I see a lot of clients struggling this time of year. The excitement and drama of the holidays are over, leaving us with months of short days and gray weather to get through before spring comes. And what of those shiny New Year’s resolutions we all committed to on January first? We were going to go to the gym every day, right? Eat more kale? Save more money? So why is it so easy to go from “today’s the day” to “maybe tomorrow / next week / next year”?
Procrastination is tempting because it usually represents the path of least resistance. Your loftiest resolutions can fall apart in the face of challenge: you binge on Netflix because going for a run seems too hard, you stay in your crappy job because sending out resumes seems like too much work, you don’t sign up for online dating because it seems too scary. Then you feel bad about yourself and become even less likely to feel motivated than you were to begin with.
In order to overcome these seductive but self-defeating habits, we need to recognize procrastination for what it really represents: the barrier that stands between us and what we want most.
I remember a patient of mine who put off a difficult conversation with her boyfriend for months. She’d had a child when she was eighteen and given the baby up for adoption. She felt this was absolutely the right decision for her, and she didn’t regret the choice, which was best for not only her but the child and the adoptive parents as well—a truly courageous move. Still, she feared that her boyfriend might leave her if he knew. The longer she waited to tell him, the bigger the secret became. At last she found the strength to tell him, and to her relief, his response was accepting and compassionate. Afterward, she felt as if the weight of the world had been lifted from her shoulders; why had she put it off for so long?
Like most of us, she feared being vulnerable. She knew she’d have to let her guard down in order to tell her boyfriend her secret, and embracing this vulnerability is one of the bravest things we can do. What she truly wanted was to be wholly loved, in a way that required her secret to be known. But the longer she put off telling him, the bigger the fear became. This is the double bind of procrastination: putting things off until tomorrow makes them harder not easier.
Consider this: What’s really at stake when you’re putting something off? What stands between you and what you want most?