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Procrastination – How it is driven by Ego and How to Stop.
How many times do we say we are going to do something, and then don’t to it? How many times do we say we are going to do something, notice we don’t do it, and still don’t do it? We are procrastinating. Even when we are aware we are procrastinating, we still procrastinate. It makes you wonder what is really going on with us. More importantly, how do we stop procrastinating?
I like the anecdote, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” Procrastination is a pattern of good intentions. As we dig deeper into the issue there is a natural follow up question, “If the road to hell is paved with good intentions, then what is the road to heaven paved with?” “Humility.” Says James Garner in a line from the movie Ya Ya Sisterhood. Humility, or a softening of our ego mind has a lot to do with eliminating procrastination.
What is humility? I checked my Word processing program for synonyms and the one I like best is “unassuming nature.” Let us take it to mean no ego nature; no mask of a false self-image. Humility is being authentic and genuine. It is what is left when you strip away all the layers of ego we carry around as a mask. So what does this have to do with procrastination? Procrastination is a product of the ego mind. It is those false layers of self image that are the root cause of our bad habits. When we strip away the ego mind we get rid of the root causes of our procrastination.
When we are humble, or without ego, we say what we mean, and we do what we say. We don’t pretend to others, or to our self, that we are something we are not. Notice that nowhere do I relate being humble to being meek, weak, timid, or small. Real humility comes with a quiet confidence that is a source of power and resolve.
So how does humility help break the pattern of procrastination and get on with what we really want? It all begins with awareness.
The ego and the false self images of the mind tricks us into procrastinating. When you are aware of these tricks you can avoid falling for them. To help develop this awareness we’ll start by looking at the your belief system and ego and see how they work.
Why Do We Procrastinate
Let’s first look at how and why the ego mind causes us to create procrastination. The first noticeable action is that we make a declaration of a good intention for our self or someone else. We’ll use the example of meditating. We make a declaration, either in our thoughts or out loud to someone else, “I’m going to start meditating.” In our imagination we create an image of our self sitting serenely. We essentially make a movie in our mind with our self image as the main character. We are doing something good, we are feeling good, and the most important thing is that we feel good about our self in our little mental movie. Every time we think about meditating and say we are going to start we project that good self image in our little mental movie. It all happens in about 1.5 seconds. Then it is done. In our mind we have accomplished the task and we go on with the next thought the mind has.
What this imaginary movie does is satisfy the mind’s need for to control our attention for a little bit and give us a sense of identification with the character in our projection. In the process we get a nice feeling as we identify with a positive self image in our mental movie. It is the belief that we are the character in this mental movie that serves the ego and gives us a small emotional boost.
But the ego is not done yet. It is a bit more complicated than just the singular image from one story. We actually have many images or aspects from the ego mind that we identify with. One of the common mental movie stories we project is of failure. Our mind projects a story of us failing or not measuring up in some way and casts a different self image in the starring role. Sometimes this happens in 1.5 seconds also. It happens when we think about failing, or other people judging us, or being told no. In any imagined story like that we are again the main character but in this story we are a failure, or are rejected. In these mental movies we identify with the failure image and believe that the projected self image in the mental movie is us. When we are unaware and do not distinguish between our Self, and the image of our self in our mental movie out ego has effectively taken us for an emotional ride. In this false identification we believe we are the character in our thoughts. In fact, this is only a facet of the ego.
So far we have both a success image that is a facet of the ego and a failure image that is a facet of the ego. In the procrastination scenario the ego’s success image gets reinforced by us telling our self we are going to meditate. The failure image gets reinforced when we don’t meditate.
Each day we don’t meditate the mind projects an image of our selves failing. Each time we imagine that we will meditating we identify with that positive self image. Each time we think about meditating we project one of these two images and identify with the success image or the failure image, or both. When we think about meditating and don’t do it but we reinforce both false images of the ego. It is these false images of the ego that get served and become stronger. The detrimental aspect of this is only seen when you are aware that the mental projection of self isn’t you at all.
The Ego Mind on it’s Own
The failure image of the ego mind actually needs you to NOT meditate. If you actually started meditating regularly, the failure based self image would have no basis for being. We would no longer identify with the failure image. If I say I am going to meditate, and then I do it, I have no reason to judge my self as a failure. Of course the ego mind is likely to adapt in other ways. Our mind will project that we should be meditating more, longer, our posture should be better, our mind should be quieter, and we should be having blessed out Samadhi experiences by now. Since this isn’t happening the first week or month the ego mind will project that we are failing, and that we are doing something wrong. This is just the false images of the ego mind trying in various ways for reinforcement by false identification.
When we don’t reinforce the failure image in our mind it makes the ego very uncomfortable. The ego self image begins to feel like it is dying. We might think that if a negative image were dying that we would feel better about our self, but that is not the case. The collapsing false image in the mind creates a feeling that is very uncomfortable. We go through all sorts of emotions as the false image that we believe is our identity is threatened.
When this agitation happens the mind becomes very busy with various mechanisms of distraction, deception, and denial trying to get us to not meditate. It directs us to forget for a while that we said we were going to do it. Then reminds us at a much later date that we didn’t do it so it can reinforce the belief we are the failure character in our mental movie.
When we think that we are going to sit down and meditate the mind senses the death of the failure image and comes up with numerous other things we could and should be doing. Yes we got busy and the house is clean, laundry is done, bills paid, and the yard is looking pretty good. Now there is no time to meditate, or we are too tired to meditate. In this strategy the ego mind has won the game of distractions until we run out of time, energy, or both. Then it waits an hour or a day, or a week, and reminds us that we failed to do what we said we were going to do. It uses the situation to project a mental movie with us as the main character that failed. If we identify with that failure character in our mind then the ego mind is not challenged and is comfortable again. Yes we feel like an unworthy loser that has failed, but the ego mind is comfortable with that because it doesn’t feel like it is going to die. Such is the challenge of not identifying with the images of your ego mind.
This article continued at Causes of Procrastination II
You can find practices and exercises for changing the core beliefs causing procrastination
in The Self Mastery Course on this site.