The Energy of Procrastination: Who Are You Calling Lazy?

Boy lying on grass reading a bookThere is an incredible amount of energy in procrastination.

Sometimes, that energy is used for good. When we procrastinate, often we take a bunch of energy that could be used for one thing (say, writing a novel) and instead use it for something else (cleaning out the refrigerator). We may then proceed to call ourselves “lazy,” perhaps because we consider what we wanted to do to be more difficult. We assume it takes more energy to do that than whatever it is we ended up doing instead.

Which is sometimes true, of course. The ways in which we procrastinate are not always as productive as fridge cleaning:

  • Binge-watching Netflix reruns (my personal favorite)
  • Eating
  • Facebook/Instagram/social media du jour
  • Video games
  • Alcohol or drugs

All of the above are common “time suckers.” But let’s go back to physics class and remember the law of conservation of energy: energy can neither be created nor destroyed.

It’s there. It simply transforms. It’s present, and it’s going to be moved around whether we eat the pint of ice cream or finish the submission to The New Yorker.

What, Exactly, Are You Calling Lazy?

We don’t like to consider the emotional anguish we feel about not doing something as part of this energy, but of course it is.

So you pushed your project aside for a night of drinking and eating hot wings. Didn’t that come back to haunt you at 4 in the morning from the heartburn, or the next day when your head was pounding? Did you spend the next day berating yourself because you had one more night of not doing what you wanted to do? Are you suffering physically, emotionally, maybe even spiritually?

This is that same energy at work. It’s still there, just in different form—a less satisfying form than it could have been had you worked on the project instead. You see, even if you wanted to be lazy, you weren’t. Sorry to break it to you.

People seem to get a lot from calling themselves lazy. I think it’s a holdover from how many of us were treated when we were younger, when we weren’t doing what someone else wanted us to do. When you keep putting off something others want you to do, it could be described as procrastination, but remember: there was never any buy-in from you in the first place! You didn’t want to do it. Are you lazy for not doing what you didn’t want to do?

I’m not saying you shouldn’t take out the garbage or clean the dishes; I’m just not sure you’re “lazy” when you don’t do something you don’t care for doing.

Examining the Avoidance Beneath Your Procrastination

There is one basic question I ask people who say they are procrastinating and angry at themselves because of it: What are you avoiding?

Always look for the avoidance. Therapists do.

It’s amazing how much energy is used to NOT do something. Think back to a time when you had to keep a secret, like not telling someone about his or her surprise party. Not talking about something is exhausting.

It’s amazing how much energy is used to NOT do something. Think back to a time when you had to keep a secret, like not telling someone about his or her surprise party. Not talking about something is exhausting.

Consider what happens with children when they avoid telling you the truth because they think they’re going to get into trouble. You can watch the wheels of their minds turn. You can see the suspension of disbelief and logic of the 8-year-old who “absolutely” finished his or her homework or who “definitely” did not break the chair. We may laugh about it, but think about all the energy that kid put into the lie. It’s enough to make you want to say, “Give it up. It would be so much easier if you just told the truth so we can all move on!”

Take a good, hard look the next time you notice a pattern of procrastination in your own life. Before you unhelpfully label yourself lazy, remember how hard you will work to NOT do that other thing.

So what is the avoidance doing? Is it shielding you from failing or maybe even succeeding? Avoidance does this: It keeps us where we are. Procrastination keeps us where we are. Preventing change is what procrastination and avoidance do best.

The more you realize what your avoidance is doing and the more you bring it into your conscious awareness before you procrastinate, the more likely you may be to make change when you’re ready to make change.

© Copyright 2015 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Justin Lioi, LCSW, therapist in Brooklyn, New York

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • 12 comments
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  • Maddie

    Maddie

    December 9th, 2015 at 9:59 AM

    Energy in procrastination? MY daughter will LOVE this!

  • stef

    stef

    December 9th, 2015 at 3:17 PM

    My husband does always say that it takes a lot of effort to be just that lazy… could he be right? lol

  • Judith

    Judith

    December 10th, 2015 at 10:07 AM

    Yep I will be on Netflix and get sucked into something and then I don’t even realize how many episodes or whatever i have gotten sucked into. It is a drain on my time,. completely controllable but I just, I don’t know, I lose track of time completely.

  • Tim

    Tim

    December 11th, 2015 at 10:11 AM

    Ok so there are a lot of things in life that I don’t want to do but you know what? You get off yor can and do them anyway whether you like them r not.
    Does doing them make me anything more than just the responsible adult that supposedly this is what we are to be?

  • jerome

    jerome

    December 13th, 2015 at 7:30 AM

    I do not understand the thought process of someone enjoying either being called lazy or being lazy. Yes, I do think that it is good from time to time to take some time for yourself and do what it is that you enjoy- read, watch tv, play on your phone, whatever it is that brings you that comfort. But to do nothing just for the sake of doing nothing? I’m sorry but that is not in my way of thinking.

  • audra

    audra

    December 16th, 2015 at 11:28 AM

    so if this takes just as much energy as getting out and doing something takes, then you know where I am going with this, why not just get out and do something that is going to have some MEANING??

  • Justin Lioi

    Justin Lioi

    December 23rd, 2015 at 8:42 AM

    I don’t think there’s a one size fits all answer to that, Audra. What we do know is that the self-judgment that we attribute to our procrastination only makes things worse!

  • Justin Lioi

    Justin Lioi

    December 23rd, 2015 at 8:56 AM

    Jerome–I’ve heard lots of people use “lazy” as their reason for not getting something done, but I question the self-judgment that goes into that.

  • Justin Lioi

    Justin Lioi

    December 23rd, 2015 at 8:57 AM

    Tim-You’re not alone in holding that view! It’s just that there can be many reasons why someone didn’t get something done and that may not negate them from being a responsible adult. Thanks for your comment!

  • Justin Lioi

    Justin Lioi

    December 23rd, 2015 at 8:58 AM

    Judith-good that you realize how you “lose track of time”. Now you can examine if you’re avoiding something or if you just need to set a timer the next time you’re bingeing!

  • Justin Lioi

    Justin Lioi

    December 23rd, 2015 at 8:59 AM

    Stef-He could be on to something! We can work very hard to avoid doing something–sometimes so hard that we have to wonder what’s keeping us from doing it!

  • Justin Lioi

    Justin Lioi

    December 23rd, 2015 at 8:59 AM

    Maddie–let us know what she thinks! Thanks for writing.

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