Who has not been there? You have a deadline or a target, and should really be doing something about it, yet, you procrastinate. You do everything else, even the admin or the dreaded ironing rather than tackle that particular task or goal. And not even iron will power or super discipline help. You still procrastinate. Often, procrastination is an unconscious process that we only become aware of when we are running out of time to complete our task or goal by the deadline or target time/date.
Why do we procrastinate? And how can we make procrastination our friend and not our enemy?
Both those questions are linked. In order to make procrastination our friend, we first need to become aware why we are procrastinating.
1. Why do we procrastinate?
It is very simple, we procrastinate because there is something not quite right with what we decided to do or how/when/where or with whom we decided to do it. This something wrong is a gap or discrepancy of some sort.
In my experience, these gaps or discrepancies that cause us to procrastinate tend to fall under the following categories:
- Fear of failure
- Fear of success
- Beliefs we hold about ourselves
- A values violation
- Lack of knowledge or skills
And how can we make procrastination our friend and not our enemy?
Once we know what motivates us to procrastinate, we can address these reasons. Being aware is half the battle.
Every behaviour has a positive intention
So does procrastination. We do what we do because it gives us something positive or satisfies some need we have, we just might not realise it. So when you examine the reasons for any procrastinating behaviour, observe the behaviour from a neutral point of view and refrain from judging yourself. Look for the positive intention:
- What is procrastination protecting you from?
- What is it helping you avoid?
Consider the list of reasons for procrastination above, if nothing comes to mind. And remember, procrastination does not necessarily have to be a bad thing!
Addressing the reasons for procrastination
Fear of failure
This is a biggie for most people. What if I fail? Most of us fear that we will then no longer be appreciated by others or fall in their estimation. It is so drummed into us from early age that failure is something terrible, but is it? Or is it simply a form of feedback that the way we did something did not have the desired result?
So ask yourself:
- Is this really true that we will lose others respect, esteem and/or appreciation if we ‘fail’?
- What is the worst that could happen?
- What is failure anyway? Edison had a 1000 odd so-called failures before he invented the lightbulb. He chose to call them steps or feedback. If you ‘failed’, how will you take that feedback, learn from it and change your strategy to achieve the task or goal?
Fear of success
This may sound weird, however it affects a lot of people. What happens once the goal is achieved? If there is nothing beyond that goal, a lot of people procrastinate about achieving the first goal. So if that is your reason for procrastination, look beyond your immediate goal.
- What does this goal help you to achieve?
- What doors open up for you once you achieved this goal?
- And what is your goal beyond the goal?
Beliefs we hold about ourselves
Negative or unhelpful beliefs we have about ourselves hold us back from achieving what we want. Common examples of such beliefs are ‘I am not worthy’, ‘I don’t deserve’, ‘I am stupid’, ‘I am clumsy’ etc.. We tend to acquire these kinds of beliefs during childhood through repetitive experiences or decisions we made about ourselves. The way belief work is like unconscious programmes that run in the background and cause us to make choices that support those beliefs.
- The first step is awareness and identifying the belief you hold about yourself. Listen to your excuses and self-talk about your task or goal, and pick our any ‘I am’, ‘I am not’ or ‘I am too’ statements.
- The next step is to ask yourself: Is this belief about myself totally and utterly true everywhere and in any situation? What other evidence is there for the opposite belief?
Give yourself permission to entertain the thought that your belief about yourself could be false.
Dealing with unwanted beliefs can be a challenge on your own, so consider asking for help from a qualified coach, NLP practitioner or therapist.
A values violation
Values are what is important to us. When something we want or have been asked to do goes against what is important to us, we have a natural tendency to dig in our heals and procrastinate. The task or goal may be important to someone else, however, if it does not satisfy our core values, we are not likely to give it priority. So, check if what you are procrastinating about falls into this category:
- What is important to you in this context?
- Why is that important to you?
- What other options are there to change, remove or delegate this value violating task? Be open-minded when considering this question.
You have bitten off more than you can chew in the time you have available. Often procrastination is a stress avoidance mechanism. So if you have too many things to do in a short space of time and you do not know where to start, consider the following:
- Prioritise! Prioritise! Prioritise! Which tasks are super urgent and which ones will keep? Are all of them equally important?
- Who can you delegate to? Who can help you?
- If the task is too big, and seems to loom over you, break it down into small pieces, and start with one piece at a time.
Lack of knowledge or skills
If that is you, and you know you have a knowledge gap or skills gap, consider the following:
- Is it absolutely necessary that you do the task personally? Or can you outsource the task to someone else who has the knowledge and the skills?
- If you need to do the task yourself, then think about creatively how can you acquire the knowledge you need and learn the necessary skills?
- We often don’t know the how of a goal or a task. And in many cases we only find out the how by starting the task. So what you can do today to start this task? And even if the next step is to discover where to acquire the knowledge or where to find someone who knows how to do it!
- Some people use procrastination as a creative space – they do something else so their mind can sort out a solution or way forward in the background. If that’s you and you usually achieve what you set out to do, then don’t worry about procrastination.
This list of suggestions for dealing with procrastination is by no means complete, however it will give you a great starting point. Once you tackled procrastinating about one thing, you will find it so much easier the next time. Be patient with yourself and make sure you acknowledge the positive intention of the procrastinating behaviour.
If you have any specific questions or challenges, feel free to share these via the comments box, and I am more than happy to answer your questions.
- Motivation and Procrastination: Just Keep Swimming (psychologytoday.com)
- Problems With Procrastination? Maybe Not (psychopoeia.com)
- It’s so easy to give up on your dreams, isn’t it? (beingasuccessfulwoman.wordpress.com)
- Motivation! – When is it ever the right time? (beingasuccessfulwoman.wordpress.com)