Procrastination? Or no payoff?


A while back while channel-surfing I had the pleasure of happening on Tootsie, one of my favorite movies of all time which I hadn’t seen in way too long.

In the movie, Dustin Hoffman plays Michael Dorsey, an impassioned, perfectionistic but unemployed actor, and we get this great opening montage of Michael auditioning and teaching his acting class and we get to see how he cares almost impossibly deeply about the craft of acting, but that he’s also kind of a pain in the butt.

Early in the movie, Michael and his playwright roommate (played by Bill Murray, need I say more?) are walking home from the restaurant where they both work as waiters, and the roommate asks Michael why he has to be “Michael Dorsey the great actor” or “Michael Dorsey the great waiter” — why can’t he just be, you know, Michael Dorsey? And Michael says, “I don’t know what the payoff is there.”

(Tootsie is packed front to back with great dialogue, so writers, go watch it immediately. But not before you read this blog post.)

Obviously, Michael means he can’t see a dramatic payoff for being Michael Dorsey (and this “throwaway” line has a number of meanings in the context of the movie). But the line kept popping into my mind for a while afterward because I tied it to some situations a couple of my clients were going through, where they kept beating themselves up for not doing something they said they wanted to do.

In other words, for “procrastinating.” I always like to put quotes around that word, because, as I’ve said here quite a few times, it tends to be a quick go-to descriptor when we’re not taking action on something.

But it’s not always true that we’re procrastinating when we’re not taking action. Sometimes we tell ourselves we’re procrastinating because we don’t want to look more deeply at what’s actually going on. (And sometimes, yes, we are actually procrastinating. But true procrastination has a different feel than the more complex stuff, which I wrote about here.)

What I’ve noticed over the years is that sometimes when we’re not taking action toward something we say we want, it’s because we don’t really believe there’s a payoff in doing whatever it is we think we should do. And I don’t necessarily mean an external, tangible payoff here.

It could be that we are not sensing an intrinsic payoff.

In other words, we don’t really believe that doing that thing is going to make us feel any better.

Feelings are incredibly strong motivators. It’s our feelings that drive us to action. And although we may say we want something, if on some level we don’t actually believe that having that thing will make a difference for us, we’re just not going to feel drawn to it, and when it comes down to it, we won’t take action toward it.

It’s easy to fool ourselves here — we say we want something, and it sounds good on the surface, and maybe we’re even getting into a kind of urgency where we feel like we desperately want it or need it. We may be really attached to the idea that we need the thing, or need to do the thing. But do we, really?

There are some layers that need to be peeled here.

We can start by asking ourselves what we believe the payoff will be for doing this thing. Can we see a payoff? One of my clients had to admit, when we delved into her situation, that there was no payoff for her in doing her thing. No wonder she wasn’t taking any action toward it!

We only ever want anything because of how we believe it’s going to make us feel. There’s really no other reason we want it. We can name all sorts of other things — acclaim, money, knowledge, experience — but all of that really comes down to how we think acclaim, money, knowledge and experience will feel or make us feel.

How we feel is the intrinsic payoff for anything we do, anything we move toward. But so often we leave it out of the equation!

Experiment with this the next time you’re feeling stuck or stopped on something you believe you want to accomplish. Is there a true payoff for you in accomplishing this thing? How do you think accomplishing it will make you feel? Is that how you want to feel?

If not, you need to get back in touch with how you want to feel, and go from there. The goal may need some tweaking, or you may want something completely different than you thought you did.

What about you? Do you notice yourself “procrastinating” on something you want to accomplish? Is it possible there isn’t enough of a payoff for you in accomplishing it? I’d love it if you’d share.

Also: Because I am in the process of creating new coaching offerings, these are the last two weeks to work with me in the current format. As of the end of March, the package of four sessions will be gone (the one-session-at-a-time option will remain, but the package of four saves you $75 if you’re wanting to purchase multiple sessions). Learn more about working with me here.

Image is “Broken Wagon Wheels” © Geoffrey Kuchera | Dreamstime Stock Photos

4 thoughts on “Procrastination? Or no payoff?

  1. For someone who is so moved by feeling and emotion, it may actually explain why that feeling of emotion – or lack thereof – could be getting in the way of things that mean so much. Or more importantly, things that I “want” to mean so much.

    I love your analysis Jill, and it makes perfect sense! My sense of perfectionism also plays into the procrastination for a similar reason. My rational mind (okay, maybe semi-rational mind) argues with me. “Well, what if you do this thing and then you don’t feel the way you thought you were going to feel. Is it better to live with the hope of that feeling?”

    I never said it made sense, but this is the semi-rational mind speaking 😉 So, for me at least, sometimes the payoff is indeed big enough, but the perfectionist in me thinks that perhaps it should be bigger and more dramatic than what it is – when simply being you is more than enough.

    What you offer in this post, Jill, is really eye-opening and fascinating. It’s something that’s right there for us to see if we just choose to peek around the corner of our ego blocking our way and look. Thank you for sharing and best wishes for an inspired day!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dave, thanks for this response — you’ve added some other perspectives here for me to ponder! I’m really interested in what you said about the perfectionist stepping in and thinking the payoff isn’t big enough — even though it is! I hear that for sure. In your examples, it’s like the perfectionist is throwing doubt into the mix, which is certainly a recipe for procrastination. 🙂 Thanks, as always, for reading and sharing!


  2. Great post Jill, and a timely reminder for me. Feelings are indeed very powerful motivators, and connecting with the feeling that you’re yearning for can make any doing that’s necessary to create the supportive outer conditions almost effortless. I also think there’s something to be said about patience here. Sometimes we are doing, rather emphatically so, and yet the feeling/thing we want isn’t coming/happening…at least not fast enough or obviously enough. I remember reading about someone who, as a child, used to pull up the carrots out of excitement the moment he saw the frilly green tops but…very little carrot. Some things just really do take time, like the seasons…love and blessings, H xxx

    Liked by 1 person

    • Great to hear from you, Harula! I agree with you wholeheartedly about patience. Sometimes we’re in a hurry, but no amount of forcing will make something grow until it’s time, no matter how much we want it to (I love your carrot example!). Thanks for reading! I hope all is well with you. Hugs.


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