Did you know that your actions are motivated by a positive intention? At the unconscious level, even unwanted behaviour has its reason to exist.
Take the example of someone who steals to feed his children. You would probably agree with me that stealing is not a desirable behaviour and yet, the purpose behind it hides positive intentions for the person doing the stealing.
In NLP (neuro-linguistic programming), we say that a person is not his behaviour which dissociates the person from his actions. In no way does this excuse the behaviour of the person as it only allows us to uncover what’s happening at the deeper structures of the unconscious. Once the root cause of the problem has been identified, it is much easier to give a new directive to the unconscious mind in order to break an old limiting pattern and allow for new possibilities to produce the desired actions.
By observing myself and talking to people, I realized that we use a multitude of non-helping strategies on a daily basis such as procrastination, self-pity, flight response, etc. And, for each of the situations in which they are employed, there is a positive intention behind it!
Take procrastination for instance, that uninspiring yet so common trait. For some, it could be seen as simple laziness. In my experience and by digging a little deeper, I discovered what lies behind this famous habit of putting off what could be done now.
I have long defined myself as a perfectionist and who says perfectionism says procrastination! Of course, by procrastinating I didn’t need to take action, and if I wasn’t taking action then I couldn’t make mistakes. And, if I wasn’t making mistakes, it meant I was preserving my perfect side! Do you see how the unconscious mind makes connections to protect us from our fears? For me, it was the fear of being imperfect that begot procrastination as I was protecting myself by safely staying in my comfort zone. Without being consciously aware of it, I believed that this behaviour had a reason for being, since it prevented me from making mistakes, failing, putting myself at risk, feeling judged, being vulnerable, committing myself, being accountable and assuming the repercussions of my choices.
Over the years, I have perfected procrastination and I even developed several strategies to justify it. Among the most effective:
- Comparing myself to others and spot all my shortcomings against what others were doing well.
- Always seeking more skills and expertise in order to strengthen perfectionism.
- Making laborious game plans that made me feel discouraged just thinking about putting them into action.
- Burying my schedule with low priority things to do and lacking the energy to put myself into action on what really mattered to me.
Once I realized the positive intentions of procrastination, I wondered where my fears came from, what was the meaning I gave them and what were the limiting decisions I built around each of them? The goal here is to understand how we produce our problem, not to focus on the why of that same problem.
Subsequently, I had to deconstruct my limiting beliefs, one by one, by asking myself the right questions:
- What is the worst that could happen if I were wrong or if I failed?
- On the flip side, what would being successful allow me to be, to do and to have, and why is this important to me?
- What risks have I taken in the past that has had a positive outcome?
These questions allow us to take a step back, to play down the situation and to see different possibilities.
- Who do I know has been judged by others and yet has been successful?
- When has showing my vulnerability resulted in a positive impact?
These questions help show my unconscious mind that there are specific examples to counterproof my limiting beliefs.
- What are the advantages and disadvantages of being committed?
- What would I lose and what would I gain by taking responsibility?
These questions allow us to put the problem into perspective and to see what we don’t see when our nose is stuck on the tree. They also help us become aware of our internal representation of the problem. In other words, it helps us identify the story we are telling ourselves about this problem and how we represent it to ourselves.
- How does the choice of not taking action affect what I want?
Here’s a great way to get back at the cause side of the equation instead of being on the effect side!
In NLP, we believe that people are responsible for their own state of mind and, therefore, for their results. When we come back to the cause side of the equation, we are taking charge of the situation instead of undergoing its effects. The cause must always be greater than the effect in order to accomplish what you want!
So that is to say that procrastination is a choice that we make and it comes with a burden which causes us to stay on the effect side of the equation. When I procrastinate, I find myself suffering the effects of my perfectionism and I am not at the cause of my emotions which leads to my fears. Becoming aware of it was powerful and led me to break through the perfectionism-procrastination tango that I had been practicing for years!