Lately I am restless. It’s not about the weather, lack of activity, nor the holidays. Last month, I made a decision to temporarily halt the constant pursuit of more trainings and certifications in order to focus on building my business. Yet, Instead of sitting down and doing the focus work I need on networking, marketing and business development, I consistently find ten other things that are somehow more pressing and urgent to accomplish in the moment. What I now know is that this isn’t laziness nor bad time management. This is procrastination.
Procrastination is a thing that many of us do from time to time and it’s one of the most irrational things that we continue to do. Irrational because it’s doing something against our better judgement; counter to our long-term goals. Some might even call it a form of self-harm.
The awareness of what we are doing to self-sabotage is a key part of why procrastinating makes us feel so bad. When we procrastinate, not only are we aware that we’re avoiding something, but we are also aware that procrastinating is a bad idea. And yet, we do it anyway.
If we look at research around procrastination, it is shown that we don’t procrastinate because we are lazy, but because we are not effectively dealing with negative emotions and moods. It becomes an “escape” or a way of coping with challenging emotions and negative moods around certain tasks. So instead of looking at the bigger goal and staying on track with that, we look at the new and exciting “shiny objects” that give us quick wins – making us feel better in the moment, but further delaying progress towards the long-term. Sound familiar?
What follows here are some ways to work through this sneaky form of sabotage.
To rewire habits, we have to give our brains an alternative – a better option.
The first step is to acknowledge that it’s happening. Once you are aware of your tendencies and behaviors around certain tasks, you can start to make some changes.
Next, you have the option to forgive yourself in the moments you procrastinate. In a 2010 study, researchers found that students who were able to forgive themselves for procrastinating when studying for a first exam ended up procrastinating less when studying for their next exam. They concluded that self-forgiveness supported productivity by allowing “the individual to move past their maladaptive behavior and focus on the upcoming examination without the burden of past acts.”
Another tactic is to practice self-compassion, which is treating ourselves with kindness and understanding in the face of our mistakes and failures. Studies show that self-compassion supports motivation and personal growth. It also decreases psychological distress, and actively boosts motivation, enhances feelings of self-worth and fosters positive emotions like optimism, wisdom, curiosity and personal initiative.
The next steps will help you to move on from here.
Cultivate curiosity: If you’re feeling tempted to procrastinate, bring your attention to the sensations arising in your mind and body. What feelings are behind your avoidance AND your temptation? Where do you feel them in your body? What do they remind you of? What happens as you observe your tendencies? Do the feelings intensify? Cause other emotions to arise? How are the sensations in your body cultivating beliefs, memories and images? Are they shifting as you continue to rest your awareness on them?
Consider the next action: This is different than the advice to break up a daunting task into bite-sized chunks. At the start of a given task, consider the next action as a mere possibility, as if you were role playing. Don’t wait to be in the mood to do a certain task. Start doing the next action and see where it takes you. Motivation FOLLOWS action.
Change your environment to make ‘escape’ harder: It’s easier to change our circumstances than ourselves. If you are easily by social media on your phone or computer, delete the apps from your phone and/or set your computer into “airplane” mode. Sometimes, simple changes can result in huge wins by increasing friction with the things that distract you. By doing this, ‘escaping’ the task you want to avoid is harder to do and you are more likely to do the thing that you are avoiding.
Make what you’re avoiding easier to do: If we make the things we want to do as easy as possible for ourselves, they will more likely get done. For instance, If you want to work out daily before work, sleep in your exercise clothes. Re-engineer your current habits to minimize obstacles.
Procrastination can be tricky as it raises questions about individual agency and how we want to spend our time as opposed to how we actually do. But it can be a good thing to have, as it’s a reminder of our human vulnerability, making us more likable and “real.”
How do you procrastinate? Email me to share your stories.