This comes from an ebook on procrastination that is
available on the author's website. Many people want real
life examples of this very difficult psychological state.
Here's one. But first, you might read the other articles
in this directory on this subject by this author. This
will give you, the reader, a better understanding of what's
Frank D. is an executive famous for his brilliance and
equally famous for turning in projects at the last possible
moment. Waiting drives his colleagues nuts, but they put
up with him because of the high quality of his work. How
do we deal with this form of procrastination?
Remember, procrastination is a form of ambivalence, so
right away ask what is under the surface that is working
against the conscious wish-presumably to complete projects
on time. Here are some possibilities (theories). Frank
may resent being a subordinate to a boss with less mental
capabilities. Frank may need the challenge to stimulate
his high quality work. This is often the case in
individuals with ADHD. (They often work best "under fire"
and complete things best in "crisis mode.") Frank may have
a wrecked home life and to put energy into a work project may
tap already dwindling personal resources. Frank may have a
bet going with co-workers that he can complete another project
before finishing this one. There are lots of possible
dynamics that might explain Frank's procrastination.
The ambivalence is the conflict between what is outwardly
demanded of Frank and what is inwardly more important.
In this case, Frank's boss has one thing in mind, finishing
the project with some level of quality, and Frank has conflicts,
needing to do something else, wanting some other experience to
happen first, etc. From a psychological point of view, Frank's
needs and drives to maintain balance probably control his behavior.
He has conflicts, and to manage them, Frank must suppress, deny,
circumnavigate or even repress those things that vie for his
attention. Probably these "things" are pretty strong, so Frank
must work at keeping them at bay. This sets up the division
between what Frank is aware of and what he is not. The conflict,
being uncomfortable, causes Frank to avoid doing the project,
because the thought of actually working, elicits awareness of the
underlying conflict, which is uncomfortable. Therefore, Frank
avoids thinking about work and goes off to do something pleasurable,
thereby, reinforcing his avoidance (escape from pain is a reward).
Likely, Frank is using suppression.
To deal with this form of procrastination, Frank will have
to acknowledge the conflict, which means facing his underlying
thoughts, feelings and wishes. Someone will have to point out
to Frank, or perhaps in the heat of the approaching deadline,
Frank will have to point out to himself that he feels a certain
way, or has all these potential conflicts brewing. In my office,
it is the psychologist that usually has to do this the first few
times with a client, because usually they have learned to bury
parts of themselves and have reinforced that dynamic (avoidance
that temporarily relieves pain) over and over, so that now the
habit is automatic. They don't realize that procrastination has
cemented itself into their psyches and functions without their
being aware. As described above, suppression has become
repression. So, I point out the possible underlying conflicting
ambivalence based on their feelings and previous experiences,
needs and wants.
In Frank's case, it was the first dynamic that "gummed up"
the works. He is brilliant and his boss is "sort of" a smart guy.
So, Frank had some resentment doing his boss' bidding because,
in Frank's mind, it should be Frank calling the shots, not the boss.
Further, if Frank waited until the last minute, the boss would get
worried, which made Frank very happy. This is when procrastination
and passive-aggressiveness wed. Further, if Frank waited until the
eleventh hour, and then produced a brilliant project, it would
heighten Frank's intellectual aura, thus reinforcing his brilliance
in the eyes of his co-workers, and in the eyes of Frank's boss' boss,
thus increasing the likelihood of a promotion (over his boss).
This is when ego needs wed procrastination.
Making all this conscious was not the biggest challenge in
Frank's case. Getting Frank to act on these new introjects was
even more difficult. While Frank was capable of great insight
(with minor prodding on my part), he was not willing to give up
his power, even though it was indirectly gained through
psychologically devious means. The trick was to get Frank to
admit he had more anger built up than he realized, and that not
dealing directly with the anger fueled avoidance, ambivalence,
conflict; i.e., procrastination.
So, Frank had to learn to be assertive and to put into words,
his feelings and ideas, and to do so directly. In this case,
Frank had to confront his boss about his ideas and projects and
general plans about running the project. Frank also had to accept
that the boss had more power in the organization and that Frank ran
the risk of losing his job in the by negatively flexing his ego
needs. Frank had to look at his tendency to passively aggress,
which it turns out, he learned from his family-of-origin (Dad did
this to Mom when Dad didn't get what he wanted or felt disrespected).
Frank, in truth, did have brilliant ideas, but did not have
organizational experience, hence was, in truth, incapable or really
"running the show." While he was a good "idea man," Frank was not
adept at managing people and would have floundered had he ventured
forth and formed his own company. Frank had to confront some
reality and abandon the infantile fantasies he otherwise entertained.
Once Frank worked out these intra-relationships aspects, he
settled down and was more cooperative (less passive-aggressive),
more organized (needed to stir up trouble less to prove his ability
deal with adversity) and more people friendly, respecting his
co-worker's needs as they completed projects "together" (no longer
needing to be the "stand out" in the company).