Overcoming Procrastination Part 3


At the opposite end of the spectrum from the people who can’t start their projects, are the ones who can’t finish them.

There are various reasons for that, but let’s drill down on one very specific niche group.  Some people will consistently work on any large or small project until it is about 90% done, then they will mysteriously not finish.

That which is left undone is often the easiest part. They have done the hard work already.  There is no lack of knowledge or time that keeps them from finishing.  They are quite clear that there is a deadline and that missing the deadline will bring some negative consequences.

Nonetheless, year after year, their life is marked by projects not quite finished.  And generally, if you were to explore the topic with the individual in a safe environment, they don’t have a clue why they don’t finish.  They will agree with everything you say about how reasonable it would be to invest a little extra effort to finish, and how unreasonable it is to not finish.

So . . . what is the mysterious “editor” that whacks the project off at 90% of completion?

Often it is anticipated emotional pain.

You see, we learned early in life that when a project gets finished, it gets judged.  Sometimes the “judgment” is formal such as turning in a piece of homework which will be graded.  Sometimes it is informal as in the people around you telling you whether they like the dinner you served.

Regardless of whether you fear the critic from your childhood, or the critic in your present community, not finishing a project is a crude but effective way to avoid feeling the pain of having your competence criticized.  Somehow, it is easier to have our character demeaned than our competence.

There is one other critic who needs to be considered and that is yourself.

I had a friend who declined to take a particular challenge.  She explained it very simply.  All of her life, she had been of the opinion that there was not much about her that was worth much.

While she was reasonably sure this was reality, there was always that shred of hope that she might have a little more potential than she thought she did.  However, if she actually tried to do something big, and she failed, then it would prove to her that she really was the airhead she thought she was.

Therefore, she studiously avoided doing anything that might reveal what a truly useless gene pool she was burdened with.

While her case was extreme in that she clearly admitted to herself and to me her absolute aversion for anything remotely like a task or test which would be scored, judged, graded or otherwise evaluated, a lot of people out there have the same fear running unarticulated in the background.

And when you are your own harshest critic, any project that gets 90% done but doesn’t look stellar, will most likely be gently set aside, so that you don’t have to finish it and face the fact that you really aren’t . . .

To recap, you may have “tapes” running in the background with the voice of your father, your English teacher, or the playground bully mocking your accomplishments.  Or you might have a spouse or boss or friend right now who is quick to celebrate every imperfection.  Or . . . you might be your own enemy!

So . . . if you are avoiding completion to avoid being judged as inadequate, what do you do?

1)     You start with the principle of design.

Who are you and what are you SUPPOSED to be great at?  As a kid I watched the magical, mystical 4.0 GPA being flaunted by all those high achievers.  Both the students and the adults assured the rest of us underachievers that the 4.0 kids were both intrinsically superior and highly desired.

I learned early on that the dust they had been created from was a little less dusty than what God used for me and my buddies.  My grades ran the gamut from A to F which proved to me — and to the judges of right and wrong — that I was intrinsically deficient.

That insidious 4.0 virus did not contain its nasty little self to school.  I somehow absorbed the message that people who are really together, excel at almost everything in life.  So I tried to be universally competent.  And failed.  Proving once again that I was . . .

One of the most liberating truths in my life is that I am supposed to excel in some things and it is truly, absolutely OK that I am mediocre in others.

I no longer feel guilty that I can’t play the piano even though I assaulted Thompson’s odious red books for years.  I know I am a lousy speller and I have worse penmanship.  But I also know that I write a great article on occasion.

I am mechanical on audio editing — good enough to get by, but nowhere near as skilled as Niell Bester is.  I can diagnose your plumbing problem but not your car’s problem.  I know Spanish but not Hebrew.  I am a very good painter when it comes to walls, but am sub-dismal at baseboards.

I know a good deal about how the digestive system works and how to heal it, but I don’t know what I would like to know about the human heart.  So if someone reading this is a cardiologist, call me!  I have some questions for you that might lead to a truth that will set a lot of people free.

So sort this out for yourself.  Make a short list of things that are at the core of your design that you really ought to do well, every time.  Make a short list of things you don’t care if you ever master.  (HTML, the tax code and dream interpretation are on mine).

Then everything else in the middle will be done as well as the time and resources I allot to the task.  I love to iron a sharp crease in my blue jeans and starch it well.  I rarely have the time for such frippery, so I feel no guilt over wearing creaseless jeans in California.  Now in Texas, creaseless jeans are a whole ‘nother kettle of fish . . .

2)     Decide whether your childhood judges were fair and accurate.

My dad was.  I was pretty schlock at a lot of things, but he usually did not exaggerate.  The sixth grade bully wasn’t.  My high school English teacher?  Well, she had her days, but that one particular paper of mine which she shredded in front of the whole class — well, that was way harsh!

If those tapes stored in the archives are not true (even though they are loud and painful) try to disempower them.  Two ways that have worked for some people are to talk or write about them.  If you are verbal, sit down with a friend and talk through the original scenario.  Describe how bad your work was, and how good it was, and what an appropriate evaluation would have been.  Share the pain of the unfair words.

If you are a writer, craft that masterful letter to the miscreant, sharing the truth and how badly he or she hurt you.  Then shred it.

It is often important to talk through the changes in you since the original incident.  I am not the 14-year-old I used to be, and the judgments spoken against me there, don’t fit any more.

Often these kinds of exercises will put the past to rest.

3)     Decide whether you care about what today’s judges will say.

This is a tough one, but sometimes it is necessary categorization for survival.  Being high-profile, I get judged constantly.  These blogs invite cheap shots and I get them.  And there are some regular snipers out there who I can almost bank on writing a hurtful comment.

Some people’s comments I can disregard because I know how much pain they are in.  Their words are not appropriate, but I am of the opinion that they would be kinder and gentler to me if life had been a bit kinder to them.

There are some others who I am fairly tolerant with because I know they are reacting to my role, not to me personally.  Do you have any idea how many people out there have deep wounds from White, male, religious, authority figures?  Since most of the above caste of people have rendered themselves quite inaccessible, I can understand why my openness and vulnerability would invite a pot shot from some of these.  It isn’t right, but I can take it with a grain of salt.

Others are just career crabs because their mamas didn’t do too good a job.  I can shrug them off too.

But some people’s opinion I care about.  A lot.

But when I find myself flinching and not wanting to go somewhere or do something, because of anticipated pain, I take a step back and ask, “Who will fuss, and do I care?”  I no longer have the blanket reaction to all anticipated rejection.  I can easily deal with the rejection from most people.

4)     Learn to face criticism with Christ.

For me, it helps a lot to envision Christ standing next to me while the other person judges me.  Then when the drama is over, He and I get alone and discuss what He feels about the situation.  Sometimes He is harder on me than the other person was.  Often He sees some angles neither the other person or I considered.  Sometimes He exonerates me.

5)     Allow for a learning curve.

If you have trouble starting a task, learning to access your gear shift can come pretty swiftly.  However, if you have a 30 year history of allowing fear of judgment to block you from finishing, then even with these tools, it will probably take you a little while to put that completely behind you.

So do an assessment periodically.  If you have a history of completing 5% of the things you started and you are now up to 30% a month later, that represents heroic progress.  What you are doing is working.  Stay with it awhile longer.

At the end of the day, criticism stings.  And if you have a history of being shredded emotionally for what you have attempted to achieve, it is not particularly surprising that you have the push/pull inside. You are drawn to express yourself because there is life and vitality in you, but you choke near the end, because . . .

To be continued

Copyright February 2011 by Arthur Burk

From the Quarterdeck, in Anaheim

This entry was posted in Inner Healing, Spiritual Growth. Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to Overcoming Procrastination Part 3

  1. Darla says:

    Great & relevant stuff!
    Really appreciated #4! Thank you for sharing that!

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  2. Francyes says:

    I know it’s been a while since you posted this and i haven’t read the next article yet but I have to share right now. I’m just like the woman who couldn’t start. I can’t even start most of the time because I’m terrified of the imaginary people who in my mind have already hated what I haven’t even started. I think I’ve been hyper sensitive to the people in my past who I could tell (I thought) didn’t believe I could do something I wanted to do. I listened to my imagination. I know I’m my own worst critic, do you think it would benefit me to write a letter like you mentioned to myself? also I want to mention I shed some tears when you said you were a bad speller because your articles are some of my favorite to read. I am also a bad speller and I would love to write articles (and other things) as good as you do. I’m also reminded of the story you told in the generational blessing book about you being blessed with proficiency in writing by a woman on her death bed and I wished I could find someone who was dying with the same skill they could bless me with. I think this article is the blessing I was waiting for, and no one had to die for me to get it. Thank you for this.

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  3. Grace Julia says:

    Awesome articulate answers to my silent quandary. Praise God.

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  4. Irina Rivera says:

    About “being my own enemy”:
    I work freelance, and this past week I made a doozy of an error which cost me a large chunk of my profit. To make matters worse, I knew that while I was writing my contract, I knew I should double check my math – but I didn’t. The first step was to own my mistake and come to a mutual agreement with my clients. I made ‘restitution’, but didn’t feel calm within myself. So I told myself that I just learned an x amount of dollars mistake. But this didn’t lift my shame and awkwardness. Later that night I realized that I needed to formally forgive myself. You’ve talked about this in the post on prophets, I believe. Extending forgiveness to oneself really matters. I continued the job without any lingering shame. Shame creates a huge barrier to being life-giving! Just like forgiveness wipes the slate clean with another person, it also did the same for me. I’m nearing the end of this project and it will be one where I can look back in peace.
    As the Lord takes me through a new time of fiercely examining my design and call, I think forgiveness plays a huge part in going forward.

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  5. Mimi Turner says:

    Thank you yet again, Arthur! This series has been so helpful and healing. When one knows that they are created to do so much more than they have been all their lives, it is such a demeaning feeling to never achieve those things. Your articles have ministered tremendously ~ just knowing that someone understands, cares, and has some answers is sooo wonderful!

    I recently heard a young man who is an incredible artist and musician say something that struck deep in my spirit. He is constantly stretching himself to try new things and is not at all burdened with either beginning or finishing projects. He says the Lord showed him that “The prototype is never perfect”. Those profound words have allowed me to begin things I have never tried before, and to follow through to the end, even when it is not going the way I pictured it. I used to think that meant I had failed! Now, I am learning to just enjoy the process, and to know that with practice I will improve on almost anything I try.

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  6. Derick Gross says:

    Thankyou for your posts i am very gratefull for buying some truth from these posts. I can totally relate to this post when i was young one of my relatives made an awfull comment about my work that stuck. I forgot about it as if it is insignificant only recently to dicover that that one tiny little sentence has steerde much of my work and my relational work. It always suprises me that the things i thought is insignificant made the most damage. Praise the Lord for His truth.

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  7. Okay, what can I say……..this is glorious and has put into perspective so many things that I have been asking myself about even after all these years. In fact, as I went to read this article, that little voice inside me said “Wait until tomorrow.” Then another voice said, “Put it on your favorites list and you can pull it up later.” But boldly and brashly, I stepped out. No, I jumped out, put the coffee in the microwave, almost distracted by the clothes in the dryer and ran to the computer and voila………..ta-da……I read it and said “Ouch!” Then I repented for my fears, my worries and the words that have hurt in the past that have squelched my creativity and my right brain lifestyle……….this was great and I am so glad I found it to read it, again and again until I get it and it lodges in my heart…….thanks and thanks.

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  8. RuthAnn777 says:

    I love this article. I think I might bounce between the two, which really makes it hard. I do have to finish though, but to put that last little bit in is like pulling teeth. I am in college and there are so many papers. The ones I like to write are the ones the instructors give honest and helpful feedback. The other ones, well they are the ones I have so much problems starting and finishing. I think my finishing problem can be rooted in shame like the other Ruth. Thanks for insight, that is half the battle having revelation as to what is going on, then I can prayerfully come up with helpful strategy.

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  9. Rosa says:

    Dont we sometimes just have to give ourselves permission?

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  10. Kate Mazur says:

    Thanks, Arthur. Keep ’em coming. 😉

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  11. Roslyn says:

    HA! I ask our Father a question and the answer appears in your blog ~ time after time. This is very ~ interesting.

    So this time, in response to a query, your current series appears. To make the story short, I applied what I read and actually conceived, executed AND completed a project ~ on time. It was not nearly as good in execution as it was in conception yet I learned a lot of what to do and what not to do ~ both project specific and beyond ~ to the degree that now I am going forward on an extension of the completed project. I mean, my spirit is going Yippee! Yippee!

    I am posting this in the hopes that the small little steps another takes in forward motion because of your own experiences, pains, joys, writings and time might be somehow life giving to you.

    Big, big high fives and thanks, Arthur.

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  12. Debra says:

    Thanks. Very timely word.

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  13. Lisa says:

    Thank you, Arthur. Loving these blogs. So very lifegiving.

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  14. Susan Reeve says:

    I just love how you tackle problems no one else will even talk about. Not only that but share your own struggles and the solutions – that is so real and real Christianity. That is what real Monday morning walking out Christ looks like. Thank you, you make vulnerability look honorable.

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  15. Bryan says:

    Thanks Arthur, that one goes deep.

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  16. Ruth says:

    Hi Arthur,

    I’ve been an avid reader of your blog ever since I saw a link on “Discovering your Design” and “When Prophets Mess Up” from an acquaintance’s Facebook page. I must say that God has used your articles in resolving a lot of issues in my life ever since I’ve read your writings. I’ve been really thinking about your views on procrastination and I find that the reason why I failed to finish so many projects many times in my life was really because of a fear of failure rooted in shame. Shame because of the lie that “my design is not good enough” therefore what I produce would not be good enough. What happened then was even if I would actually finish something, I would feel like a complete failure because I “the big failure” is the one who produced it. So even if I produce something worthwhile, emotionally it would not compute to an achievement. This lie was imputed because of shaming adults growing up, and when I got to finally forgive them from the heart, somehow the lie got dissolved. Of course Scripture that assures that God will give honor for my shame really stands as a promise to me now. Whatever I was ashamed of, God would eventually use for my honor. Hence, the lie that I would not be able to fulfill my destiny because of I am so ashamed of myself and what I produce does not compute anymore. I can now pursue who I was created to be because in reality, I have nothing to be ashamed of.

    Having settled this deep in my heart, I was able to finish something today that was a couple of years overdue. Since this is something that came deep from my heart and therefore from my design which God clearly approves of, I do not care so much what other people think anymore. I think if I ever release what I produced, I would not take judgment from others as harshly, but more as a means of feedback on how to improve. Since the shame and fear of failure was already settled, I can now create from a place of intimacy with the Father and feel His pleasure.

    Thank you for your posts. Keep writing! You are a blessing and an encouragement and I must say highly prophetic in tearing down what should not be there and building up from the rubble. Blessings 🙂

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    • SharonLouise says:

      Please allow me to stand up and cheer for you, my dear. You have overcome great hurdles. Know that Papa is very proud of his daughter!

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    • Darla says:

      Ah, bless you Ruth!
      How wonderful to hear your glory story! That brings tears of joy to my spirit.
      It is a wonderful thing when Father removes the lies that hold us back from being all He created us to be!
      I rejoice in your success & accomplishment and bless you to rocket into the high places that God has designed you to explore. You have much to release that the world around you needs.
      Bless you richly in Christ to have shame and procrastination be faint memories of the past.

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  17. Erica says:

    Arthur, I greatly appreciate that you strike a good balance between the psychological and the spiritual. I know a lot of psychology that has a hard time inviting Jesus in, and then you can also get the other extreme, but you seem to hit right in the middle with an open and curious hand. It’s very refreshing.

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  18. Amy DeMoss says:

    Arthur: You are an amazing life-giver! I will confess that I only skimmed the last 3 posts, and then read more closely the parts that grabbed me (not my typical tactics, but time is short right now), and in spite of that miniscule investment of my time, I am encouraged, refreshed and feel like I have a more aligned mind set. Wow! Your spirit is leaping off the text and speaking to my spirit, even when my mind is not fully plumbing the depths of what you have written. Thanks for the freedom and life you so freely sow!!!!

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  19. Pat Banks says:

    Wow… Thanks for the article. My husband and I are at opposite ends on this and you managed to give insight for both of us.
    also thanks for the new format I find myself reading every post. Didn’t take the time to read every long article. I guess that tells you which end of the spectrum I’M on
    Bless you

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  20. Gail says:

    I love these posts! So helpful. Thank you so very much for your vulnerability and the grace with which you approach this topic.

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