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Dealing with procrastination

I am the king of procrastinators. I put things off, because I can’t or won’t make a decision. When it comes to buying an item, as my wife will attest, I am scared that a better deal might come along, so I just put it off.

Procrastination is a real problem and it shows up at universities when students procrastinate about completing assignments often putting it off to the very last moment.

Sometimes, they don’t complete them at all. I know of a very smart man who didn’t complete his university assignments and as a result never graduated. However, he went on to have a very successful, I repeat, very successful professional career.

So, the issue wasn’t ability.

Typically, most blame procrastination on a time management problem or perhaps laziness. People are just not managing their times properly. And some universities even offer time management advice for their students.

However, a recent study by psychologists Timothy Pyschyl and Fushcia Sirois has concluded that procrastination is not about time management, but rather an unwillingness to deal with negative emotions such as anxiety or confusion (uncertain what to do) that they face when faced with accomplishing a task.

So instead of confronting their inner negative emotions, they simply put it off.

And these negative emotions are the main message of Jesus’ parable recorded in Matthew 25.

In the parable, Jesus tells of a master who was going on a journey and left his three servants with money to manage while he was gone. The master gave one servant five talents, another two and the third one talent.

As we read the parable the two servants given five and two talents went out and doubled the master’s money.

But the third man who received one talent was unable to decide what to do, procrastinated and in the end buried his one talent in the ground until the master returned.

When the master finally came home, he was outraged that the man with one talent hadn’t even put it in the bank and let it collect interest.

So what was the servant’s excuse:

24 “And the one also who had received the one talent came up and said, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow and gathering where you scattered no seed. 25 And I was afraid, and went away and hid your talent in the ground. See, you have what is yours.’ (Matthew 25:24-25 NASV)

The man confessed his fear, but then blamed the master for the problem because he was a hard man. But the master would have nothing to do with that excuse because the other two servants had the same master and doubled their investments.

It had nothing to do with a “hard” master, but rather the man was consumed and paralyzed by his own inner fears.

So, what fears do we have to deal with it:

Fear of failure: One of the biggest fears we have is the risk of failure, that we will make the wrong decision and lose everything. The man was so consumed by this fear, that he couldn’t even risk investing it in a bank.

Fear of comparison: The other two slaves who doubled their investment were no doubt bragging about how well things were going. As he watched their success, the slave with one talent wilted and was paralyzed into inaction.

Fear of expectation: He was concerned about failing to meet the master’s expectations. The servant believed no matter how well he did, it would not be good enough. The solution was to do nothing and in his mind, this meant he couldn’t be blamed. But doing nothing is more often the biggest mistake. A lot of this inability to meet expectations can be traced back to our childhood.

Perfectionism: This is differs from the other three, because we are measuring ourselves against how well we think we should do. I struggle with this. At times, I have felt like giving up on this website, because of a typo or mistake I made in an article. These things happen. I have seen mistakes in major publications with full time editors and proofreaders. Mistakes are not a reason, they are an excuse. If, we are doing something we will invariably make mistakes. So what. The only way to avoid making a mistake is to do nothing.

If you are a procrastinator, the key to dealing with this is by first understanding its root, your inner fears. What is paralyzing you? Be honest about your fears.

READ: Procrastinate much? Manage your emotions, not your time: It isn’t about avoiding work; it’s about avoiding negative emotions

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