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The Prickly Subject of Procrastination

The Prickly Subject of Procrastination

I’ve always been fascinated with the ‘prickly’ subject of procrastination. Procrastination is a vicious condition that can leave you frustrated and confused and it’s always been a mission of mine to get a better understanding of it, how to recognise it in myself and better still stop it happening. It can easily halt a project in a heartbeat, stop us from achieving our dreams and I’m pretty sure a good chunk of most peoples’ working days are subject to procrastination.

Most of us don’t even realise we’re doing it until we look back and realise how little we have achieved. A lot of us find it nearly impossible to stop procrastinating, even when we do recognise it, choosing to do less important tasks so we can justify keeping ourselves being busy to avoid what we really need to do. We also find it easy to spot procrastination in others and critically put it down to their laziness or them just not being motivated.

It occurred to me today that the cause of my procrastination (and I seem to have a lot right now!) is due to the ongoing dialogue I have with myself and how this is connected to Freud’s theory of the ‘Pleasure Principle’.

According to Freud, humans are ‘hard wired’ to seek immediate gratification for all of its needs, desires and urges and avoid situations that cause them pain. I’ve discovered this connection with procrastination recently and wanted to explain how I practise not procrastinating. Note; I say ‘practise’ because understand, this is something that needs to be done regularly to change the conversations that I have with myself each and every minute of the day.

My procrastination came back with a vengeance at the end of May when I reached a junction in my life. I had just completed 7 months of study on a Vocal Teaching Qualification. The course was very intense and I had studied harder than I ever had before – even at school! I knuckled down and got into a nice routine where each morning, before I did anything else (including dressing) I would study for 2 -3 hours. I did this for the entire 7 months and I was very strict with myself, knowing that if I didn’t then I would never finish the course. It kept me incredibly focused, just telling myself if I did this one thing every day I would succeed.

Sure enough I did succeed, the course ended and all my essays and assessments were submitted on time with very high predicted scores. All I had to do was sit back and wait for my results but as the days after the course followed I realised I should start thinking about what I should do next to fill my days, now that I didn’t have to rise and study. This is where my procrastination problems started!

I already earn a decent living as singing teacher and professional singer, so what I choose to do with most of my days is up to me. But just because of the kind of person I am, I always like to get the most out of life by either creating or learning so I always like to have a plethora of projects that I can turn my hand to, to gain self-fulfilment or make additional cash from. I just needed to choose from them.

Flicking through my notepad of all my goals, I was struggling to decide what I should focus on next so I decided to just pick one, which was learning to play the piano. I said to myself, tomorrow I’m going to do some scales to improve my piano skills.

The next day came and went and I didn’t go anywhere near my piano. Feeling cross with myself I decided the 2nd day I was going to find a piano teacher and get some lessons. So I googled a list of local piano teachers and decided on a couple to call. But the time to make the call never happened. I could see it there clearly on my list but I just couldn’t motivate myself to make the call. I couldn’t understand why! In the meantime, I found plenty of time to check on my Facebook, Instagram and email statuses. And find plenty of time to make meals and try new recipes from my vegan cookbook but I couldn’t find the time to call a person about a blasted piano lesson! What’s going on, why was this happening!

I noticed it happening with everything and anything I chose. I couldn’t get one task underway, had I lost my ‘getting things done’ attitude in the last 7 months – this was not funny!

This ‘hurdle’ got me questioning whether my goals were really that important to me and deep down they really were which added to my frustration! So I started to explore what was actually stopping me doing the things I claimed I wanted and this was when I discovered the connection to Freud’s theory. The exercise below really helped me to understand how my internal dialogue didn’t actually perceive these goals on my list as pleasurable therefore I was unconsciously avoiding them!

To help clarify this, I’ve written a table of the exercise showing my goals and as best as I could, showing the internal dialogue that was swimming around in my head. Some of my goals were short term, some of them long term but all of them have a common thread seen in internal dialogue which explained why I am subconsciously trying to avoid doing them.


Playing the piano

Why is this important to me?

· I want to be able to sing and perform

· I want to be able to give better singing teacher lessons

What‘s holding me back?

· Afraid a piano teacher will teach me non relevant stuff that won’t interest me

· Worried if I attempt to teach myself I’ll just waste a lot of time getting nowhere

Sell some unwanted fabrics that I don’t need anymore

Why is this important to me?

· They clutter up the house and I don’t need them anymore

What‘s holding me back?

· Think people won’t like them so won’t buy them

· I don’t want to take a lot of time selling them and they don't sell or only receive small payments for them

Finish upholstering some benches that I’ve made

Why is this important to me?

· Extra seating around our dining table

· Finish the renovation of our dining room

· I just want to finish the project to feel accomplished

· Like to show the world my creative side

What‘s holding me back?

· Dislike getting all the equipment out and making a mess that I have to tidy away

· I find upholstering boring and I much prefer sewing clothes

· I’m worried they’ll look rubbish

Finish writing the lyrics to a song I co-wrote

Why is this important to me?

· I love writing songs

· I love being creative

· I think this songs has the potential to be recorded and get pitched in the industry

What‘s holding me back?

· Nervous about writing some lyrics that my co-writer doesn’t like

· Nervous about showing the world our efforts and they are not received well

Writing Blogs

Why is this important to me?

· I like to share what I know and learn

· I like to express myself in this way

What‘s holding me back?

· Worried people won’t like what I write

· I don’t know what to write about

· Worried people will judge me

The ‘What’s holding me back’ represents my internal dialogue. Every comment talks about being nervous, disliking, finding boring, not wanting to, getting nowhere and doesn’t interest me with no mention of anything being pleasurable, fun, rewarding or interesting. I can see why my sub-conscious never jumped at the chance to do any of them, every one of them sounds awful! This is why I needed to change my conversation with myself using the advice I would give if I was talking to a friend.

Giving advice is easy sometimes some people give too much advice when it isn't needed but most people we have in our circle of friends are there because they care about you and want you to succeed at what you do. A true friend wants nothing more than to give support and comforting advice to help their friend feel better. This is what each of our sub-conscious mind needs to hear and hear regularly to become motivated when it is procrastinating.

So if you haven't got a friend to give you the push you need, become your own friend and motivate your own sub-conscious out of procrastination. All you have to do is put yourself in the position of a friend and write down the advice they'd give. Here’s what I’d say to myself.

What advice would a friend give?

Playing the piano

· Take a couple lessons with a teacher and see if you like it and then decide whether you can teach yourself

Sell some unwanted fabrics that I don’t need anymore

· Sell one piece each month and see if they go. If they don’t sell then donate them to charity.

Finish upholstering some benches that I’ve made

· You’re halfway there! The one you have nearly finished looks great so finishing the 2nd one is going to be easier because you’ve already done one.

· As for the mess goes, it’s the perfect time to get messy before the party you’ve planned in the summer and a bit of mess isn’t the end of the world!

Finish writing the lyrics to a song I co-wrote

· What you have written so far, you are really proud of. Why should what you write going forward be any different?

. Your co-writer gave you feedback before and you were happy to accept it and it will be no different for the next time.

Writing Blogs

· What you write and post on you website obviously has some interest as you receive hits to you site and they are increasing

· You need to make time to write as you’ve proved in the past the words will flow

· Just keep on doing what you’re doing and you will learn and get better each time

The ‘friends’ advice , actually my own word but from the position of a supportive and caring friend is what prompted me to write this blog today and now I've written it I feel very proud of what I’ve produced. In the process I’ve learnt a lot about myself and feel a great sense of achievement for doing something that I have put off for nearly 3 weeks. Completing this one blog will also give my subconscious mind positive images which will go towards helping me to overcome the next time I am posed with a similar dilemma!

Try this method for yourself and see if you can eliminate procrastination and let me know you get on. Indeed if you have any suggestions how to combat procrastination then please get in touch, it’s always great to hear how others deal with it.

If you want to find out more about the pleasure and pain principle have a look at this page


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