Why Do We Put Things Off?

Written by Claire Colvin

I was reading in the news this morning that Switzerland has decided not to extradite Roman Polanski. He has waited almost a year to get the news that his life on the run can continue.  Polanski has had a guilty conviction hanging over his head for more than 30 years.

As I read the article I couldn’t help but think that if he hadn’t run, if he had stayed and gone to jail all of this could have been over years, maybe decades ago.  But he ran, what a dumb choice I thought, until I realized that I do exactly the same thing.

Hoping it will go away

Granted, I’ve never run from the law, but I do try to put things off far longer than is wise or healthy.  Just last week I had to admit to myself that the sound my car was making was getting worse.  It had started out as a squeal.  “The tires must be wet,” I told myself.  “Maybe it needs a oil change” I bargained when the sound got worse.  “Maybe it will just go away,” I hoped and to my delight, it did! But it turned out that silence, in this case could have been deadly.

After about a week of blissfully squeal-free driving a new sound began. At first it sounded like water pouring through a pipe.  I told myself if must be someone else’s car.  Finally I couldn’t ignore that the sound happened a lot, every time I hit the brakes to be precise.  Last Friday as I was driving in to work I had a sudden realization – the sound didn’t sound like water anymore.  It sounded like metal on metal.  Every time I hit the brakes.

In a moment of clarity I went straight to the mechanic only to learn it was much worse than I thought.   The squeal I had dismissed was the warning strip they put in brake pads to let you know when they’re almost worn out.  It went away, not because things improved but because I drove past the safety barrier.  By the time I got to the mechanic my brakes were almost completely gone.

It was a costly mistake, but I shudder to think what might have happened if there had been an accident.  In talking to the mechanic I told him about the noise and my hope that it would go away.  I could tell it’s something he hears a lot.  Sagely he responded, “those noises rarely fix themselves.”


I wasn’t expecting a life lesson, just a little help with my car, but there is so much truth in those words. How often do we hope that a situation will resolve with no effort on our part? How often do we try to fix a relationship by not dealing with it at all? To improve finances by ignoring them? To live a healthy life by changing none of our habits?

Why do we try to avoid consequences when delay only makes it worse? I think it’s part of our human nature, a combination of a desire to avoid pain and a cocky belief that we can get away with it.  We see in political leaders and businessmen, we sit it in our kids and in ourselves if we take the time to look.  So what can we do about it?

  1. Don’t avoid the warning lights. The squeal strip that I thought was an inconvenience was there for my protection.  It would have helped if I let it.  I need to pay attention to the warning in my own life and in the lives of the people I love.
  2. Doing nothing is a choice too. It can be tempting to think that by doing nothing we are not choosing, we’re avoiding the situation.  But the truth is that doing nothing is as much of a choice as taking action.
  3. Learn from your mistakes. I know what squealing brakes sound like now.  I dearly hope I remember that the next time I hear that noise.   Learn to recognize the warning in your own life.

What do you put off? Are there warning lights in your life that you need to pay attention too?

devo-interact-icon-42x42Take our free life lessonLiving an Alert Life” to learn how to pay attention to what your life is telling you.

4 Responses to “Why Do We Put Things Off?”

  • Jamie Lauren says:

    Well I hope the walk worked Adrian. And I hope your essay was one you felt you did well on.

    I don’t know about the universe, but I do know that God has a plan for you. He said so in the Bible, “I know the plans I have for you,” says the LORD, “plans to help you and not to harm you; plans to give you a hope and a future” (you can find this in the writings of Jeremiah 29:11) So your feeling that there is a purpose for your life is not deluded at all. In fact it is a feeling that has been put there by God. There is a guy by the name of Erwin McManus who wrote a book about this feeling that you have. It is called “Soul Cravings”. You can listen to him talk about three cravings of the soul that are universal — everyone has got them (http://powertochange.com/blogposts/2010/01/13/do-you-crave-destiny-part-1). And they are placed there in our hearts by God so that we would seek to satisfy those cravings in Him. It makes sense to me that a God who wants to be known by the ones He has created would place within each one a yearning to know Him.

    Knowing God has helped me find my place in all this. As a self-proclaimed ‘over-analyzer’ would you be willing to explore if there is a God who is calling you to the plan He has for you? I promise you, it is the best kind of freedom you could ever find!

  • Adrian Carswell says:

    I’m on a walk right now, I left the house to get away, clear my head and avoid writing an essay due in 2 days. I always put things off and it will only end badly. I’m eating more too, just to make up for the joy I’m not having or should be having if I’d done it already.

    It’s sad really, I’m choosing to fail at life because why? Probably because of some deluded thought that the universe has a plan for me. That alone probably stems from a desire to have a connection with the stars.
    Really I think it comes down to what you said before about not wanting pain. Well I’m a Virgo and I worry and over analyse things myself included.

    I guess I just want to know my place in all this. I’m a small thing in this enormous universe.
    Who knows. I’m fed up with failing and feeling crap. I’m gonna go back and do the work. The walk back will give me space and air to think up a plan.

  • lara says:

    I’m in university, and although I’ve never been in such a serious situation, I definitely already put things all the time. I always feel doing nothing, just spares me time to do it later, but I totally agree with you, it IS a choice… A choice to do nothing. Thanks, for the article. These kinds of things inspire me to change my habits while i’m still young, and finding my way :) thank you.

  • blue-jay says:

    Alot of what you are talking about is a learned thing. I am not sure how old you are ..but somethings do come with age and exp..If it sounds weird to you , it probably is to others. Find someone who you can trust an let them fix it . Yes it can sometimes save your life. What about the..so called… little things? Yes we all do that. I have put things off for years, and i am haunted by some of these things. Oh I know what you are going to say…WELL JUST DO THEM..lol.. to some it would be that simple but to some of us it isnt. I am ashamed to say that.. and now i find i cant even say it to you all. I wish i could say its not important .. but it is .. maybe soon i will have the courage to tell you . Until then take care and learn to listen..see and hear. If you learn the sounds or whatever then you will know if something is wrong. This also applies to life and you. Get to know you. When things dont sound ..right or weird..to you ..it usually means…its not right. Find some help!! GB take care!

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