Healthy Procrastination

Let’s talk about a little term I coined (as far as I know) called “Healthy Procrastination.” But, don’t let the name fool you this isn’t necessarily something you want to be engaging in. I started noticing this more and more while working at an intensive outpatient for substance abuse, but quickly realized that everyone, including myself, probably engages in this behavior one way or another quite often.

It basically goes something like this: You have a goal or a task that you need to accomplish, but instead you spend your time at the gym, cleaning your house, or listening to podcasts (most likely related to the goal you have set for yourself). For most people who engage in this behavior, every time they feel determined “today is the day” they are going to check that goal off the list, they end up finding themselves engaging in one of these other behaviors which consumes most of the time allotted to the task at hand.

“But, isn’t this just regular procrastination,” you ask. The devil is in the details, as they say. This is the sneaky part of “Healthy Procrastination,” it tricks you into thinking you’ve been productive because whatever else you decided to do in lieu of the main goal is actually something that is also good for you. Going to the gym is great. Taking a long hike is wonderful. You absolutely needed to begin remodeling your entire bathroom, TODAY. This is where it gets you. All of these activities are probably things that need to get done, and so you feel accomplished for the day. But, you’re also left with that quiet nagging in the back of your mind because you never even started with what was actually on the to-do list.

Allow me to use myself as an example. When I started my private practice I was determined to make my website all by myself. I had never made a website, but I’d known people who had success with Squarespace, so I figured I could manage. Everyday I’d put, “START WEBSITE,” in bold letters at the top of my list of things to do. And, each day I’d find myself at the gym, or working on my photography, or beginning some other random task that meant I had to take 20 trips to The Home Depot. Don’t get me wrong, these things also needed to get done. Going to the gym is part of a healthy life. Working on photo stuff is my other job. Building random crap makes for the house makes the place look nicer. However, day after day, “START WEBSITE,” would get pushed to the bottom of the list. Months passed like this and I had not so much as attempted to begin writing content. But, each night I would sleep easy having tricked myself into thinking I was too busy with other “really important” stuff. After all, I hadn’t just sat around staring at my phone or binge watching “The Office” all day.


So, why do we do this? What drives this behavior?


Well, for me (and I’m assuming most other people), the underlying cause of a lot of my seemingly odd behavior is FEAR. In this instance I felt somewhat incompetent when it came to creating this site. I really feared that I would not be able to produce something that would live up to the often too high standards I set for myself. So, I avoided it all together and engaged in things that I felt competent in, and things I knew I would be capable of achieving a desirable result. The problem is that what is actually good old fashioned avoidance, doesn’t really feel like avoidance at all. It’s like a little loophole your brain creates without your conscious awareness.  We don’t really run out of time. There are actually more than enough hours in the day. We are just straight up avoiding these certain tasks because we are afraid.

The antidote, my friends, begins with awareness. You can break out of this “Groundhog Day” like pattern by simply recognizing that fear and avoidance are really driving the ship. Once you see things for what they really are, you can start to address the actual issues. Working through the fear, the feelings of incompetence, and the perfectionist tendencies require a bit more work, but becoming aware that these underlying factors are what have really been keeping you stuck is what will set the wheels of change in motion.



As always, if any of this speaks to you I’d love to hear what you have to say. Feel free to comment below! But, please keep in mind that this blog is for informational and entertainment purposes, and is not intended to treat, diagnose or be interpreted as a substitute for therapeutic services.