Human beings have an intense longing for freedom. It’s therefore curious that, once freedom is in our grasp, we often fail to capitalize on it.
This is commonly seen in male retirees, for instance, who after a lifetime of dreaming about spending every day on the golf course, suddenly discover that it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. Instead of perpetual enjoyment and relaxation, they feel bored, restless and without purpose.
We see something similar in individuals who dream of obtaining a more meaningful or creative career, but after finally securing their ideal work are surprised to find themselves uninspired, perhaps even apathetic.
In his thoughtful book, Frankenstein’s Castle, Colin Wilson describes his own struggles to effectively utilize and enjoy windows of unfettered freedom:
I had always wanted freedom—freedom from the dreary need to working for a living, freedom to live a life of the mind. Yet if I woke up in my room on a Saturday morning, with a weekend of ‘freedom’ in front of me, I might find myself trapped in a curious lukewarm state of indifference. Why does meaning seem to vanish like a will-o’-wisp as soon as we have time to devote to it?
As Wilson points out, navigating freedom is a tricky matter—definitely more complicated than we’re wont to believe. But why?
One explanation is that nothing manages to satisfy us in reality in the way we’d imagined it, including freedom. Viewed this way, the fact that freedom often disappoints may not warrant any special sort of analysis.
Another explanation has to do with our being deeply energized by challenges. And if the quest for freedom is among the more meaningful and motivating human challenges, it’s natural to feel let down once the goal is achieved and all the air has left the balloon.
Moreover, many of us seem especially energized by external challenges—by opportunities to overcome external obstacles or difficulties—vis-à-vis self-imposed challenges. Returning to our discussion of retirees, it seems easier to push back against what Wilson calls “the dreary need to work for a living,” which might be seen as external barrier, than it is to self-motivate on a daily basis following retirement.
Finally, the issue may be less a matter of external versus internal challenges than a mere disparity in the motivational potency of different goals. On this view, the goal of retirement is simply more invigorating than the idea of spending another day tinkering in the backyard workshop.
One of the most common ways we squander our freedom is procrastination. Instead of diving into a long-awaited creative project, for instance, we begin the day with social media only to find that, some three hours later, we’re feeling depressed and listless. At that point, attempting to start the project may feel more like a chore than a privilege.
Although not everyone struggles with procrastination, even those who are relatively immune may nonetheless drag their feet with certain tasks or situations.
Depression and low energy levels can play a role in procrastination. When we’re feeling down or depressed, there’s a sense that nothing is interesting or worth doing. Depression can be conceived as a problem of meaning, involving both a deficiency of present meaning and diminished hope for future meaning. Wilson contends that the chief problem of human existence is “whether life is really meaningless and futile.” If we “have certainty about meaning,” we can endure a great deal of pain and suffering, he writes. Apart from such certainty, “even comfort begins to seem futile.” Hence, procrastination may in some cases be a symptom of more foundational concerns about life meaning or purpose.
As discussed in my post, Seeking and Finding Meaning in Life, Extraverts (E), Feelers (F) and Judgers (J) typically report higher levels of meaning in life. And insofar as meaning (or its absence) and procrastination are related, these types may also be less susceptible to procrastination.
Perceiving (P) personality types, particularly those who are also Intuitives (N), are often painted as the worst procrastinators. And this isn’t entirely off the mark. EP types, in particular, often rely on outside forces to spur them to action, including externally imposed deadlines and time constraints. Indeed time pressure, for EPs, is often welcomed. The less time they’re given, the greater the challenge and adrenaline rush. I’ve known ENTPs, for instance, who made a habit of pulling “all-nighters” when studying for tests or hammering out term papers. Without these hard deadlines, however, they’d always find reasons to procrastinate, opting for activities that seemed more obviously fun or exhilarating.
Inattention and lack of conscientiousness can also contribute to, or be conflated with, procrastination. The fact is that some individuals simply aren’t task or goal-oriented, or they lack the conscientiousness or organizational skills to keep track of everything that needs to get done. They’re often described as carefree, absent-minded, prone to distraction, or some combination thereof. Often ENP types, they may not be intentional procrastinators as much as they are oblivious, or otherwise poorly attuned, to time and tasks (see my post on ADHD & Extraverted Intuition).
Competing Priorities & the Inferior Function
A key point we’ve yet to discuss is that procrastination often stems from competing priorities. Hence, it’s not always a matter of generalized malaise or apathy, but of some tasks seeming more interesting or important than others. More enjoyable task are typically tackled first, with less interesting ones being constantly pushed to the bottom of the to-do list; we might call this selective procrastination. Indeed, I suspect this is most common form of procrastination, one where we’re happy to handle certain tasks right away, but consistently drag our feet when it comes to others.
It’s natural to believe that the tasks we dislike and thus, tend to put off, are the same for everyone else. If I dread taking out the trash, for instance, it’s easy to assume that all humans consider it a nasty and brutish task. While there may be a handful of jobs that have achieved the high honor of being universally deplorable, in most cases, our procrastination proclivities are shaped and informed by our personality type. In particular, I’ll argue that the tasks we avoid most vehemently are typically tied to our type’s inferior function.
As implied by its name, the inferior function is a weak point—an “Achilles’ heel”—for each type. This shouldn’t be taken to mean that’s it’s all bad or is somehow unimportant, however. Indeed, there are certain things we love and are constantly pursuing in our inferior function, making it a key source of motivation throughout our lives. But there are also aspects of it we’d rather not think about, let alone buckle down and take care of.
Despite this upfront reluctance, we often find that, once we get started, tasks involving our inferior function aren’t as bad as we imagined. At times we may even end up enjoying the dreaded task. But because working with our inferior function can feel awkward or unnatural, there’s typically some internal resistance to overcome.
We’ll now take a look at some specific forms of inferior function procrastination as portrayed in the lives of Thinking, Feeling, Intuitive, and Sensing dominant types.
When Thinkers (T) Procrastinate
For Thinking (T) dominant types (ITPs & ETJs), for whom Feeling (F) is inferior, procrastination tends to occur around Feeling-related tasks.
One example is buying gifts for holidays, anniversaries, or birthdays, which requires setting aside time to think about the tastes, interests, and values (F) of the recipient. On a more basic level, Thinkers may struggle to set aside time and energy to engage with friends or loved ones (e.g., making phone calls to their parents or siblings). Often prioritizing their work or personal interests above all else, Thinkers are quintessential “time hoarders” (particularly ITPs), especially when it’s perceived to be in short supply. They can also struggle with boredom in social situations that fail to incorporate their interests or expertise. Excuses therefore proliferate regarding why they can’t initiate or partake in various social engagements.
In contrast to these areas of F procrastination, tasks of an T, S, or N nature are typically more appealing and approached with less resistance.
When Feelers (F) Procrastinate
Feeling (F) dominant types (EFJs & IFPs) often procrastinate around matters pertaining to their inferior Thinking (T) function.
This may include resolving issues that involve math, physics, or technology—repairing homes, vehicles, computers, etc. Bills, taxes, and other administrative tasks may also be avoided as long as possible.
That said, because math, science, and technology also have an N element, NF types may show interest and some measure of competence in these directions. And because administrative matters have an S element, SF types may tackle them without too much distress.
Given a choice, however, F dominants will typically spend much of their day utilizing their Feeling function, often while giving lip service to certain T interests or competencies. It’s not unlike Thinking types who struggle with being single, but commonly go on F cruise control once they’ve settled into a relationship.
When Intuitives (N) Procrastinate
Intuition (N) dominant types (INJs & ENPs) typically procrastinate when it comes to handling Sensing (S) related tasks.
This often involves tasks requiring significant physical (S) effort or exertion. Common examples include house chores, yard work, and vehicle maintenance. Intuitives are typically happy to delegate such tasks to a family member or pay for outside assistance if necessary. There’s also a sense in which Intuitives can seem oblivious to S tasks. They may fail to realize, for instance, that they’ve left nearly every light in the house on (or worse, the oven) or have yet to unpack their bags from a trip they took several weeks ago.
On a broader level, Intuitives may procrastinate when it comes to implementing or materializing (S) their ideas (N), a topic discussed in my post, Why INFPs, INTPs, INFJs, & INTJs Struggle to Act. They may be forever fascinated by ideas and ideals, but drag their heels when it comes to doing much beyond dreaming or talking about them.
In contrast to areas of S procrastination, tasks of an N, T, or F nature are seen as more palatable and less cumbersome to N dominants.
When Sensors (S) Procrastinate
Sensing (S) dominant types (ESPs and ISJs) tend to procrastinate around matters pertaining to Intuition (N).
This is commonly observed in ESP students, many of whom would rather be doing something physical or hands-on (recess anyone?) than sitting in a classroom or navigating homework and term papers. ISJs are typically better suited for academic environments, but may nonetheless struggle with tasks requiring divergent creativity or openness to new ideas, values or lifestyles (Ne).
While not typically construed as procrastination, both ESPs and ISJs tend to resist the sort of philosophical or self-reflective thought seen in N types. ESPs generally prefer action or engaging the five senses over pondering the mysteries of life. ISJs, while not unreflective, are more inclined to revisit what they already believe or have experienced (Si) than they are to consider alternatives, how they might be wrong, or why they believe what they do.
In many respects, procrastination for S types is more inward (i.e., intellectual or spiritual) and thus less outwardly obvious. They may do a good job of handling tangible tasks, but struggle when it comes to truly opening themselves to, or earnestly wrestling with, abstract ideas and insights.
Clearly personality type shapes what we’re motivated to do or, in the case of procrastination, not to do. Hence, combatting procrastination often requires greater commitment to and investment in matters pertaining to our inferior (and often tertiary) function.
This proves difficult, however, because the immediate reward, not to mention long-term success, isn’t guaranteed. So to avoid the fear or discomfort associated with the murky world of our inferior function, we perpetually and often unwittingly manufacture excuses for inaction.
Granted, this isn’t always the worst thing. Indeed some measure of inferior function neglect is necessary to hone and develop the dominant function. But there comes a time of reckoning, when ignoring and procrastinating are no longer tenable and greater development and integration is called for. The problem of procrastination is thus subsumed by the larger challenge of type development and integration.