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Psychoanalytic Business Coaching

Procrastination – an opportunity for personal development

Some rarely meet her, some know her as a constant companion: the experience of procrastination can be anything from irritating to tormenting. According to a recent study, only two percent of Germans never experience phases of postponement and avoidance. But what exactly is hidden behind the widespread phenomenon of procrastination? And how can it be that in some places we seem to be at her mercy?

Procrastination at the workplace – a sign of laziness?

Just checking mails, tidying up your desk, playing with your mobile phone or getting lost on the internet. On some days, there seem to be no limits to human creativity in avoiding relevant tasks, while our time at work and our lifetime elapse. Urgent tasks, long overdue decisions or other relevant steps are on the agenda, and yet we feel sometimes unable to take action. Procrastination is not always a sign of fatigue or even laziness. Many experienced in procrastination sit tormented in front of the computer and wonder how in heaven’s name it was again possible to let the well-planned morning elapse like this? In addition to the unfinished task, there is a bad conscience and, increasingly, professional and personal difficulties.

Understanding the benefits

Anyone who takes a closer look at the phenomenon of procrastination will find that intelligence, knowledge and good intentions are not enough to avoid it. People who procrastinate don’t seem to be masters in their own house, not completely in control. But what exactly happens inside of them?

If we use psychoanalytic thinking, the answer almost always lies in the question of usefulness: What conscious or unconscious benefit might result from postponing the work? In this way psychodynamically thinking people find what they are looking for in a corner that seems absurd at first glance: namely the benefit of NOT doing the work. But how can it be of any use when every inch of your body is calling out to finish because the sun is shining?

Look deeper

The benefit of not doing the work is certainly in some places due to exhaustion or revision. But especially with chronic procrastination, the benefit of unfinished work may be an even deeper one.

For this I have to go a little further. We all have memories of the four-year-olds we used to be. Perhaps you have children, then you probably remember well this phase of their development – four-year-olds love the NO. With true pleasure, they resist in exactly those situations where we most needed functioning. Whether it’s to get to kindergarten on time in the morning and then to work, or in other moments of real urgency. NO. Our children seem to have enough to make their wishes clear to us in these very moments. They are stronger than ever in these moments and extremely self-determined – a liberation from the dependence on us that they otherwise experience every day in every moment. You even feel our dependence on you for a tiny moment. And to say NO is of course most enjoyable when the pressure is at its highest. Or also the most sense, because it creates the strongest friction and thus also the strongest feeling towards oneself and one’s own wishes for autonomy. Those who say NO feel their autonomy.

The secret rebellion

It’s the same when you sit in the office in front of her desk. Outside the sun is shining, but you experience one thing more or less consciously while you fiddle away and postpone, namely your rebellion. And your decision not to do the task ahead of you. But how does your unconscious come to rebel and refuse when other, more conscious and rational parts of you understand how useful it would be to do your job now and then turn to the more beautiful sides of life? Others also seem to have healthy autonomy, and yet they do the work they are supposed to do and then happily and extremely autonomously pursue their leisure desires.

At this point, psychodynamic thinking also means biographical work. You may ask yourself, how your wishes for autonomy were dealt with in your childhood? Which performance standards have been set and what degree of control of your needs have you internalized? When you think of the short sequence just described, in which the child who is supposed to put on his shoes screams a shrill NO and drives the father who is in a hurry into madness. How was such a situation solved in your family? Was it possible for your parents to leave you with dignity and a sense of autonomy, yet set limits in important places and not give up control?

To think psychodynamically means to examine the internalized values and relationships. You’ll be surprised, but if you’re sitting at your desk today dawdling around your spare time, there still seems to be a*four-year-old*n in you with a big NO, and it still seems to be your answer to respond with more pressure, making the NO an expression of self-determination at this point. You can ask yourself: Where in my life do I control myself too much? Where can I enjoy and experience libidinous? Where do I let go and follow my wishes? Especially people with high pressure to perform, demands for perfection and the tendency to like to have situations under control often experience even the smallest mistakes as serious and tend to avoid them and this kind of passive aggressiveness or “inner rebellion”. Their aggression was rarely allowed to be loud and open. But also the NO of the four-year-olds has its justification and is expression of a fundamental wish. NO in the form of procrastination as an adult means that the balance between control and libidinal experiences may not be right in your life. That you have tied up your performance corset and your perfectionism so tightly that only refusal is possible.

Frustration tolerance must be learnt

Certainly there are also procrastinating people who never had to do anything as children. Pampering is the other side of the coin and pampered children, even as adults, often find it difficult to accept boundaries and to experience the happiness that it can mean to make an effort, to go beyond the sore spot and get into a workflow. Such a dynamic is comparable to a pull into addictive behavior. The easy way, the quick luck. A central ability is frustration tolerance and spoiled children often have very little internalized it. They have only a limited ability to create, maintain and pursue a clear inner picture of themselves and their goals. If it becomes strenuous, the accompanying moment of unwillingness cannot be endured and endured, even if it brings with it serious difficulties in the long run, which becomes very clear in the picture of addiction.

Recognition of one’s own limits

But if you look deeper at this point, you can also see that avoidance is a reaction to pressure. Because also pampering often implies a form of pressure. It is less the pressure that an authoritarian and controlling upbringing triggers, but rather the pressure that arises from narcissistic exaggeration. Parents who pamper their children tell them that they do not need to exert themselves and that they are entitled to success, even that it occurs all by itself. Later, people with such relationship experiences often struggle not only with a lack of frustration tolerance, but they often have difficulties recognizing reality and their own limitations. They fight partly with size fantasies, partly with unconscious fears of failure. Avoidance and postponement can also represent an avoidance of anticipated failure for you. Typically, you procrastinate until the work can no longer be postponed and must be completed in the shortest possible time. The background to this is that the self-created scarcity of time creates limits, with which the fantasies of grandeur can be maintained: “I just didn’t have more time, otherwise something MUCH better would have come out of it”.

Learning to love one’s own NOs

Those who turn to their NO will surely learn a lot about themselves. Whether it is the lack of something light and beautiful in life, difficulties to endure unpleasant feelings or completely different topics, such as simply being overtaxed by the task, a smouldering conflict with the boss, the fear of getting help, a biographically justified fear of success or having chosen a job that does not suit you. What is needed at this point is the ability to separate the biographical from the current, the courage to face the truth and transparency both internally and in the course of communication. Those who take their NO seriously, examine it with interest, can not only learn something about themselves, but also find a guide to a more balanced life, a suitable professional field and perhaps completely new, never-before-thought ideas. In any case, NOs are very welcome in coaching, they show us the way to more professional and personal satisfaction.


Dipl. Psych. Andrea Wurst, coach and author at Dynamind.


If you would like to trace your procrastination experiences yourself, we recommend professional coaching.

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