Mentoring a procrastinator

Last week, the issue of procrastination came up while I was mentoring an entrepreneur. I know from years of college teaching that the problem does not go away by regarding procrastination as a problem. I've learned that most procrastinators are also perfectionists. They've endured too much criticism from authority figures and recoil from more censure. They are unsure of themselves and incapable of judging what is good enough in their own estimation. They are "avoiding the unavoidable" experiences of getting more criticism by postponing the work and insisting on their pursuit of perfection.

Procrastination is a set-up to perpetuate the problem. The lack of timely completions invites reactions which verify the continued need for the person to procrastinate. Procrastinators are inside a belief system which holds them prisoner. There's no escape whenever their mentor, manager or mate takes the problem literally.

One way to disrupt the belief system wonders out loud about the real nature of the situation their belief consistently creates. Belief systems are designed to cope with being told to stop by opponents, controlled by authorities and contradicted by experts. They lose their persistence in the face of another's fascination, uncertainty and possibilities. Here's some of how situations producing some procrastination fascinate me:

  • I wonder if this situation calls for more compliance as if the right approach has already been figured out? I wonder the situation actually calls for more permission to explore different approaches as if the right approach is getting figured out right now?
  • I wonder if the situation is the result of too much deadline pressure and as if human beings are machines? I wonder if the situation might be alleviated with more sensitivity to timing that enters the picture when we are growing hidden talents?
  • I wonder if this needs to be handled as someone's factory-like performance, production of outputs and delivery of what's expected? I wonder if it makes more sense to handle this as a side effect of the implied context, framing of the symptoms and premises for making a diagnosis?
  • I wonder if everyone involved can be plotted on a bell curve with standard deviations of a single norm? I wonder if everyone would feel more understood as uniquely deviant, scattered in the long tail of an asymptotic curve?
  • I wonder if the people really need "stop messages" to halt their efforts, kill their motivation and stifle their creativity? I wonder what will happen by giving them "go messages" to persist in their endeavors and realize the results of their efforts?
When I am full of wonder like this, I am empty of controlling others. They become full of possibilities they had not considered and I continue to be fascinated. It pays to play around like this.

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