Why You Need to Know the Difference Between Patience and Procrastination

Caroline de Braganza


(Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay)

Are they mutually exclusive?


Patience is abstract and passive.

The Oxford Dictionary defines patience as the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, problems, or suffering without becoming annoyed or anxious. Like waiting for a train without losing your cool.

Procrastination is a deliberate act of self-sabotage, despite being an abstract noun. Delaying doing something, coming up with evocative excuses of why not? Hmm. You know with certainty what you should do but put off playing your part.

Where are you with Penelope Patience? She’ll be fine as long as she’s awaiting feedback from something she created and knows Luck doesn’t pitch up at your door unannounced. She weaves her carpet with threads of action, following her own design; waiting for a pattern to emerge.

Meanwhile, back at the Putting Off Today Motel, Percy Procrastination has parked himself on the threadbare couch, remote in hand - a dishevelled body in a world of disillusion. Daydreams. Visualises. Closes his eyes and imagines how life could be.

“Maybe I’ll do it tomorrow,” he says.

Which are you?

I suffered from Procrastination Syndrome (PS) for a long time. I tired of the Motel and moved on to the Better-Things-To-Do B & B. (Let’s be honest; Life shoved me!)

Since living here, my perspective has shifted. I can now detect when I’m procrastinating. It doesn’t go away. Comparable to a malarial mosquito, it keeps coming back to bite you. The itch disappears when I take action instead of scratching it.

Sometimes the doing is difficult - echoes of a past failure, or it’s something new. Then you stop. Leave it for another day.

To change perspective demands patience. Nurture yourself, knowing that as long as you are making and crossing off lists every day, you are moving. Life requires motion - you are a dynamic sphere of energy and your motion feeds it.

The psychology of procrastination

There are many reasons we procrastinate; not all may apply to you, but here’s a checklist:

  • Lack of self-compassion leads to feeling more stressed when tackling tasks. You allow your negative critic to kick in, hampering your progress. Be kind to yourself.
  • You learned to procrastinate from the role models around you—especially parents and siblings.
  • You think you’re not up to the task and won’t be able to handle it.
  • You’re such a perfectionist that you often don’t even start as in your book it has to be perfect. (Note 1)
  • You may suffer from anxiety or clinical depression which results in an inability to focus, concentrate, and motivate yourself. The solution is to break down the tasks into smaller, manageable steps.

This last cause of procrastination applies to everyone.

James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, explains:-

“Behavioral psychology research has revealed a phenomenon called ‘time inconsistency’, which helps explain why procrastination seems to pull us in despite our good intentions. Time inconsistency refers to the tendency of the human brain to value immediate rewards more highly than future rewards.”

Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) calls this "short-range hedonism." This focus on the gains of the present leads to low frustration tolerance, and you’re less likely to persevere when the going gets tough. (Note 2)

Like spending money on a new car when you should save for your retirement. Or you’ll go for a run tomorrow.

(We often procrastinate over little things, like folding the laundry or putting the dishes away. A simple solution is to count 5-4-3-2-1—then get up and do it.)

Final thoughts

I asked at the beginning if Patience and Procrastination are mutually exclusive. My answer is an emphatic “No!”

You need to be aware of both and engage this knowledge to take corrective action—or you’ll get nothing done. Each day lost is an opportunity cost.

I’ll sign off with this song from the late great Amy Winehouse:-

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Published essayist. Follow me for local news that impacts our lives, plus stories on public and mental health. Through writing, I also share my passion for music, politics, our environment and social justice, and hope you find value in my words.


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