Decathexis: How to Stop Procrastinating and Find the Energy to Fuel Your Goals


When I reflect on 2016 thus far, I get a great deal out of satisfaction out of what I've gotten done. I've had a lot of fun, launched a new business and experienced some major personal growth revelations, but I also wrote a book I've been thinking about and dreaming about writing since around 2012.

Today is National Fight Procrastination Day, which feels like the perfect occasion to share another recent revelation I've had. It's not so much about how I stopped procrastinating on the book itself; I've already written about that some, about how I got on purpose, decided to make myself available and went into Monk Mode to focus and get that done.

The revelation I think you'll find helpful at fighting your own procrastination is something that came up when I finished the book and transitioned out of Monk Mode. When I came out of Monk Mode and knew the book was fully buttoned up and something I was proud to have spent nine months working on, something I would be proud to spend 2017 promoting, something intense happened. Something called decathexis.

Cathexis is something psychologists talk about as the energy you put into a project, relationship or area of endeavor. Freud defined cathexis as being part electricity and part occupation. I think of it similarly, as the time, energy, creativity, soul and any and every other resource, including money, you invest into a priority person, project or experience.

It follows that decathexis occurs when those resources return back to you when you complete a project, de-prioritize an endeavor or end or shift your focus from a relationship.

When I finished the book, I spent maybe a week or two recovering, but almost immediately noticed an incoming woosh of fresh, creative energy and time that I was no longer spending on the book. I have been redirecting that woosh toward other projects, some fun and some for work, but generally have decided to make the most of this decathexis, aiming it at other things that are now moving up my priority ladder. Note that some of those things are other writing projects, a couple of business relationships, but some are also fun, like the Pretty Dress Club my friends and I have started to ensure nothing beautiful but "impractical" wastes away at the back of the closet.

One of the most common reasons we humans procrastinate is that we think we lack something we need to move forward on our biggest, boldest goals and dreams. There's just no time. We're exhausted at the end of the workday, or after the kids get to bed. No energy. If we had the cash to take some time off, to hire a coach or to take the course, we would, but there's never enough. Never enough. Never enough.

But I've realized that decathexis is an always-accessible strategy we can use to tap into the resources we do have so we can aim them at the things we care about the most. There is enough. There is plenty. The challenge is this: we're not always seeing how we're currently investing the resources we have. And we're not always aware of how much control we have to reallocate those investments. We run on autopilot.

The decathexis I experienced when the book was done was crystal clear, because of the nature of the project and the intentional investment of time I'd put into it. But the truth is that I've experienced decathexis probably hundreds of times in my life, and know that it can and should be wielded intentionally, too. You don't have to complete a major life project or check something off your bucket list to tap into your inner wells of creativity and energy and time and money via decathexis. You don't have to leave your energy to chance or accident.

There are only two things you do have to do to harness decathexis: stop doing things that are not truly important, and shift that cathexis, that investment, to things that are:
  • Stop doing things that are a time suck, but not bearing fruit.
  • Stop doing things that make you feel de-energized.
  • Stop doing things because you think you should or because someone told you you should, 30 years ago.
  • Stop investing your money into things, things and more things, unless they truly delight you or expand your capacity to create or experience life.
  • Stop spending time trying to change other people or investing all your focus into relationships where you feel like you're butting your head against a wall (Note: this doesn't necessarily mean to get divorced, fire everyone or stop speaking to your mother, though it might. It means to put an end to dysfunctional relationship patterns, not necessarily to discard people.)

Here's the hardest one: stop injecting your resources into patterns and projects that are kind of half-working or hobbling along, just because you've always done so. Actually, even harder: stop doing things that are awesome, but are clearly not aligned with who you want to be or furthering what you want to create in your life.

Catch this principle: every relationship, every project, every exercise into which you invest fifteen minutes here or two hours there, represents an investment of your time, your energy, your soul, your love, your money, your resources. You have the power to decide where you aim those resources, and in fact, you are making that decision, more or less intentionally, all day, everyday.

If you never feel you have what you need to move your dreams and goals forward and you want today to be your own personal Fight Procrastination Day, get real about what you can stop investing your precious personal resources into. You'll create a secret portal into a near-limitless internal source of energy, enthusiasm and time, which you'll need as you create the things, develop the capacities and cultivate the human connections that truly matter the most.

This is an excerpt of a piece that originally appeared at Subscribe to Tara's newsletter on her blog, or follow her on Facebook, Instagram and on Twitter.