Russell Bishop Blog

#30 – Resistance and Procrastination

Let’s take a look at another form of resistance often referred to as procrastination.  You may have already spotted that this is another of those “ion” words so we automatically realize that something will require action. You probably also have a sense of dread or guilt when you think about the word. After all, procrastinating couldn’t be anything nice, now could it?

Dictionary.com gives us these common definitions:

v.   intr.
To put off doing something, especially out of habitual carelessness or laziness.v.  tr.
To postpone or delay needlessly

Isn’t that great? Careless. Lazy. Needlessly. Kinda makes you feel warm all over, doesn’t it?

Well here’s an interesting discovery: the word actually begins with something quite positive! The prefix, “pro,” means “in favor of,” or “for.” So how does something that begins with a positive wind up with such a negative connotation?

In fact, if you further dissect the word, another interesting element, the part that has “crastin” in it. So what does that mean? Actually, that part of the word comes from the Latin word, crastinus which means “tomorrow.”

So, now what do we have? A word that means for tomorrow’s action. Does that sound lazy or careless to you? Me neither.

In fact, it seems kind of positive. If someone truly were “procrastinating,” they would be consciously thinking about what needs to be done, when it needs to be done, and purposively assigning certain tasks to a future date.

Not what we ordinarily mean, now is it?

So how does procrastination fit in with resistance? In my work with thousands of people looking at personal effectiveness, I have found that what most people call procrastination is a form of avoidance, most often associated with a lack of vision about a successful outcome.  In fact, I have found that most people “procrastinate” or avoid action, when they actually entertain negative thoughts or negative images about the outcome.

These negative thoughts or images (remember imagination? Image in, act out?) suggest to the individual that if they “try,” they will only come up short. And, if coming up short means somewhere between being criticized or punished, who in their right mind would want to take on the task now and accelerate the opportunity to be criticized or punished?

Not too many of us! Most of us keep putting these things off, taking other actions instead and finding reasons why now isn’t a good time. In organizations, I have found some very clever strategies to avoid taking action when the probable consequence is criticism or punishment.

It’s called “busy-ness.” Pretty close to “business.” If someone is really busy, how can you expect them to get everything done? And if they are not only incredibly busy, but also overwhelmed, with way too many things to get done, it seems only natural that they would be putting things off in favor of doing other things.

And this is where it gets kind of dicey. We really do want people working with us who are consciously procrastinating, at least in the sense of consciously thinking about needs to get done and purposively assigning some tasks to another point in time. It’s the other kind of procrastination that we could do without.

Overwhelm and having too many things to get done can actually look like productivity – at least until you look more closely at the actual outcomes of the busy-ness and compare those outcomes to the actual purpose of the job or task. If someone is truly procrastinating, they are most likely taking appropriate actions to accomplish meaningful outcomes that fulfill meaningful purposes.

So, what do you do about the two different form of procrastination? How do you tell the difference within your own self? And what do you do if you discover that you are caught in the negative version?

Careful now – this could sound like a broken record! First question to ask yourself has to do with purpose and outcome. How clear are you on the purpose of the activity and what outcome you are trying to produce. If the purpose and outcome aren’t sufficiently clear, it will pretty difficult to imagine what action to take, much less actually taking the action.

If you can clearly identify the purpose and outcome, then the next step is to imagine (image in) yourself taking the necessary actions.

What if you don’t know what to do?

This could be where the section on imagination and affirmation comes into play. You may need to spend some time inwardly, imagining the outcome, imagining your role in accomplishing the outcome, imagining the actual actions you will take to get there.

Sometimes, this may mean having to learn a new skill or behavior. Learning new skills and behaviors come naturally to us, at least until we get to be around six or seven years old.  Somewhere in there, learning new skills and behaviors begins to migrate from the magical and exciting, to the fearful and harmful.

If you have had sufficient experience in being criticized or punished for trying new things, then you may find it difficult to imagine taking on that new task that requires a skill set you don’t yet have. Think spelling tests again (section on Completion Cycle).

If part of your learning experience has been criticism for what you are doing “wrong” or incorrectly or what you are not doing at all, then stepping into new performance arena may be quite challenging to imagine. Again, who needs more minus six kinds of “encouragement?”

Where are we now with this notion of procrastination? If you are consciously choosing to put something off to a better, preferred or just different time, and you have a pretty good image of a successful outcome, coupled with a pretty good image of a successful execution, then you are probably on solid ground.

However, if you, or someone you work or live with, seem more to be (“needlessly”) delaying or avoiding or otherwise, you may be up against a form of resistance.  Remembering from the previous section, we defined one characteristic of resistance as the lack of understanding.

Understanding itself is an interesting dynamic. So far, we have left it to be implied that understanding means something about knowledge, information, perception or experience.  Sometimes, the kind of understanding that needs to be supplied is of the information or experience kind.

Sometimes, however, it is a different kind of understanding that is required, and not one that you will find in most dictionaries.

Remember that we said some forms of resistance derive from a lack of appropriate self concept, self confidence or self image? What happens if you find yourself in the position of entertaining limiting self images, self concepts or beliefs about self? How to do you improve in the face of perceived limitation?

One rather general answer is that you need to engage in a form of self-support in order to acquire the additional knowledge, confidence, or self image. So what does self-support look like?  What does it look like to support another who may be working to improve?

It could be that what is required is a form of understanding, not of the mental kind, but one of the support kind. Think about the word under-stand. Notice the hyphen. One way to play with the word is to think about understanding as meaning “to stand under.”

If you are standing under something, it probably doesn’t take too much imagination to get the concept of supporting that which you are standing under. Are you standing under your own self (self-support)? Are you standing under another (supporting them)?

Can you blend the notion of understanding to include the meanings of acceptance (I understand that you are doing your best), perception (I understand what you are going through), and knowledge (I understand what is required).

If so, then the first place to apply this kind of understanding is toward your own self, to be self-supporting, and to direct that kind of self-support into positive mental images about purpose, outcome and action that will give you a real chance of moving toward your ideal state.

We’ll continue to blend these and other notions into something that will allow you to achieve more of what you truly desire in life. I encourage you to hang in there – there really is a “there” in here, one that can be life changing and life enhancing. You just need to play more of the “what if” game.

And, just in case you’re the type who says something like, “I’ll give that a go when a get around to it.” If could be that all you are missing is a “round tuit.” If that’s the case, here you go. (OK, OK. I know. If I didn’t know bad jokes, I wouldn’t have any at all to share :-) )

Get a round tuit.

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