I passed through same experiences as you, I aced when a kid, I was afraid of getting B, even though my parents never said anything bad about it, but I felt that pressure, so subtle, that expectancy, my kid is so smart and so on. sigh. I understand you perfectly.

I dont know if you reached to this point, but the psychological torture behind procrastination makes me postpone even going to bed at night. I keep doing nothing, just postponing, and I never knew why, never connected the points!

At work, boss had to threaten me with not having vacation when I planned if I didnt deliver the project (I wanted it to be perfect and I took triple time I planned). School too, is getting worse. And people dont understand whats up with me and my self esteem go down everyday that passes. I am completly stopped right now, I married, moved to a new land, not working, was studying but problems risen and now these 2 months I am completly slugging.

Thanks so much for writing this! You helped even if a little to understand whats behind! Do you have any recommended readings on it??

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Ashwin August 16, 2013 at 3:52 pm

What can I say that hasn’t already been said?

Your post hit me man it did.

I knew some of it subconsciously i guess, as I have expectations from myself too.

But such is life. After reading your article, I hope to fulfill my dreams, and not care what people think, and about making mistakes. Not to overthink, but to relax and work for the future instead of the now.

- Ashwin

Thanks man

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c September 2, 2013 at 2:41 pm

Thanks for the fantastic post. Honestly, it’s like you were talking about me the entire time. I just stumbled upon your blog and look forward to reading it more, as it’s things like these that both aid in my procrastination but also help me to understand why the fuck I procrastinate so much. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

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Josh September 23, 2013 at 11:29 am

Thank you for writing this. I’m working through almost exactly the same issues right now — actually, I’ve been working through them for a while now, but lately starting to make real progress. It is incredibly helpful to have such a dead-on description of what I’m experiencing at my disposal.

Okay, gotta go get some stuff done.

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Farhan October 2, 2013 at 1:15 pm

Wow how did you know my life story, are you watching me.

Looking forward to see your experiment.

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vishal October 6, 2013 at 7:36 pm

Really Great article! Scary how accurately you can describe and analyze my life just from your own experiences

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Kevin October 14, 2013 at 12:25 am

I really appreciated this article. Honestly, I don’t think I was even aware I had a procrastination problem until I started reading this and it described me perfectly. One of the parts that really got to me was when you said “Particularly prone to serious procrastination problems are children who… exhibited exceptional talents early on, and thereafter “average” performances were met with concern and suspicion from parents and teachers.”. But for me it was more like I placed high expectations on myself. Ever since I was in middle school I had been good at art so I was often encouraged or congratulated, and I even was the one person to win the art award out of the whole school the year I graduated. Then in High school I had teachers that never did any serious critizing. This lead me to believe that I had to be perfect. If someone did not congratulate me or give me an award, I was doing something wrong and I need to get better. I thought I was a failure. Even know I am constantly forcing people to criticize my work. There is a bright side, as this has pushed me to become even better at what I do. But the threat of failure still looms over my head.
Also, I love how you take the time to comment on most of the comments! It really shows your passion for the subject and wanting to help people become better people.

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Val October 14, 2013 at 2:31 pm

I started crying while reading this, it paints me so well.

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al November 5, 2013 at 4:15 am

Insightful article including various comments

Zen habits by Leo Babauta has some practical & effective strategies for tackling this

http://zenhabits.net/task-ninja-form-the-action-habit/

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Jayson November 5, 2013 at 8:41 am

Brilliant post, thanks.

You’ve hit on so many points i can relate with that i feel much better about the challenges ahead. I came across your post after i also decided to experiment on my mind and see why it makes me behave the way i do. So you can understand my excitement after coming across your post.
Is the results of experiment 11 available yet?

Regards and all the best

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J February 11, 2014 at 12:13 pm

I was curiously wondering the internet because I have had some issues with getting things done that are very simple and that I love but yet I put them off until I can no longer put them off or if it’s a project it just falls by the wayside. I’ve wondered what happened to me and realized that I’ve always had some procrastination issues but that they got worse over the last 3 years.I’m now in a position to really pursue my long time goals and at a place in my life where I can do so full time but yet I put the simplest things off. I thought it was ADD but after trying medication it proved to no longer help after a period of time. It actually held me back. Now I find myself thinking I’m lazy but I’m not. I’ve always been an overachiever, ambitious, and have always had strong ethics. I really feel better reading this post – it must have been meant for me to read this today because I see it is actually from 2011. I’m looking forward to reading Neil Fiores “The Now Habit” and some of your other posts. Thank you ~

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David Cain February 11, 2014 at 2:37 pm

Hi J. A lot of people have identified with this post. I think it’s a lot more common than we realize, because we’re taught there’s something wrong with us if we procrastinate. But it’s pretty normal expression of certain common fears, I think.

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Rachel Patton February 21, 2014 at 5:10 am

A good article…I agree with almost all the points mentioned here..

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Duncan Ray February 23, 2014 at 11:26 am

I haven’t read all the references as I had other things to do :) But…

Is procrastination something to do with being a perfectionist and knowing that if you start early or on time you’ll use up all of the time you would have spent on other things afterwards if you were able to leave the piece in question without troubling to perfect it after ‘completion’?

By knowing your propensity to be a perfectionist you find other things to do other that the piece you should be working on, often whilst in the same context as it e.g. on your computer.

So, only when running out of time do you switch over to focus on the correct piece. You think you have a better quality of life but by doing so, even more of your time feels less satisfactory for you?

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Aziza March 10, 2014 at 9:12 pm

Thank you for this, I could not find a a reason why I do this. I am great at planning but sucky at action. Other people do their daily tasks so easily and for me its like lifting a boulder uphill, mostly when I plan workouts and leaving the house.

I REALLY want to find it easy to complete daily self-care, errands and responsibilities. I look forward to reading your results.

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jennifer March 27, 2014 at 11:39 am

wow. yes. thank you. it all makes sense now why I can’t seem to move that chair out of the hallway. instead I put all this effort into squeezing around it, thinking I will move it on saturday. it has been there for almost a month!

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techvet963 April 7, 2014 at 10:03 am

This is a great post and thanks for doing it. Very accessible, I have been seeing a therapist to try to figure out why I am who I am (aggressive, combative, etc) and this dovetails in a fantastic way to explain what is going on in that damn wet noodle of mine.

There are a couple of other things that were mentioned to me that I found help. First is that people like us have a very low risk tolerance – we need a value to be near 100% before we reach the action threshold. As life is filled with uncertainty it is hard to reach that premium. To fix this I give myself permission to explore (as you mentioned). Second is that control over what you do, your environment, your outcomes becomes a barrier to getting work done. Personally I need to control many of the outcomes of my life, but this does not work when on a team or in a family. I need to let go of control.

Anyways, great post – loved reading it and it is great that it is still out there and relevant after 2+ years.

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