Procrastination is one of those words that, for many, elicits feelings of guilt and powerlessness. I love tearing apart scary words and looking at what they really mean. This word has reportedly been part of our English vanacular since Shakespeare’s time and, roughly translated from its Latin roots, means “push it forward…because this belongs to tomorrow”.
Consider that there’s nothing inherently wrong with procrastinating and that sometimes it’s very much appropriate to push something forward to tomorrow. On the flipside, it’s important to remember that our human existence only affords us so many tomorrows and that by putting important things off indefinitely we’re depriving ourselves of the joy and fulfillment that accomplishments can bring. Issues that we face on a global scale, notably the health of our planet, have a very timely component and there’s a real cost to inaction.
My deepest learning around procrastination came in a less than subtle form. In the summer of 2008 I was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer and there were times when I wondered if I would live to see Christmas. A wave of sadness fell over me as I faced the possibility of not having many more tomorrows and I became mindful of all the things that I wished that I’d done over the past forty years. Fortunately I ended the year with a clean bill of health…and a new lease on life.
All of this begs the question. Why do we procrastinate? Fear is often a key component. There’s the fear of failure and the embarrassment that that might follow, and the lesser recognized fear of success – hiding out in the shadows might be more of a challenge once the world witnesses how amazing you are. Procrastination is also a common reaction when something feels too big or when the path to our dreams is unclear. And sometimes the things we put off are just not that important.
The first step to overcoming procrastination is to look your reasons square in the eye. Sometimes the source of the resistance is not obvious and it helps to talk with a friend or work with a life coach to clearly see your patterns. Bringing awareness to your reasons puts you in a place of choice.
Taking things on in life can be scary and uncomfortable and I invite you to move boldly forward, staying mindful of what’s at stake. If something seems too big, consider taking one small step, even if the rest of the path is unclear, and invite others to share your journey. Let go of things that aren’t important, be kind to yourself and be weary of that deamon called “perfection”.
In the words of Mark Twain – “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
Originally printed in Winds of Change Newsletter, Summer 2010
Photo by Andreanna Moya Photography