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Existentialism and Procrastination (Part 2): Bad Faith

Self-deception: I'll feel more like doing it tomorrow

"I'll feel more like doing it tomorrow." Self-deception.
"There's plenty of time yet, it can wait." Self-deception.
Sartre identified how very weird these lies to self are writing ". . . the one to whom the lie is told and the one who lies are one and the same person." Why do we tell these lies? Who believes them?

We tell these lies to avoid the absolute freedom that I discussed in the last blog entry. As defined from an existentialist perspective, our lives are defined by the choices we make. Accepting each choice as we project ourselves into the world and create meaning is an unsettling responsibility. It is this responsibility that can fill us with anguish and anxiety. Sartre, among others, argues that we try to escape this responsibility, we try to escape our freedom, by deceiving ourselves. Procrastination is a form of this escape and self-deception.

Self-deception has many forms including taking on the roles and duties from which we base all our actions, excusing ourselves from choice by saying that we have no other choice, "it is our duty." Another form of this self-deception is the lie(s) we tell ourselves to rationalize our lack of action. "I'll feel more like doing this tomorrow." "I work better under pressure." "There is still lots of time to do this." We rationalize our procrastination with self-deception.

The existentialist understanding of this self-deception is living in Bad Faith. It is an inauthentic way of living, as we deny responsibility for our own lives, our own choices.

Let's take a practical example. It's Sunday night, and all weekend long you've been avoiding the report that you promised yourself you'd do on the weekend. Wracked with your own disappointment and guilt, you promise you'll start first thing Monday morning, trying desperately to console yourself with some self-deception about the other pressing priorities over the weekend and how there's lots of time left, really. Monday morning arrives. Your choice is to act now. You don't, and the self-deception continues.

Here's another example from student life. Not only are you chronically saying "I'll feel more like it tomorrow," (it's become a personal mantra), but you're excusing yourself by noting how you didn't choose these assignments, this course or even to go to college now. Your parents wanted you to go to college. You don't even want this program. It's not your fault, right?

All of this is living in bad faith, trying to escape responsibility for your own life. It's pathetic. Pathetic as in full of suffering and pity, well, self pity. Each of us knows it is self-deception, as we can't really partition off the self into deceiver and deceived, and because we can't really deceive ourselves, we continue to suffer the anguish that defines existentialist thought. We face the anguish of having to choose and being responsible for these choices.

Bad faith can infect our entire lives. We can live in bad faith. When we do, procrastination may define our very being. We put off everything, victim to the situation, unwilling to accept responsibility for who we are and our lives. We even try to excuse ourselves saying, "it's just the way I am." Sadly, this is just another example of living in bad faith; a futile attempt to escape responsibility.

This may sound harsh. However, I'm not "moralizing" here. I'm just providing an existential perspective on procrastination. I know this speaks to readers who might describe themselves as chronic procrastinators. In fact, I believe this speaks to all of us at the moment of choice, no matter how mundane.

Procrastination is about choice. It really is that simple. Of course, there are factors that influence our choice, psychological factors that serve to facilitate or hinder choice, and I'll discuss these in posts to come. The key thing is, it's always about the choice we make. It's always about owning our own lives, being responsible for who we are through the choices we make.

Want to read more about "Bad Faith"? (This type of philosophical reference is not part of the bibliography at

Santoni, R. E. (1995). Bad Faith, Good Faith and Authenticity in Sartre's Early Philosophy. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.