The Unintentional Houdini: Escaping into Procrastination

Posted By Staff Writer on June 27, 2017

We all procrastinate for one reason or another, and then we find ourselves staring at the clock, wondering how we can possibly finish that important task in such a short period of time. We kick ourselves knowing we could have acted sooner and avoided the overwhelming crush of negative emotions we feel, as well as the potential embarrassment of being scrutinized for our half-baked effort. We are as adept as Houdini in escaping the work that goes along with doing a task well. So why do we do it? We do it to avoid emotional pain in most cases. Anxiety, uncertainty, and the fear of being rejected lead to procrastination. Surely you've experienced at least one of the following:

Perfectionism Kills Progress

One of the major contributing factors to procrastination is perfectionism. Perfectionism kills progress when a person believes that she could give it her all while also believing that her all just isn't good enough (sounds like a song).

Squirrel Chaser Impulse

Squirrel chasing is a lack of attention, focus, and impulse control. It is a way of diverting precious time, and amazing opportunities are lost to flitting impulses. It's moving from one unimportant attention-getter to another while avoiding real prospects. People have been known to put off signing scholarship acceptance letters to enrich their World of Warcraft avatars, for crying out loud!


Another reason to procrastinate is being overcommitted. Some people just cannot say no, and one of two things happens: The overcommitted person simply cannot get everything accomplished, or the overcommitted person freezes with the fear of having too much to do then, nothing gets done. Of the three common causes of procrastination, this one is probably the easiest to fix.

Pre-empting the Tempting

A Photo By Sylwia Bartyzel.

Only you know what your unique challenges are. You will have to ultimately come up with the strategy that works for you in overcoming procrastination. Most people will benefit from getting rid of tempting diversions before they become a problem. Whatever your diversion is, take care of it. Chase people off, put the gaming station away, turn the cell phone off, or unplug the television. Become critical of where you spend your time. Ask yourself, “Is this activity leading me to where I want to be?” Conceptualize where you are going in life. It's a very abstract undertaking because the payoff and reward might be years away, as in the case of pursuing an education. Convince yourself that you can do it and that it's not going to be painful. Avoid putting off the unpleasant.

Courage to Fail

Illustrator Watercolor Painting On Glass Shot From Low Angle

You can expect to fail—it will happen—but remember failure is not personal condemnation. It just means that the effort did not produce the expected outcome. Failure is feedback—and it's pointing the way to improved change. Babies fall many times before they walk, and when they fall they finesse their footwork again and again until it becomes walking, and walking becomes running. Become self-confident by doing. Just do something, even if you know it will not be perfect. Confidence, focus, and direction will come if you give the habit of getting it done a chance to form.

Overcoming Inertia


Get momentum going, and once it's going, keep it going, even if that means doing the smaller tasks first. The goal is to start. Once the momentum is rolling, confidence, along with the ability to be self-directed and motivated, increases, because you are providing evidence of your abilities to yourself. Putting off real tasks robs you of confidence. Work when your energy is at its best. Plan your tasks around the times you will be most focused, energetic, and motivated, but don't wait for your energy to be optimal because it's not likely to happen.

Just Say No!

Get in the habit of deciding what is really important to you, give yourself plenty of time to do those things, and cut the rest out. You cannot be everything to everyone, no matter how hard you try. Instead of spreading yourself thin and giving a weak effort to many tasks, give a concentrated, focused, and purposeful effort to the important things, and let the rest go. Procrastination is unique in each person, so once you make a plan, make the plan self-correcting and specific to you. In other words, if something doesn't work, find another way to do it until you find what works well for you. Take responsibility for your life. Realize that if you desire to do something with your life, it begins with doing little things; one task here, one task there. And finally, remember that procrastination is the learned behavior of putting off unpleasant emotions, and it can be unlearned. So excuse me while I run off to do some work that I have been neglecting . . .

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Mitch Aagard is an instructor at Stevens-Henager College. He teaches classes in English, history, and sociology.