Written by Ron Sterling, M.D. and Published in Northwest Prime Time Magazine
by Ron Sterling, M.D. -- January 2007
Only recently have online Procrastinators Anonymous groups formed because most of us, and them, have not taken the problem seriously. Many Americans have what I call a "Popeye Complex." That "I-am-what-I-am" attitude seriously disables even believing in the concept of growth and change.
There are three major reasons for procrastination: (1) it is part of a bigger picture of adult Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADD) (visit www.AdultADDFacts.com for more information); (2) procrastinators were overindulged as a child; or (3) they were under indulged as a child. Not all of us were overindulged or under indulged. Sometimes, our parents or other significant people in our lives got it close to right and didn't significantly contribute to creating a major conflict over the issue of taking care of responsibilities. If your procrastination is not part of ADD, I call it a "stalling syndrome."
Adults who are overindulged as children often grow up to have an "entitlement complex." Unless someone more powerful like a boss or a teacher comes along, these folks just don't feel that they have to do anything on anyone else's schedule. They are what I call "spoiled brat" procrastinators. They will always have an excuse for their dillydallying.
Under-indulged children are those who have always been told what to do and when to do it, and never got much of a vote. Because they have been so over-controlled or intimidated as kids, as soon as there is a chance to do what they want to do, they go for it, big time. Even if what mom or dad told them to do might be good for them now, they are not going to do it, no matter what. They may continue to rebel even when the rebelling process hurts them or others around them.
The most useful word for understanding procrastination is "stalling." By stalling, we can "appease" the demands of our responsibilities while at the same time satisfying our inner reaction to rebel. By essentially saying to ourselves "in just a minute," we neither openly defy nor immediately obey. It is a classic self-defeating behavior pattern. Nothing gets accomplished quite like it could, when it could.
Because making New Year's resolutions is a well-known tradition, it carries the same emotional tension as responsibilities or rules. So, we may try to dismiss New Year's resolutions as trite and banal. This rationalization makes for a great escape for those of us looking to view the resolution process with disdain (that would be the brat type) or to look at resolutions with a response of "don't tell me what to do" (that would be the rebellious type).
If you find yourself not celebrating the concept of resolution making, you can bet it is for an emotionally-charged reason. Your programming is getting in the way. Before you can change, you have to believe in the process of change, which starts with a resolution. Recognizing our emotional response to the concept of resolutions should allow us to get past our rationalizations for dismissing the tradition or rebelling.
Maybe New Year's is not a good time to be making resolutions if you are the rebellious type. Consider giving your resolutions more meaning by making them on or around your birthday -- a more personal day of renewal. I hope that helps. -- Best wishes, Dr. Ron.
Ron Sterling, M.D. is a 64 year-old General and Geriatric Psychiatrist with a private practice in Seattle. He invites you to e-mail him at with any questions about mental wellness or emotional, relationship, or aging concerns. He is the only person who reads e-mail sent to Dr. Ron. Please be assured that your questions and identities are completely confidential and protected. For more information about Dr. Ron and for resources related to senior mental health, please go to SeniorMentalHealth.org. The content offered through Mind Matters is for information only and is not intended for medical, psychiatric, or psychological diagnosis or treatment. Never disregard professional advice or delay seeking it because of something you have read in this column. Read our Disclaimer. If you wish to understand more about Dr. Sterling's potential biases in health care advocacy, please check his Conflicts of Interest Disclosure Statement
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RON STERLING, M.D.
General Psychiatry with Specialization in Adult Attention Deficit Disorder
Updated October 7, 2007
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