Procrastination: Two Perspectives

The universe has provided me with two perspectives on procrastination lately, thought I would share them both as best I can. The first was a tape by recovering psychiatrist Garret O., speaking to an AA conference. The second was Wallace Wilkins, Ph.D, speaking to a group of psychotherapists working in the Employee Assistance Program field in Seattle.

Dr. O. started with the question for his audience, “Who here has found in recovery that procrastination is a serious problem in your life, not just an occasional headache?” This audience responded as all his previous recovering audiences. About 80%. He then developed the theme that procrastination is mostly about shame. By avoiding a project until there is little or no time, we avoid facing how well we might have done. If we had only used all the time. The lack of time becomes a self-created excuse for not testing our true ability. From my point of view, he could as easily have used terms like “inadequacy” or even “performance anxiety,” which seem to be implied.

Dr. Wilkins started from a surprisingly similar place. He has come to see procrastination as an “over-arching” problem in most of his clients, not just alcoholics. The avoidance is not a personality trait, because it is usually specific to certain issues or situations. Dr. Wilkins is a practitioner of rational-emotive therapy and deliberate optimism. He sees coming to therapy itself as procrastination, waiting for the therapist to “fix” me in order to do what needs to be done. The Twelve Steps can also be used to delay change rather than facilitate it. As for Motivational Interviewing and the Stages of Change, anything less than the “Nike” approach – “Just do it!” – is seen as procrastination. Working with “the voice” that tells us otherwise, Dr. Wallace coaches people, in effect, to stop thinking and start acting. To base action on goal rather than mood, feeling, or motivation. He offers a number of tools and anecdotal evidence of effectiveness. One of the best things I heard, for those of you looking to validate your procrastination, was “The second mouse gets the cheese!”

For my part, I heard some truth in both. Dr. O. seems a bit locked in to one “cause.” Dr. W. seems to gloss over some basic realities, one of them being the need for maintenance even after I “just do it.” The latter, by the way, has a website, is an energetic and entertaining speaker. (Google him yourself!)

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