Have you ever gotten a song stuck in your head and just couldn’t remember the title of it even if it was at the tip of your tongue? Then went on about your day like normal and just when you thought you’ve forgotten all about it, then suddenly you remember the song title?
This is the power of the subconscious mind. When you try to engage it consciously it often does not yield any benefit because that’s not how this sneaky mental ninja works. It’s actually best to set an intention for something you want, let it wonder in the back of your mind, and allow for your subconscious to work on it in the background.
This is why a lot of creative people come up with their greatest ideas in the shower, while they’re driving, and doing anything else that can be as far removed from the intended activity as possible. And this is also why you might not have to feel too guilty about procrastinating on any creative endeavour, so long as you actually sit down and chip away at it at some point in a reasonable timeframe.
When I used to party a lot in my twenties, a common thing people would express guilt about was the amount of Netflix they were watching. Someone would ask, “what have you been up to?” And the response would be, “binging Netflix,” through chuckles that would be an attempt to hide their shame for not looking for a job or enrolling in some kind of post secondary education.
They had this preconception that being an adult meant always being busy and tired, and it actually made me feel kind of sad for them that they did appreciate this mental health break habit a little more than they could have.
The way I saw it was, based on the kinds of shows and movies they were watching, they were passively submitting an avatar of themselves to project onto the screen in the form of the show or movie’s protagonist who would overcome insurmountable obstacles. It’s not that these people were being lazy and doing absolutely nothing, per se, rather they were doing a whole lot while not doing a whole lot at the same time.
They were productively procrastinating.
When we watch our favourite characters contend with the conflict of the plot and other characters in a story, we are seeing ourselves in them and expanding our capacity to see the possibilities in tough situations we may encounter ourselves. To watch our characters grow and evolve, especially when their struggles hit home for us, we are inadvertently learning how to process our own struggles and develop the strength and courage act thereafter.
The thing that would often happen with these people I would run into at parties is that a few months down the line I’d hear that they started going to school or gotten jobs, or if they were already employed and/or educated, they took up new hobbies and interests that enriched their lives.
It was as if they needed those couple of months to decompress and binge watch their favourite shows, much to the dismay of their parents and other people in their lives, including themselves, who were expecting a little more out of them than lazing around “doing nothing.”
As far as I can tell, that Netflix binging period of their lives served as time to buffer while they reoriented themselves physically and mentally, and maybe even emotionally, to reengage with the world when they felt safe and confident to do so again.
The Self Help Junkie
Now, I know what you’re thinking, “how can self help be considered procrastination?”
A lot of people assume that pursuing personal development means personal perfection. That they cannot engage with the world and form relationships until they are absolutely perfect in knowing themselves, and only then will they be able to go out into the world and show that true self that’s been locked away from years of pain and anguish.
This was me for a very long time. I would read every self help book I can and watch all these motivational videos, all the while not really doing much in the real world in terms of seeking employment or even forming relationships with people. Sometimes the feeling of reassurance from the motivational talks and the rush of discovering all these insights about myself was enough to make me feel good about myself and then not do much else with it.
I once had a friend who asked me, “what if all this self knowledge stuff is what’s preventing you from finding a partner?” And at the time my ego came up with the defensive retort, “maybe you lacking in self knowledge is why you always end up in crappy relationships. I want to avoid that by becoming the best me possible so my future girlfriend and I don’t have to suffer through the dysfunctions you guys are experiencing.”
Looking back now, I can see just how extreme and black and white I was in my thinking. I can’t say for sure if what I said about my friend was correct, it’s not my place to really say since only he knows the details of his personal journey as intimately as he does. Anything coming from me would just be a bunch of baseless and defensive assumptions.
But one thing I can say for sure was that he was right about me. For a long time I invested in personal development and thought I knew myself to a T, but you only really get to know how well you’ve developed as a person when you engage with other people and see how this new and improved you actually manages in relationships.
So alas, my arrogance was often squelched by my own set of weird and dysfunctional relationships that gave me a very rude awakening: I really didn’t know myself as much as I thought I did. It only felt like that because I had consumed countless of books and videos about personal development that made me feel good about myself, but without proper application and guidance by a mentor and/or therapist, you can never really know if what you’re learning is even valid.
Which is why as a side note, I highly suggest you hire a life coach and/or a therapist to help guide you through your personal development. No one should have to do it alone, we’re all in this together. And you can have some of the most empathic friends and family who listen to you well, ask you all the right questions, and give you all the reassurance you need.
But the value of a mentor via therapy or life coaching is that this person can have emotional objectivity about you since they don’t have a personal connection to you beyond hired professional and paying client. They’ll be able to see you from an even higher bird’s eye view than your friends and family. A therapist especially, since they know how the human mind works, can really help you understand yourself a whole lot better based on neuroscience and psychology.
Last thing I’ll say on self help is that engaging in personal development assumes you’re flawed in some way, hence your desire to develop personally. But that shouldn’t come at the cost of your self esteem because it’s easy to fall under the trap of perfectionism with it.
Never be too afraid to apply what you learn from self help books, videos, and programs to see if what you’re being taught is valuable. There is no one size fits all solution to personal growth so you’ll have to take and discard principles from varying sources that work particularly for you. And if you also experience a period where you become a self help junkie yourself, see that as a time for you to incubate before you’re ready to hatch and get out into the world.
Mindlessly Browsing the Internet
Even mindlessly browsing the internet can be a source of productive procrastination regardless of the content you’re consuming. Best case scenario is that you are watching things relevant to your goals and learning things, but even if you are just watching cat videos and stupid dance videos on TikTok, there’s always gonna be that voice in the back of your mind that is constantly reminding you of the things you know you should be doing.
Listen to that voice, especially when it begins to get louder and louder over time. It’s crucial. If you try and ignore it, it will definitely be upset with you, but at the same time it will take your intended goals into your subconscious and work it out for you before you engage in the activity you know you could be doing.
If you are consuming content that does educate you on your interests and profession, then great, just make sure not to let it all slip out of your mind without proper application down the line. If you’re watching pointless cat and meme videos, just recognize that our brains don’t always have to be all go, go, go! at all times. Speaking as someone who has ADHD, there is a ton of value in some passive brain activity. We all need the mental break from time to time.
Even as you read this article, maybe there is something nagging at the back of your mind that you should be doing so I don’t want to keep you any longer than I need to. I appreciate your time and attention to read this and hope that you can eventually pick up your socks and do the things you know you “should” be doing.
You should still carve out some time to do the thing you know you should be doing. Maybe it’s writing a novel, recording a song, or other responsibilities in life like chores around the house Whatever it is that you’re putting off, just know that as you put it off, your subconscious mind is priming yourself to kick ass at it once you get down to it, assuming you let yourself engage in it in the first place.
But hey, don’t get too down on yourself when you’re procrastinating. Because maybe it’s just the buffer time you need to before you feel ready and competent enough to engage with the world at large.
What are you currently procrastinating on?
Is there a productive outcome from this procrastination?
Let me know in the comments below!