The Dark Side of Creativity: Procrastination

Is your brain like a German autobahn with lots of slick, European sports-car thoughts…zooming in out of nowhere…inspiring…creating…(distracting)? Creativity is a joy to give away–writing, cooking, festive table settings, gardening, crafts, ministry projects, lesson preps—all these rich gifts God has given us. But there’s a downside too.

Research links creativity to impulsivity. James 1:14-15 for Creatives might read, “…each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own impulses. Then impulsivity when it has conceived gives birth to loss of self-control, and loss of self-control, when it is fully grown brings forth procrastination, missed deadlines and unfinished work.” And the guilty, diminished feeling that goes with them. How do we get more joy, less guilt?

According to the National Center of Research on the Gifted and Talented, “Creative people seem to have weaker restraint mechanisms in their brains than normal people. Researchers in creativity hypothesize that this weak restraint mechanism allows many spontaneous thoughts to culminate in creative thought.” Perhaps God gives unrestrained brains to the bodies he endows with creative souls so the two can function together. At any rate it’s easy to see how having an unrestrained brain that might be good for creativity might be bad for any number of things.

Turns out it’s good for procrastination.

Procrastination is not the same thing as laziness. When you are lazy you have no desire to get stuff done. No red-hot-ooo-try-me-out-and-see-if-I-work ideas. Procrastination happens when we are lured and enticed by the latest red hot idea to leave unfinished the previous red hot idea half-baked into a project. It means unfinished projects everywhere…in your inbox, in your back seat, in closets, in piles everywhere—piles on top of your file cabinet, your dining room table, even on top of your dryer. Leonardo DaVinci, the most famous procrastinator, would move from unfinished fresco to unfinished canvas. Even the Mona Lisa was not finished on time and never delivered to the client.

Procrastination also happens when we fail to manage our emotions. A not very fun deadline or project presents itself. We want to feel good now. We delay the not as “feel good” activity for something more pleasurable: checking email, posting on Facebook, writing a blog…ah that little hit of feel-good endorphins when “You’ve got mail” dings. Today’s workplace could have been designed as the perfect obstacle to creative production.

Which is why we turn to Jesus and affirm what we know is true: He has given us a spirit of power and love and self-control. (2 Timothy 1:7) The self-control to manage our emotions. To focus on the larger goal of loving and doing good, bringing God’s kingdom. And to get specific about how we are going to do it. When we have specific goals of love and kingdom-building we can ask the Lord Jesus to help us step forward in his power to accomplish it. It moves us past our wishy-washy vague intentions to get around to the piles and projects, phone calls and visits, and actually gets them done.

I have been in a deep creative rut on a writing project for way too long. Sort of trying to make progress, but not moving very far forward. So lately I have committed more time to it. Sat myself down in the chair at the computer. Asked the Lord for his spirit—the power, love, and self-control, to do the work. And I’ve actually experienced more creativity as I push through the impulses and vague intentions to Get. It. Done.

It’s a much more joyful way to steward the creativity God has given us.

Lael writes and speaks about faith and culture and how God renews our vision and desire for Him and his Kingdom. She earned a master's degree (MAT) in the history of ideas from the University of Texas at Dallas, and has taught Western culture and apologetics at secular and Christian schools and colleges. Her long-term experience with rheumatoid arthritis and being a pastor’s wife has deepened her desire to minister to the whole person—mind, heart, soul and spirit. Lael has co-hosted a talk radio program, The Things That Matter Most, on secular stations in Houston and Dallas about what we believe and why we believe it with guests as diverse as Dr. Deepak Chopra, atheist Sam Harris and VeggieTales creator Phil Vischer. (Programs are archived on the website.) Lael has authored four books, including a March 2011 soft paper edition of A Faith and Culture Devotional (now titled Faith and Culture: A Guide to a Culture Shaped by Faith), Godsight, and Worldproofing Your Kids. Lael’s writing has also been featured in Focus on the Family and World magazines, and she has appeared on many national radio and television programs. Lael and her husband, Jack, now make their home in South Carolina.

One Comment

  • Belle Unruh


    Well, now I know why I have so many unfinished projects – I'm creative! I just started a new one and I'm hoping I will see it to the end. Good article.