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The Secret Formula That Makes You Procrastinate

Many people who procrastinate have tons and tons of potential. Are you one of those people? Do you know that you could do so much more if you only found a way to apply yourself?

Do you ever start things, and sometimes even get a lot done, only to drop the project to start something else? Does your procrastination spiral once it starts, getting worse as things pile up?

I often hear from people that they think they might just be “lazy.” And if lazy simply means avoiding things, then that may be true in the moment. But I want to suggest that you’re probably not “genetically lazy.” There may be more going on for you behaviorally, and even psychologically.

But these are things you can change.

Let me share one of the biggest “ah-ha’s” I’ve ever had as to my own procrastination. I got it from an important formula I found in a book called “Procrastination: Why You Do It and What To Do About It” by Jane Burka and Lenora Yuen.

The formula is this: Self Worth = Ability = Performance

I spoke about procrastination and the formula I’m about to share on a recent group coaching call.  Listen in here:
[audio:https://s3.amazonaws.com/robscott/procrastination-group-call.mp3]

If this formula ends up being true for you, it can make you procrastinate, a lot! Let’s look at this formula a little more closely…

What defines our worth as people? Many people would like to say that our worth is inherent; that just because we are here, we are worthy. While that is a nice idea, many of us don’t really feel that way. Often we feel that it is our ability as people that defines our worth as people.

If I am able, I am also worthy.

So if you are someone who is able to “bring food home to the tribe,” it makes sense that you might consider yourself, and be considered by others, as “worthy.” If you have ability at almost any skill whether it’s making money, dating, or even water polo (if that’s your thing) then people have reason to consider you worthy. Right or wrong, the idea of *ability* being related to our *worth* as people seems to logically follow this line of thinking.

OK, ability seems to define self worth to some degree. So how is “ability” measured?

Well *performance* makes sense as an indicator of ability. If you perform well at something like gathering food for a tribe, or making money, or getting dates, your *performance* in whatever area shows that you have *ability* in that area. Nothing too illogical here.

Performance seems to define ability. So the entire formula explained directly is this: If you perform well, you have ability. If you have ability, you are considered worthy. So on some level your worth as an individual can be perceived to relate directly to your performance.

Self Worth = Ability = Performance

So how does this relate to procrastination? Well, if this is true for you, you may use procrastination unconsciously to manage the pressure that performing well can create for you. If a bad performance means you are not worthy as a person, then the performance, whatever it is, has a awful lot riding on it, wouldn’t you say?

Let me say that again:

If your self worth is dependent on your performance then there is a huge amount of pressure on your performance. So you will then look for ways to alleviate that pressure!

Here’s where procrastination comes in: People often use procrastination as a way to break the connection between self worth and performance. And this usually occurs unconsciously!

Essentially, it becomes easier to say “I could have done so much better if only I had not waited so long to start, or been just a little more organized, or tried a little harder…” than it is to risk performing our best and failing.

Procrastination gives us the excuse, the very reason that we didn’t perform our best. This breaks the formula! This leaves our self worth in tact! Your potential is still unlimited because this time you really didn’t fully try.

So how did we get the idea that self worth equals performance to begin with?

Did your parents ever treat you differently when you got good grades? Did they get you an ice cream cone when your team won the little league game? Did they scold you or tell you you should have done better when you failed at something or brought home bad grades?

These examples may not even touch it. For many of us worse things happened related to bad performance. Many parents guilt and shame children into certain behaviors. Of course, some of these actions are natural for parents, and obviously happen all the time. But there are many ways to get the sense that our performance is directly related to our worth. And when that happens we tend to put too much value and judgement on our performance as people.

Procrastination often becomes a tool we use to protect ourselves if our self worth isn’t inherent and deeply solid. Self worth is a huge topic, and again is completely related to most cases of serious procrastination.

I plan to write you more about self worth and why so many of us have such a hard time with it. It’s important to realize also that this may be true for you even if you don’t think it is at this time! We often have things about our selves that we keep in the “shadow,” and this character trait may be just that. But I’ll write more about that later. For now I just want to restate my main point:

When you link your performance to your self worth you give yourself a great reason to use procrastination.

So what do you do about it?

The first thing is to become aware that this may be happening at all.

Would you rather be someone who avoids doing most things because you are afraid of failing? Or would you rather be deeply self assured and able to try tons of different things no matter the outcome? Have you ever passed on something fun to do because you thought you might not be good at it?

Someone who is truly OK with who they are goes out and does things for the joy of doing them, rather than the value attached to the outcome.

Do you want to be someone who can follow through on things? Do you want to be someone who gives it their best (or maybe not even their best), and is deeply OK with the result? Do you think you’d get more accomplished if you were to stop sabotaging yourself? Do you think it would improve your performance if you stopped quitting things right before they get good?

Basically, if you want to stop procrastinating, you may need to realize that often it’s better to do, and to try, even if you might fail.

I hope this idea is as helpful for you as it was for me.

About Rob Scott

Master coach, teacher, and lover of presence. I shift people's minds, and help them massively transform. Get in touch here.

  • I love this! I had never thought about it that way but you are so correct! Thanks for always sharing a fresh outlook.

    • fshift

      You are very welcome. Miss you Maureen. :)

  • Okay, Rob, I get it. Self worth equals performance. But…
    What can I do about junk mail? I get so much junk mail that it overwhelms me. Yes, I procrastinate working at my desk, in my office, because I hate it. God spare me from ever having to earn a living as a secretary. Yes, I throw away tons of mail before it ever gets in. Still there is a big pile that grows and grows. I love my career (author) and work hard at writing and selling my books even though I can’t say that I’m a famous author, yet, and many never be. But, dealing with items that pile up on my desk, credenza, piano, table etc. is a distraction from my career.

    • Anne

      Throw it away :)

      • fshift

        Yes! :)

    • fshift

      I hate mail too! I wish I could cut it off at the post office. I hate the dying trees as a result too. But dealing with it just feels better. Do your best to stay on top of it. I added trash and recycle bins right at the door and go through it as I bring it in the house these days. That helps a lot.

  • Really cool look at this concept Rob, I’d never looked at it this way.

    Could it also go the other way? If someone doesn’t believe they’re worthy, then they’ll subconsciously sabotage their performance in order to keep the equation in balance?

    • fshift

      Completely Phil. In fact, it goes that way really often.

  • Scott Ba

    Profound insight, Rob. Thanks for sharing.

    “Procrastination gives us the excuse, the very reason that we didn’t perform our best. This breaks the formula! This leaves our self worth in tact! Your potential is still unlimited because this time you really didn’t fully try.”

    • fshift

      Glad you dig this Scott. :)

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  • Juan F. Cañas

    Wow, Complete-Paradigm shift. Thanks so much for this Rob ( already shared it with my two best friends and business partners)!

    • Awesome Juan! Glad it was helpful. :)