Procrastination Isn’t What You Think It Is.

Via Sara Avery
on Mar 21, 2012
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“Procrastination” does not equal “lazy.” This is one of my favorite things to tell people who procrastinate, as so many of us do!

Procrastination stems from the fear that “I don’t know how to do this perfectly.” You can say this in a number of ways, including, “I’m not smart enough,” and, “I’m not good enough.”  Or, your inner voice might say, “I have to do this perfectly,” or, “I have to show everyone that I know how.”

When these negative feelings are triggered, we do everything we can to avoid having “I’m not good enough” confirmed once again, or having people see our deepest secret—that we aren’t perfect. We hold off doing whatever the task is until the last possible second—until the pain of not completing it at all is greater than our fear that we can’t do it perfectly.

It can be helpful to know that the part of us that stores these negative feelings—what I call Learned Distress—is 2 years old. You wouldn’t yell at a toddler for being scared, and it can be helpful to have this same compassion for yourself when you are feeling reluctant to start or finish something challenging.  It’s also helpful to know that Learned Distress is just a feeling that you can get rid of, so that the part of you that feels good about being you can come to the surface and allow you to accomplish what you want to do.  (I call this part of you your natural well-being.)

The well-being state in this “getting stuff done” arena has a couple of feelings associated with it:

1. Comfort with your own unique way of doing things (instead of following “their” rules perfectly)
2. A sense that you have everything you need within you to achieve your goals

What’s the result when someone removes the negative feelings that generate procrastination?

Often, without even noticing that something is different, people find themselves doing the very task they dreaded easily and without resistance. In fact, I often have to point out to my clients that they accomplished something that seemed impossible just a week or two earlier.

As an example, a college student was struggling in his humanities class and was dreading the paper he had to write for it, so we began to work on this procrastination theme. As he removed layers of “I don’t know how,” he found a subject that excited him and decided to write about that. He was so excited about it that he actually finished his paper early—a first for him! He found that he did indeed have the ability to do it, and he found a subject that fit his uniqueness. He kept telling me, “It was so easy and fun!” He had never felt this way about writing a paper before. His teacher told him it was the best paper she had read all year.

What does the voice in your head say when you’re struggling to start or finish something? What would it be like, instead, if you just felt excited about the task ahead?  I hope you’ll comment below and share your thoughts.


Editor: Hayley Samuelson



About Sara Avery

Sara Avery’s passion is helping people uncover the energy that creates their story and the uniqueness of who they really are. In 2001, she transitioned from her first career as an orchestral violinist to guiding people through the deep transformation of Quanta Change. Quanta Change identifies Learned Distress (the feeling that “there is something wrong with me” absorbed in the womb and early in life) as the source of non-well-being. This unique process works with your brain during sleep to permanently remove layers of Learned Distress, allowing your natural well-being to become the source from which your life is generated. Sara’s clients discover a new ease and joy in life that they’ve never experienced—in emotional, spiritual, and physical realms. One client said, “I’ve been seeking for 40 years, and this is by far the best thing I’ve ever done for myself.” Learn more on her website or read more from Sara on her blog. Or, connect with her on Facebook or Twitter.


19 Responses to “Procrastination Isn’t What You Think It Is.”

  1. Mary Kay says:

    Yup….I experience this quite often Sara…its my perfectionism and avoiding of the discomfort associated with not knowing how to do something. Once I muddle through it most often feels great and I wish I'd done it sooner….this time of year its my taxes!

  2. Sara Avery says:

    Hi Mary Kay, I know what you mean about the taxes! LOL They certainly give us a good excuse to confront our stuff in so many realms! 🙂 Thanks for sharing your thoughts – I really appreciate it!

  3. Lyn says:

    Wow, it's as if you've written this article just for me! I was up this morning at 3am to re-do something that I'd already done just for the reasons you mention above. Thank you for this insight, it's very helpful!

  4. So what exactly do you feel is the solution to this? Simply to embrace the challenge and attempt to let go of perfectionism? How does one do this?

  5. Sara Avery says:

    Hi Lyn, so glad I could be helpful. Thanks for letting me know!

  6. Sara Avery says:

    Hi Andrea, the work I do with clients goes deeper than what can be done on a rational/thinking level. It's a more involved process than is easy to talk about in a blog article, but in short, it works with the brain during sleep to remove layers Learned Distress. It capitalizes on the fact that the brain is more open to change during sleep than at any other time, and that sleep is the time when the sense of self that stores how we feel is being recharged. Thanks for your questions. Please let me know if I can answer further.

  7. Sara Avery says:

    Hi Lyn, so happy I could be helpful. Thanks for letting me know!

  8. It wasn't until I was in my 30s that someone – at that time a beloved mentor I was doing my clinical pastoral education under – said to me that my procrastination is because I'm a perfectionist. That totally opened my mind up to see the dysfunction. I still procrastinate, and it still bugs me to get things done "early" because I know in the back of my head "it can always be better so let's just hold on to it until the exact due time so I can keep working on it and working on it and working on it…" and then, of course, other stuff doesn't get done because I'm focused on the other thing. But, at least I'm aware of what I am doing and why and can make adjustments and I have become quite proficient at working ahead and starting projects – especially since I do so much collaborative work now; teams don't work well as procrastinators, and having other people to hold one accountable really helps.

    But I really wanted to chime here because of my mentor's statement to me that related procrastination to perfectionism. I just figured I was lazy and therefore I was a stupid bad person.

  9. Sara Avery says:

    Hello Rev. David – thanks for chiming in! Sounds like you had a great mentor!

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  11. chad henry says:

    One other common cause is, that what ever you're putting off doing, is because it's such a huge drag that you really can't face it, even if you're just brimming with self-confidence. I've had to move and buy/sell houses five times in the last few decades and believe me, I procrastinated the packing process and all the other myriad side details of moving because it felt so monumental. I didn't put it off because I didn't think I was up to handling it, but because it's like one of the top stress-producing activities you can do and we had so incredibly much stuff to pack.

  12. Sara Avery says:

    Hi Chad – great point! 🙂

  13. jen kiley says:

    i am procrastinating right now reading this article and making a comment. instead i should be reading my course book on script writing and doing the needed exercises. i am trying to expand my knowledge of writing. writing is mind blowing for me and i enjoy it but i have such anxiety before i start doing it but once i start i'm thinking faster than i can write. .perfect article for me to read at this time. thanks. it must be serendipty that i checked my email.

  14. Sara Avery says:

    Hi Jen, so glad that it gave you an excuse to take a break! 🙂 Wishing you well in your writing!

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  19. Im_Mayravillosa says:

    I'm glad i just read this. I've been procrastinating for almost my entire life, and it's been a sad story. Last week i learned that i was actually in panic and that was the reason why i couln't finish something (Or sometimes to start it). I was scare of not being as good as i was supposed to, etc. Then i realize i was caught in a paradox and i gladly feel like i'm aware and it'll be easier to get out of this. I wanna live a life where me and my dreams are priority. I wont interfere anymore. Thank you. God bless us all.