It can be our worst enemy, always keeping us from doing what’s most important.
It hangs there, blocking us from success, keeping us in unhealthy situations, and preventing us from experiencing our fullest potential.
Procrastination can seem like a frustrating mystery.
Why would we put off doing important work?
Why do we stall and avoid instead of facing the things that will make our lives better?
Why postpone exercising, asking for that promotion, washing the car, or making that important phone call to our friend who is grieving?
Turns out, we are not lazy, irresponsible, or illogical.
What I’ve come to realize is that procrastination is a great protector.
It’s an annoyingly reliable signal of danger.
It pops up every time we sense that we are not safe moving forward.
We are smart, adaptive, and have a keen sense of when something is “just not quite right”.
When you aren’t moving forward, when you’re stuck, standing still, waiting, procrastinating… it’s because you have stumbled across something very important.
You’ve found a piece of information that needs tending to.
You’re an animal with a scent, a scent of something dangerous.
You’ve discovered that the potential consequences of moving forward have outweighed the current consequences of staying put.
So, don’t do what most of us do, and beat yourself up for your procrastination.
Instead, pay very, very close attention.
Read the signs.
Find the source.
You’re not irrational.
Something is up.
Figure out what it is.
It might be an old memory…
You may have asked for a promotion in the past, and ended up humiliated and rejected.
You may have experienced brutal exercise regimens when you were young that left you in pain, exhausted, and depleted. Maybe someone pushed you too hard.
Maybe you’ve said the wrong thing in the past and made a situation worse, so this time, you’re considering not making that important phone call.
Maybe you’re not putting your art in a local art show because the collection you just finished is deeply personal and cutting-edge. And, maybe the last time you shared art that was so raw, it was met with judgement or criticism.
The reason we procrastinate is simple, to keep ourselves safe.
But, staying safe can also mean setting our dreams and goals on the shelf.
Sometimes moving forward requires that we take in the pain of our past, acknowledge the risks, and move forward stronger and better prepared.
If you want something and you’re not making progress, find out why.
Work out the kinks.
Unpack the thing that scares you, and then decide how to proceed.
Our warning system is unbelievably reliable. It sounds the alarm every single time danger presents itself.
It’s foolish to live your life ignoring the signals. It’s irresponsible to push ahead when your body and mind pull back.
It is not your job to turn off the warning system, it’s your job to determine the appropriate action when the alarm bells go off.
Do you change directions?
Do you adjust and find a better way?
Do you acknowledge the painful memories from the past, learn from them, and move forward more confidently?
The worst thing to do is beat yourself up for your procrastination and bulldoze head first into the task.
Because, ignoring your inner alarm bells will only make them sound more loudly the next time.
So, pay attention.
Trust your instincts.
Procrastination is information, so use it wisely.