Procrastination or Fear?
“The really happy people are those who have broken the chains of procrastination, those who find satisfaction in doing the job at hand. They’re full of eagerness, zest, productivity. You can be, too.”
– Norman Vincent Peale
This month we have discussed celebrating your life, finding out your purpose and pruning so you can thrive. So today I thought we could dive into procrastination since that is what tends to be one of the main barriers that I hear on a daily basis from both clients, students, peers and friends.
You may not call it procrastination. You may call it a barrier, or lack of motivation, or fatigue or whatever creative word that you are able to articulate! They are all true, they are probably all fact based (instead of fear based) but still are grounded in a delay in accomplishing your goal. To lean into the discussion of procrastination, I am going to use my favorite little man as a concrete example. Little man in my world is an eleven pound YorkiePoo who rules my house and “bosses” his 55lb older puppy brother around like he is a giant.
He definitely does not know his size and despite being super cute (**refer to proud fur baby momma picture**) he is fearless, opinionated and quite stubborn. Until you add in falling. My spare room has a comfortable chair that is positioned perfectly for afternoon sun that he loves reclining in. Next to the chair is a leather bench/blanket rack that never has anything on top of it. Then you have the end of the bed. Sounds clunky and crowded, but trust me – it flows! So Marlo (aka: Little Man) enjoys sprawling across the bed once the sun goes down since he seems to think that I am a guest in his home!
The space between the chairs and the bed is slightly over five feet. The bench is four feet. Which leaves roughly 6-8 inches between each piece of furniture. Not rocket science. Chair to bench. Bench to bed. Nap time easily relocated.
Not to Marlo. He cannot see the bench as a viable option. All he sees is the five plus feet between the chair and the bed. Now please note, he can make that jump. He has done it a few times. But only if the end of the bed is clear, there is not another puppy on the bed and if the light is on. Not kidding. As we did when he was only four pounds and did not realize he could go down a step, I have “walked” him through the bridge (aka: bench) to get where he wanted to go. But he refuses to do it on his own. He will sit on the chair and whine until he gives up and leaves the room completely, or someone picks him up to place him where he wants to be.
The path to his goal is in his grasp but he cannot acknowledge that it is valid and/or solid. He feels more comfortable remaining on the chair, admitting defeat or waiting to be rescued.
So how is the story of my little man’s journey relevant to our discussion on procrastination? We all have a path that we are not willing to embrace to get us where we want to be. Even if it has been pointed out to us. Even if we have been walked through the process. Even if we can see it. Unless the path is complete perfection we choose to find a reason that it will not work so we stay where we are at admitting defeat or waiting for someone to rescue us.
If Nothing Changes. Nothing Changes.
That quote was said to me years ago about some patterns in my life that I was feeling powerless to change. It was a profound statement that I remember hitting me like a ton of bricks as the reality set in. After the punch had worn off, so did the meaning behind it. Until the last six months. The pandemic has been a surreal space for all of us, but it truly forced us all to slow down, evaluate where our priorities are. And we were all forced to change the dance.
According to Psychology Today there are nine main reasons that people procrastinate:
- “You toss self-compassion to the wind. In the journal Self and Identity, researchers reported that individuals who demonstrated less self-compassion tended to feel more stressed during tasks, increasing the likelihood of procrastination. What to try: Talk to yourself with kindness. Accept that you’re human, and be an optimistic coach rather than a negative critic. (**Melissa Note: We will be diving into negative self talk through the month of October!)
- You’ve learned to procrastinate from role models. Your parents, siblings, or other important role models may have demonstrated a “put it off” attitude, which you’ve now adopted as your own. What to try: Talk to yourself about the negative consequences these role models faced when they chose to procrastinate. Then find new role models to mimic, specifically those who take action and experience positive results because of it.
- You don’t think you’ll be effective at the task. You might think, “I don’t even know how to do this!” What to try: If you need a skill upgrade, get one. Ask for help if it is available. If not, use a new cognitive coping self-statement such as, “I can learn as I go,” or, “Extra time on this task will increase the odds of me being effective.” Dr. Bill Knaus also suggests that you adopt a “no-failure” mindset to reduce your self-doubt. He suggests that you “experiment and see what happens,” rather than stopping yourself with unproven predictions.
- You have a bias against a particular type of task. Maybe you think you’re bad at a task, or you’ve seen others have a hard time with a certain type of task. You think, “I can do other things, but not this.” What to try: Challenge yourself to open your mind and prove your bias wrong. Use the task as an opportunity to combat your bias.
- Your time estimates are… a little off! You tend to vastly underestimate how long it will take you to complete the task at hand, as you also underestimate how quickly you’ll get it done. (Known as the planning fallacy.) What to try: Make a habit of starting earlier than you think you’ll need to and work on completing your task early. This might compensate for any deficiencies in time estimation. Then, give yourself a reward for completing the task early or on time!
- You focus less on the gains of the future and more on the gains of the present. Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) calls this “short-range hedonism.” This focus on the gains of the present leads to low frustration tolerance, and you’re less likely to persevere when the going gets tough. What to try: Remind yourself about the gains of the future, and de-emphasize the frustration of the present.
- Your perfectionism gets in the way. You think, “It has to be perfect,” and this overly demanding standard keeps you from even getting started. What to try: Work on diminishing the importance of doing things perfectly and emphasize the importance of completing tasks in a timely fashion. Keep a list of examples of times when perfectionism has been unhelpful to you, and of times when task completion has been more helpful to you.
- Depression or anxiety (or other conditions) cause you to delay taking action. You might know or suspect that you suffer from a mental illness, and that the effects of it diminish your motivation, concentration, or perseverance. What to try: Get proper treatment, including individual therapy with a licensed therapist. In addition to ruling out physical causes for your mood or anxiety, proper treatment will usually include helping you to set achievable goals given your condition, and teaching you to break your tasks into smaller, more manageable chunks.
- Discomfort intolerance leads you to disengage from the task. REBT theory teaches that procrastination often comes from a belief that discomfort should be avoided, and you practice procrastination whenever you feel physically or psychologically uncomfortable. What to try: Challenge your beliefs about tolerating discomfort and revise what you say to encourage yourself to engage in a task, even if only for a little while. Focus on the longer-term rewards that you’ll experience while persevering with the task. Stick with it and start seeing discomfort as a prerequisite for growth, rather than as the enemy. Utilize the “Premack Principle,” rewarding yourself for doing the uncomfortable (such as balancing your checkbook) with something that you like doing often (such as checking Facebook).” https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/fearless-you/201506/9-reasons-you-procrastinate-and-9-ways-stop
So what are you holding back on? What dream are you delaying out of fear that the “bench” will not help you get where you want to be? When I launched my own business, I saw the following quote that has become my motto:
Only you can make the decision to make the leap. Only you can choose to change the dance. But with someone on your team, the leap is not as scary.
We are in this together and together we will empower each other to work through the level of exhaustion, through the burnout and through your procrastination so you can discover your rockstar status.
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As I have stated previously, being known for who you uniquely are at the core is a freeing experience. One that will take bravery and vulnerability, but one that can be achieved.
Always remember to take care of you. You are worth it!