Procrastination: Are You Sabotaging Your Own Success?

The completed painting took ten years of ‘finishing touches’!

The thought has crossed my mind several times that I should live each day as if it was my last. If that was possible, maybe…just maybe, I could see something through to completion and pick the fruit of my labour. The mess in my livingroom bears witness to the fact that I have again fallen victim to procrastination.

Ten partly read books with bookmarks identifying the page where I had abandoned them, were scattered over my desk. A colourful canvas stared at me from the wall, needing some finishing touches. A leatherwork project I was making as a gift lay in pieces on the floor. The final chapters of a manuscript were in disarray upon my desk, needing more editing. Unanswered letters bulged from a letter holder that would hold no more. Paperwork dumped hastily into a pile to make room for more, sat amongst the jumbled mess on the table where I had trouble finding a clear space to eat my meals.

Just a week ago the topic of procrastination came up with a friend. I had just made a list of the things I had been putting off doing when we heard a loud crash from another room. I ventured down the hall to investigate and discovered that a shelf in my bedroom had collapsed. The magazines I’d collected to research markets for my articles were scattered all over the floor and glared at me as if to say, “You’ve been procrastinating about sending off articles, too. It was true. Self-doubt had kept me asking, “Are they good enough?” and, “Do they need some finishing touches?” As with my painting, months have gone by and the ‘finishing touches’ remain undone.

Then one Sunday morning and I lay in bed wondering if I could ever overcome the habit of nearly finishing a task, then abandoning it to start something new, leaving behind a trail of scattered ends. I knew then that the weight of unfinished business was slowing me down, robbing me of the energy to do what I really want to do. After all, I came here to rewrite my book. Yet I constantly busy myself with things that seem more urgent. I am always busy, but it is a busyness that doesn’t do what really needs doing.  A friend once said that I was a master in the art of procrastination, and now I say to myself, “But you’re a master at nothing else!”

Then the phone rang at 7:30 and got me out of bed. Stephen’s familiar voice said that he had just received the letter I’d written two months ago, asking him if he’d like to invest in the talents of a much confused and financially destitute writer holed up for the winter in New Hampshire.

“Oh…” he said, “I’ve just spent all my savings on a house with two and a half acres…a really nice one set up on poles.” He sounded apologetic, but then continued enthusiastically as if trying to cheer me up, “It has a dam with wild ducks…and I have a cow, two horses, two cats and chickens. You know I would help you if I could…”

I told him that I thought he had already paid money into my credit card account because I could still draw on it—even though my last statement said that I was $400.00 over my limit. “Wow, you’re in luck then,” he said.

In luck?

After his call I began to count my blessings. When I needed time to write and wanted to experience my first winter in the snow, I was given the use of a heated house for several months. A parcel even arrived from the owners on the first day it snowed with a note that said, “Happy Holiday.” Inside was a sweater. I had travelled from Australia to experience new horizons. What I had learned from the people I’d met and the experiences we’d shared, money could never buy. Stored within me is a wealth of experiences, a gold mine for my writing and richness within my soul that goes way beyond a credit card limit. Yet the time had come for me to turn this wealth into material success.

After I recovered from the shock that Stephen was unable to help me financially, I saw it as a blessing. Alone in a foreign country, no man in my life to rescue me…no family to support me…no job…friends who would like to help but had financial difficulties of their own, now force me to face myself and go inside to where the source of my prosperity abides: that wonderful creative energy that attracts everything I need for my journey through life.

So why isn’t it helping me now? I can sum it up in one word: Procrastination. Procrastination is that button I press when I refuse to face my fears and instead put my life on ‘hold’. While I feel comfortable and well-provided for, I don’t feel the urge to face my fears, the negative emotions they invoke, and how they limit the way I live my life. Marriage was an unhealthy state for me. It allowed me to follow someone else’s dreams so I could surrender my own without seeing that I was really using procrastination to sabotage my own success.

Travelling has taken me out of my comfort zone and confronted me with the fears, anger, shame, bitterness, grief and all the other monsters hiding illusively inside me. Working on a dream to publish a book is now prompting me to address these energy-sucking parasites. With some surprise I discover that procrastination is simply a symptom that something is holding me back.

This time I hear my stepmother’s nasally voice screaming at me during my teenage years as my girlish body struggled to emerge into a woman, “You’ll never be happy… You’ll never succeed… You’ll never make anything of your life!” Stephen’s father once told me, “Tell a child something three times and it becomes a truth.” I think he is right.

My stepmother’s scowl still glares at my excited face as I show her the first ribbon I won for swimming. Then I hid the ribbon in a box and never completely threw myself into anything again—including my studies. What was the point in doing well if it only provoked jealousy and endless arguments? It was better not to be noticed or stand out at all. All I wanted was to be accepted and loved. I learned very early in life that success brought rejection and shame, and unconsciously decided that it was too high a price to pay.

Yet last night I cried in fear of never achieving my dreams and that I didn’t have what it takes to succeed. My heart pounded, like it is pounding now, telling me of my terror. My stepmother’s words act like an impenetrable veil. I can see success, yet I can’t reach through the veil to grasp it. Why do her words still have so much power over me after all these years? How I could ever succeed if I didn’t believe I could, or worse, that I didn’t deserve to be successful. I knew then that the antidote to these erroneous beliefs was to learn to love myself, follow my intuition as my guide, and practice the art of self-discipline.

Now I look my stepmother in the face (figuratively speaking, of course) and say, “I no longer believe your words. Happiness is a choice. And so too is success. And right now I choose to be both happy and successful!”

At last a timetable is set up to organise my precious time and pull me out of the past, save me from wandering aimlessly in future daydreams, or lost within sleep in the afternoons. The letter holder no longer bulges with unanswered letters. Paperwork has been filed away and urgent matters tended to. The table now has a space where I can eat my meals. I am reading one book at a time. I have finished the gift previously in pieces on the floor, and my first magazine article is ready for posting. Most importantly, I am making progress on the rewrite of my book. I now wake up each morning before the alarm goes off with a smile on my face, ready to face the challenge of a new day. The joy in my heart tells me that I am already successful.

Footnote: I wrote the above in 1992. Since that time I have been through this same process many times, my experience with my stepmother merely being the tip of the iceberg of years of trauma and abuse that began during my earliest years with my parents. Procrastination, therefore, became a beacon of light to show me that I was stuck in something else that needed healing within me. I found no magic cure or quick fix except to resolve anew each day to love myself and learn what each situation could teach me. After nearly twenty years I can now see that each unintegrated trauma, or negative belief we hold about ourselves, acts like a brake to any forward momentum in our lives. The trick to achieving our dreams is in discovering what the brakes are and releasing them with love. Procrastination then becomes dedication, perseverance, and self-discipline—all necessary ingredients of success. By following my dreams I am also healing my life of the embittering conditions of my past. It is a lifelong journey.

You may also like to read:

What Do You Want to Do That For?
Making Dreams Come True
Overcoming Self-Doubt
Make Mistakes. Lots of Them! And Learn.