TL;DR: You’re thinking about this all wrong.
Procrastination is one of the things my clients find the most frustrating. They blame themselves, they try harder, they fail, they get more upset, more frustrated and keep going in the same loop.
And they think something has gone terribly wrong. Or worse, they think there is something wrong with them for being stuck in this procrastination loop
There’s nothing wrong with you
What if I were to tell you there’s nothing wrong with this loop? In fact there’s nothing wrong with procrastination at all?
Hear me out here…
Whether you realise it or not you procrastinate when you are trying to do something difficult, something awkward, something that is going to take time or effort or challenge you in some way.
Your brain doesn’t like doing difficult things and so wants to protect you from this to keep you safe.
This is normal, its totally ok and it is your brain’s JOB to do this, so go easy on it, and yourself…please…
Ok, so now what?
I’m guessing that giving yourself deadlines, or trying harder or forcing yourself to do it isn’t working?
So instead of looking at the action, lets start looking at your feelings instead
Yes, your feelings…still with me here?
Why my feelings?
Everything we do as a human being is to move closer to good feelings and away from bad feelings. This is how we’re wired evolutionary, this is what our brain has been trained to do to keep us safe.
When we come across an action that creates some discomfort we move away from it. Even if the result would be REALLY positive, if there’s an uncomfortable feeling about the action it will ALWAYS trump any positive future feeling we might anticipate as a result of the action.
That’s why even when you REALLY want the result and REALLY want to do the action, something seems to just get in the way. That thing is a negative feeling.
Ok, so how do I get rid of a feeling?
- Acknowledge the feeling and remember it is ok and totally normal.
DO NOT beat yourself up for having a negative feeling about something. DO NOT try to just get rid of the feeling. Instead, the first step is to identify what the negative feeling is that’s getting in the way – get curious, what negative responses come up for you when you start to try to do the task? See if you can feel it in your body even if you can’t name it just yet.
Sometimes just knowing what the block is can help you relax enough to get on with the action you keep putting off. It often becomes far less frustrating when we acknowledge there’s a valid reason behind procrastination, and it’s not because there’s something wrong with you.
- Understand the thoughts behind the feeling
DO NOT beat yourself up for having negative thoughts. Again, get curious about what thoughts are causing this feeling, it is important to acknowledge them. Perhaps it is “This is too hard”, “I can’t do this”, “I don’t want to do this”, “I don’t know how to do this”, “I’ve done this before and it didn’t work”, “This is just stupid” etc etc.
Just play around with this for a little while to start understanding what it is you are thinking that is causing the discomfort around this task. Sometimes just recognising and understanding the block is enough to get you moving again as the pressure eases once you have a better understanding.
- What could you think instead?
Once we identify what’s blocking us we can start exploring other ways to look at the situation. Thank your brain for warning you, it’s done it’s job well! If the discomfort comes from the task being too hard you could ask yourself “How can I make this easy?” or “What if this is actually easy?” or “Thank you brain for warning me it will be hard, but I’m going to do it anyway”.
Or perhaps you’ve tried before and so now think it is pointless (this often happens with going to the gym!), if so, start questioning this assumption “what if it did work this time, how would I feel?” or “It’s possible it could work this time” – by creating possibility in your brain you can start to relieve some of the negative energy and start to look at the task in a new way.
- Go easy on yourself – procrastination is a normal response from your brain when you are trying to do something that makes it uncomfortable. There’s nothing wrong with you
- Understand what is making your brain feel uncomfortable (what thoughts and feelings come up when you sit down to do the task?)
- Consider how you could reframe the task and your thoughts to make the task more comfortable for you and your brain.
- Thank you brain for the warning, acknowledge it’s concerns and make a choice to move forward anyway, in peace.