Feeding the Siren Song of Procrastination

I know I’ll still be up at 1 am writing today’s magazine. Why? Usually the new issue starts coming to me a week in advance and it is my delight to let the weaving of thoughts escape into a Word doc.

Instead I found myself writing the flyer for a near-death talk and channeling event I’ll be doing next month (more info next week). Did it also need to be done? Yes. Did I have great fun doing it? Yes, deliciously so. But honestly, couldn’t I have written it tomorrow, after the magazine got published and I had a good night’s sleep? You guessed it…yes again.

So what is this thing called Procrastination that affects everyone to some degree? I’ve been meaning to look at it for a long time, but I just kept putting it off. Is it a problem for you in your own life?

“…anyone can do any amount of work, provided it isn’t the work he is supposed to be doing at that moment.” – Robert Benchley, in Chips off the Old Benchley, 1949


Since this is clearly my issue today, I spent some time reading online to see if anyone had anything fresh to say about it. Almost everyone is saying it’s fear of failure or fear of success, so we put our project off, sabotage ourselves. And this may indeed be true for you.

But since I write this magazine every two weeks like clockwork, easily, and always enjoy it, and since it has led to neither failure nor fame and fortune to speak of (success?), something else must be going on for me.

So I’m sitting here, being the Observer of myself, recreating the feeling I had while I was not writing this magazine. Hmmm. I’m having fun, but I’m being “bad.” Ah yes, I clearly recognize my nemesis, “I’m bad.”

We all seem to have some version of  “I’m bad.” Some have I’m too _________; others have I’m not ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­___________ enough, on and on and on ad nauseum.

What are your “favorite” ones? The ones you’ve built an identity around? You know what they are! Would you be willing to take a moment and write them down, or at least consciously claim each one?

The Siren Song

Here I am, hearing that siren song, the call of procrastination. For me, and it may well be very different for you, I am noticing a subconscious dynamic I’ve seen in the past, “I’m bad when I’m having fun.”

I’ve known about this for a long time. My very successful father used to say scathingly about someone, “That guy, he just wants to lie around the pool,” the worst pejorative in his eyes, though a worthy endeavor in my own estimation. It was our Jewish version of the Protestant ethic, designed to keep us safe by those who lived through the Depression.

In this case, I had a double whammy because both my task for today, the magazine, and my chosen procrastination project, the flyer for my upcoming channeling event, were both fun. Darn! Bad, wherever I turned.

I got confirmation of my particular version of procrastination when I read this fabulous quote that is bound to help many people:

“Who says you need to wait until you ‘feel like’ doing something in order to start doing it? The problem, from this perspective, isn’t that you don’t feel motivated; it’s that you imagine you need to feel motivated. If you can regard your thoughts and emotions about whatever you’re procrastinating on as passing weather, you’ll realize that your reluctance about working isn’t something that needs to be eradicated or transformed into positivity. You can coexist with it. You can note the procrastinatory feelings and act anyway.” – Oliver Burkeman, The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking

I just love this quote…and it won’t really help me…because the more I “feel like” doing something, the more I procrastinate. When there’s something I really don’t want to do that I know I should, I’m all over it. And then I’m finally “good,” because hey, I’m not only getting stuff done, but I’m not having fun doing it. Yay, I’m “good” now, right?

What the heck is wrong with this picture?!!!

It gets even worse: if I’m “bad” for having fun while I’m getting stuff done, might there also be some hidden feeling I should be punished? Now, don’t expect any of this unconscious programming to make sense or to look very pretty.

But sure enough, I’m being punished because it’s 11:30pm and I still haven’t eaten dinner and I’ll be up late though I’m already very tired. And I’m being punished because at some level I’m judging myself for not focusing on first things first and finding myself in this kind of predicament again.

By now you might be falling off your chair laughing at our human foibles…or you might be congratulating yourself that at least you don’t have that crazy programming.

But not so fast. Guess what? We ALL have some kind of programming as crazy as that. We just haven’t all put words to it to put it out there where we can really see it clearly.

I want to encourage you to pick your own version of procrastination (or another issue where you feel like you just can’t get it right), and just sit with it, as I sat with mine here today. Sit and feel what it feels like when you’re in the middle of it. Sit and relive those feelings, even if they’re already familiar. Sit when you feel a hundred distractions. Sit with them anyway. And write them down, like I just did.

I feel a new clarity around this issue that I’ve never had before, even though I’ve been aware of this dynamic for a long time. Somehow, writing it down feels like it broke through something for me. I feel so much freer and I want that for you as well.

And it must be true, because my punishment is being relieved. My partner David just brought me a deletable plate of roasted chicken and asparagus. I take this as a real sign I’ve broken free! You’re next!

Much love,

Practicing Presence

a short foundational meditation click the heart below