In this post, I’ll talk about something that doesn’t seem to make sense. Why is it that, when we’re working on a project that’s deeply important to us, we tend to procrastinate the most?
I’m sure you’ve experienced this while doing a task that seemed “make or break” to you. Maybe it was a project that was for an important client or worth a lot of money. Maybe it was a paper you were writing for school that was worth a big part of your grade. Whatever it was, I’ll bet you noticed yourself putting it off more often than your usual chores.
Why Procrastination Makes Sense
Why does this happen? In my experience, when a task seems really important, that usually means our ego is deeply invested in it. In other words, our self-worth is riding on how we perform. If the project goes well, we’ll think well of ourselves. But if we screw up, we’ll see ourselves as screwups.
It’s understandable that we’d put off doing a project like this. After all, if we finished the work, someone might think it’s not good enough. We can avoid that risk by not trying and never finishing.
I think this is one reason so many people have a breakthrough novel they’ve been “meaning” to write, or a dream business they’ve been “planning” to start, for many years. They haven’t tried, because they know how much their self-worth would suffer if they failed.
What’s The Worst That Could Happen?
How do we let go of this habit of putting off our most important work? The key, I think, is to recognize that we’re basically okay and worthwhile, no matter what mistakes or setbacks happen in the project we’re doing. In my book, this is what I call developing a sense of inner foundation.
One way to have this realization, I think, is to seriously ask yourself what would happen if the project you’ve been putting off doesn’t work out. What’s the worst-case scenario that might come about if you wrote that groundbreaking novel and nobody read it, or you started that dream business and no one bought anything from it?
What I think you’ll recognize when you ask this question is that, in fact, life would probably go on if you failed. You probably wouldn’t disintegrate or spontaneously combust, and you’d likely live to write another book or start another business if you so desired.
At a deeper level, it’s also useful, when you’re feeling anxious about how a project will turn out, to do what’s often called getting grounded — to bring your attention into your body, and feel its power and stability. Yoga offers some great ways to do this.
One technique you can use, without even getting up from your chair, is called breathing into your spine. To do this, focus your attention on the base of your spine, around the tailbone area. If you have trouble doing this, press your hand against your lower back, and tune into the sensation of pressure you feel there.
With your attention focused there, take a few deep breaths. Notice how this reminds you, on a physical level, of your strength and solidity. As you can imagine, this is great for moments at work when you feel paralyzed with worry that your project won’t turn out well.
It may seem like a paradox, but the more we see ourselves as safe and adequate, no matter what results we get at work, the more we get the ease and efficiency we want in what we do.