Conscious Living: Clearing the Clutter and Getting On with Life


Perfectionism can contribute to our ability to put things off

An article discussing one of the greatest self-deception tools we modern humans possess was inevitable. It was one of those ideas whose time had come, but which always seemed to get bumped in favour of other subjects that were more interesting, more important to ruminate over. The reticence to ponder this particular human trait certainly wasn’t due to a lack of research since there were numerous examples to draw upon and analyze. In the end, just like an animal stalking its prey, the subject kept on gnawing at the back of my mind until I finally surrendered:  Procrastina-tion! Sitting there in black and white on the page in front of me, the word seems to hold so little power, but make no mistake: this human trait is a very powerful hindrance in the lives of many people. The limitations that procrastination can impose on our life goals are many and varied.

Whenever we put off today what we believe could be easily done tomorrow, a domino effect is set in motion. And, unless the thing being delayed is a ‘standalone’ event (ie. disconnected from any other event or person in our life) which is rarely the case, then others are also affected by our tendency to “put it off.” The interconnectedness of all people and things is often overlooked in such cases, albeit unconsciously, and the repercussions and real consequences of not meeting a deadline, for example, can be true barriers to reaching our goals and achieving happiness.

Birth of a Procrastinator

Simply stated, procrastination is the constant decision we make to not do something or other. Often, though not always, that ‘something’ has some association with stress, fear, or anxiety of some kind. Procrastination is an avoidance mechanism we humans have developed over the millennia to help us prevent stress.

I wonder if it all started when some caveman got stressed out wondering how he was going to find enough food for his extended family, the giant mammoth population being sparse of late. Maybe he decided that, since he couldn’t find any animals to hunt down for food, he’d stay at home in the cave,  telling himself that, if he just laid low for a few days, the supply of animals would eventually increase and he’d have food for his family once again. In the meantime, he’d just help his wife with some scrubbing and cleaning. As time went on, this caveman was still adept at hunting, but he’d also become good at believing his own stories.

Just as in the allegory above, procrastination is able to exist because of the stories we tell ourselves and want others to believe. Procrastination can be attributed to laziness and self-centeredness (eventually someone will come along and take care of whatever is being avoided). However, more often it points to a river running deeper and which the person draws upon, a current that races along carrying a message such as, ‘You’re not good enough; you can never do it right; or any of a litany of other self-critical interior monologues. Perfectionism, fear of failure, or success – all can contribute to our ability to put things off for another day.

Procrastination is the external behavioural manifestation of feelings which we may be holding on to, but which we’ve not yet found a way to safely access. Our anger or fear then often finds expression either through our passive-aggressive behaviour of choice, or through procrastination. If we can’t, or won’t, express these ‘negative’ feelings (our reasoning goes) we can at least alleviate some of the built-up energy by releasing it ‘sideways’.

Example: A fast approaching (and procrastinated upon) deadline, such as making it to the doctor’s appointment on time for once, can set off a whole wave of activity; we run around grabbing everything we need, looking for keys, our gloves – trying to get out the door, all whilst pulling anyone within earshot into our drama. The ensuing chaos created by such frantic efforts brings with it a whole new level of stress and tensions. The irony is that, while our procrastinating behaviour was borne out of a desire to avoid stress, it is now responsible for the unfortunate consequence of ramping up internal tensions that spill into the external, and are now affecting many of the people in our world, including ourselves.

Modern Stresses

Feeling the constant stress of things we “have to do,” and racing always full steam ahead trying to get them all done, can indeed take its toll. Lack of sleep, poor eating habits, and little or no exercise can all exacerbate the situation, and all are a recipe for disaster for our body, mind, and spirit. Holding onto feelings from the past in addition can provide a toxic mixture that eats away at body and mind. While we may think we’re adept at containing old energy that we’ve not yet released, sooner or later that energy will begin to shift itself, to push outwards, and potentially create problems for our health and general wellbeing.

Procrastination comes with costs; the consequences remind us that, for every action, there is an opposite and equal reaction. Until we decide to sit up, take notice, and take required action, whatever it is we’ve tried so hard to avoid will only become more onerous to deal with. Many people who experience the ‘lifting up’ and clearing of old energies are left also feeling bewildered at how this works. Having believed for so long that just ‘pushing away’ (ignoring) these issues,  they would just magically disappear, they learned instead that the universe, in its co-creative role, only allows us to stumble for so long before it begins to push back forcing unresolved issues to be addressed. Once we’ve done that, we can once again move forward with our growth.

Procrastination is not just about the daily tasks we may delay – like getting our taxes done, or washing the floor. Those items are the microcosm of a much larger picture, a metaphoric enactment of the human experience. We are here in the physical as a container and growth vehicle for our spirit. Our human nature requires a clear space in which to flourish; when old, unresolved elements clutter its space, it becomes more difficult for our spirit to expand and experience ever greater awareness and beauty. Putting off today what can be done today delays our arrival at a new spiritual way of being in this world.

Gord Riddell and Kathy Ryndak are co-founders of the Transformational Arts College of Spiritual and Holistic Training. The College offers professional training programs in Spiritual Psychotherapy, Spiritual Director, Holistic Health, and Coaching. For more information or for a course calendar, call 416-484-0454 or 1-800-TAC-SELF, or visit To receive their monthly e-newsletter, email

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