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Why You Shouldn’t Feel Guilty about Procrastinating

Oops, you’ve done it again. Checked the net instead of starting an important task.

Only a couple of minutes, you’d promised yourself. But an hour passed and your task is still waiting.

It’s not your fault. It’s the enticing headlines or Youtube videos. The pull of your friends’ latest updates on Facebook. Soon, your determination dies the way of most people’s New Year resolutions.

Willpower can’t seem to keep you in check.

Sadly, procrastination is like eating too many chocolates. It feels good until the guilt kicks in.

Then you kick yourself for being lazy. “Why can’t you just get it done?”, you ask yourself.

Fortunately, understanding why you procrastinate also shows you how to stop delaying important tasks. Spoiler alert: guilt and shame are not part of the solution.

Why Procrastination Gets Such a Bad Wrap

Sloth made the list of the seven deadly sins as far back as early christianity. Omitting one’s responsibilities was deemed so serious that it compromised a person’s soul.

Since the 16th century, the Protestant work ethic — work hard and create your own luck — has shaped Anglo-Saxon culture then spread as capitalism.

In the Far East, Confucian ethics encourage hard work for personal fulfillment and the good of society. They’ve contributed to the economic success of Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore and China.

In the US, where the American Dream is earned through grit and hard work, some equate poverty with laziness. A controversial 2014 Cadillac commercial mocked countries where workers “stroll home, stop by the café, and take the whole month of August off.”

Today, the sanctity of work permeates most people’s consciousness.

The Myth of Laziness

Outside the glossy world of Cadillac commercials, busyness often replaces goal-driven work.

People who post long hours aren’t necessarily productive. They may run around like headless chickens, grappling all day with time-consuming activity. But they delay important tasks as much as you do.

Although I know plenty of people who procrastinate — myself included — I have yet to meet anyone who’s truly lazy. Because here’s the thing:

Procrastination has nothing to do with laziness, it’s about fear.

The Google dictionary defines procrastination as “the quality of being unwilling to work or use energy.” But you’re not reluctant to work, you’re afraid that your best efforts won’t be enough. You’re afraid of failure.

Have you noticed how the more something matters the more you are tempted to delay it? That’s because the stakes are higher. What if you’re not good enough? What if you don’t deserve to win? You’d rather not find out.

How to Get Things Done Without Shaming Yourself

First, understand that guilt and shame are not the solution to fear, so you can quit feeling guilty. Beating yourself up is self-defeating.

Instead of worrying about failure, identify the root cause of your fear.

Write your fears on paper. Journal about them. Be honest with yourself but don’t judge. If possible, share your fears with someone you trust.

  • Does your present situation echo a painful past experience? Write that down. Then let it go. The past does not predict the future, so embrace today as a brand new shot at life.
  • Are you paralyzed by unreasonable expectations of yourself? Even perfection isn’t good enough because it still does not guarantee outcomes. Accept that you can’t influence results, only your actions.

And let go of perfectionism. You can’t hit a home run every time you step up to the plate (nobody does.) Often, you won’t even make it on base and that’s okay too. You can still win the game.

Accept that a measure of failure is inevitable. Warren Buffet was rejected by Harvard University. Oprah was fired as news co-anchor of a local station. Madonna got push back from record labels for two years. Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling was turned down by 12 publishing houses. All moved on and so can you.

The Secret Reason Why You Procrastinate

Connecting with the fears that loom behind procrastination brings them back down to size. The urge for perfectionism and control diminishes. It loses its power to dictate you life.

Life is not black or right but shades of gray. If you accept imperfection, you have the benefit of living in reality rather than fiction. Which gets you closer to your goals.

Even failure is part of the game of life. It’s where you hone your skills. It’s not fatal unless you quit.

So let go of outcomes that are outside your control and focus on the next right action.

How to Move Forward and Start Living Your Dreams

Men and women have battled procrastination since the dawn of humanity. One can imagine early humans polishing a cave painting as they delayed hunting mammoths until food ran low.

Given their rudimentary weapons and the might of their prey, their fear was justified. Yours only sabotages your chance of success.

Have you ever overestimated the difficulty of a task, only to be surprised at how easy it turned out to be? That’s because you subconsciously tried to disqualify yourself in advance in order to avoid — or justify — failure. “Only a superhuman could do that.” Except, you did it.

So be honest with yourself. Facing your fears takes courage, of course.

It also takes courage to follow one’s dreams. That’s why so few people do it. I’m not talking about the American Dream, I’m talking about your dreams. Work you love so much you jump out of bed every morning because you can’t wait to start. Work that feeds your soul as well as your family.

Most people are so afraid of following their dreams that they don’t think such a job even exists. Instead, they wrestle with someone else’s vision of success (society’s, their parents’…) Or they keep the stakes low so it doesn’t matter if they fail. They let fear rule their lives and they struggle with procrastination.

Thankfully, there’s a better way. Start by acknowledging your desires. And then your fears.

Next, take one small, manageable step towards your vision. Learn from your mistakes and take another baby step. And then another. And another.

Your focus will change. You’ll be amazed at how many tasks you can tick off your list instead of beating yourself up and then feeling helpless. Your loved ones will notice and begin to wonder what makes you so happy.

Imagine how much more you could accomplish if you were unhindered by fear. Anything truly becomes possible.

Soon, you get that unbelievable feeling that comes from living your dream.