Much has been said about the cost of procrastination in terms of productivity, lost time, and stress.
Productivity experts and economists have even assigned estimated dollar amounts to our procrastination.
Of course, those numbers vary widely depending on the task procrastinated and the value of your time. One aspect that doesn’t vary is the emotional cost of procrastination. When we put off living the life we want, or when we hold back from acting on our dreams out of fear, our procrastination is costing us greatly.
So, while we can estimate the value of being proactive in terms of dollars in your pocket, the real value is in your emotional well-being and happiness. If you’ve asked yourself, “why do I procrastinate so much?” then it’s time to pinpoint the cause and break the cycle. First, you must explore what you’re actually putting off.
A coaching student of mine, we’ll call her Gloria, told me she’d always wanted to become a professional singer. As she was reaching middle age, she was toying with the idea of switching lanes on her career as a mid-level executive at an investment firm to pursue her musical aspirations.
“I don’t know why I shouldn’t just quit the firm and become a singer. It’s what I’ve wanted ever since I was a kid. I feel like I’m putting it off because I’m afraid.”
At the time I was surprised. Gloria had never mentioned this before and so she and I started to explore where this dream was coming from. She’d never formally trained in music or performed in front of others. She admitted she wasn’t even sure she could sing. But answering to this fantasy seemed to be a path she wanted to take.
Gloria held an MBA from an elite school, but after graduating from her program she jumped in the workforce. She worked her way through the ranks at the firm, but as we talked, she mentioned she’d become stagnant in her job.
“I can’t move ahead unless I get more training. I know I need to do it, but I’m afraid of investing the time, energy, and effort back into taking even more classes.”
So here she was, afraid to move forward and invest in herself so she was considering this drastic life-altering foray into entertainment. What Gloria was really procrastinating was taking the next step in her professional development so she could discover more fulfillment and growth in her career. The real cost of procrastination could have been huge for her.
After we discussed what was she was really dragging her feet on, she realized a career in music wasn’t actually her dream, but a fantastical escape. In reality, she would find greater personal fulfillment by buckling down, getting the training she needed, and getting her career trajectory back. Gloria ended up doing just that—after a year of training, she was promoted in the firm. She got her momentum and spark back (and realized life as a struggling musician wasn’t actually what she wanted at all).
Unfortunately, many of us face the same types of questions when we find ourselves putting off big life pursuits. We may beat ourselves up for holding back on what we want when we’re actually fooling ourselves by mis-wanting. Sometimes it takes a good ally to steer us in the right direction. Often, when we’re dragging our feet it’s because we’re actually afraid of risks and change.
Now, not all of us have the luxury of pursuing different career paths or moving forward. There are definitely unexpected events that come up and life gets in the way. One of the tough parts is knowing when there’s really an obstacle blocking us from growth, or when it’s simply our perception.
My father had a promising career with the phone company, but then World War II intervened. He served in the army instead of moving forward in his education and as a result, he never completed college. When I was younger, I really resented the phone company (and the situation) because I saw the way he struggled to move ahead in his job. In fact, I was hired on with no experience at one level below him, despite his career spanning over 25 years.
One of the biggest areas I see this is with parents and their kids. Many parents I talk to use their kids as an excuse to procrastinate on living the lives they want.
It’s much easier to focus our efforts on our kids than on ourselves. As we navigate the roads of parenting, we may become over-caring, over-involved, and singularly focused. We may push our kids to perform or live out our dreams because we don’t want to perform ourselves.
Time and time again, I’ve seen parents push their children into sports, music, and even academics, because they regret the pursuits they didn’t follow in their younger years. Yet, it’s never too late! Parents should learn, grow, and engage right alongside their children. Learn violin or piano with your kids; get out there and play sports with them. Better yet, pursue your own dreams—join an adult community league, find a creative outlet, go back to school.
Kids aren’t an excuse to procrastinate the life you want to live! Again, if you’re putting off your dreams because you’re too busy with your kids, you’re avoiding something. Children offer us an opportunity to learn, play, discover, and grow. What they shouldn’t become is a surrogate to push your dreams onto.
The big cost of procrastination is often putting off or never reaching a life of fulfillment. While it’s important to address the big life-changes we procrastinate, there’s also something to be said for the little items we avoid and brush aside. Cumulatively, these little acts of procrastination add up as well.
We all run into times when we look at our to-do list and push items off in favor of easier, more pleasurable tasks. Everyone does. We opt to indulge in soft addictions like TV, shopping, and social media to zone out, rather than tuning in to what’s going on around us. Many of us justify our “down time” as a deserved break, but this type of downtime actually does the opposite of leaving us refreshed and renewed.
Think of soft addictions like candy. Yes, when you’re hungry you may grab a sugary snack from the vending machine. Temporarily you feel energized and even get a bit of a sugar high, but inevitably we crash and are left feeling lower than we were before. Similarly, soft addictions give us a quick pleasure boost but eventually get in the way of our long-term self-nourishment.
Typically, if we find soft addictions are constantly getting in the way and preventing us from accomplishing what we need to, it indicates a larger problem. We may seek the addicting behavior because it helps us avoid addressing our underlying lack of fulfillment.
We may put off pursuing our degree, requesting professional development, or addressing concerns with our boss because we’re afraid of the results of rocking the boat.
Similarly, we may put off counseling with our spouse because we’re afraid it indicates and acknowledges a problem in our relationship. Instead of addressing and resolving the issue, we ignore the problem and hope it goes away. Like any case of procrastination—ignoring a task doesn’t help it disappear and often makes it feel even more insurmountable.
Instead, embrace change as a natural part of life. Growth is painful. Change is painful, but it’s from transformation we reach a greater fulfillment and satisfaction with our life. We may choose what we perceive as the “easy route” because, well, it looks easier. In the long-term, our happiness depends on us continuing to move forward and evolve into our next, most radiant selves.
If you’re looking for ways to grow, transform, and get the life you want, please visit the Wright Foundation. We’re excited to announce the availability of many of our courses for download. These courses are at a special introductory price, so don’t miss out!
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The Wright Foundation for the Realization of Human Potential is a leadership institute located in Chicago, Illinois. Wright Living performative learning programs are integrated into the curriculum at Wright Graduate University.