If you’re like me each year I like to challenge myself to accomplish new things. I create aspirations and outcomes that I would love to look back on and see that I followed through. And so often I…just….don’t!
I’ve been presenting and talking about procrastination for years – and it still seems to show up regularly for me. It’s not an easy issue to overcome – but we need to keep at it. I believe procrastination is not a light issue. While it’s easy to joke about the reality is that procrastination can be very debilitating, adding to our own shame and guilt. It also can really prevent us from having a full life.
So what’s procrastination really about? What can we learn from it? How do we make improvement on it?
Procrastination is frequently the result of unresolved perfectionism. And perfectionism is usually tied to our shame and insecurity.
Far from being a badge of honor perfectionism more accurately points to our own insecurities. Often we are overly sensitive to criticism or negative feedback to the extent that it prevents us from taking action. We have “paralysis by analysis”
Procrastination is a disempowering mechanism against feelings of perfectionism, shame and fear
Where do these feelings of shame and fear come from? Many places…and sometimes even from our own trauma experiences as a child or adult. Maybe we felt rejected for not “being enough” and we seem to have internalized that younger belief into many present day situations.
These own experiences set us up to fear “failure” because at some deeper level it translates to rejection or abandonment or deeper feelings of being not enough. This in turn creates a double bind inside of use
On one side we will have a desire to move toward and accomplish…
…and on the other our body knows that we could experience a deeper pain if we “don’t do it right”
The way out of this loop is to find the middle ground. Know that your best is good enough. Keep reminding yourself of that and take action.
We procrastinate when the fear of failure still outweighs the desire to take action.
Our limbic brain is the seat of our emotions and usually will have the final say in a lot of things. We may know that there is a deadline looming or time is running out - but our limbic brain also remembers any previous pain of failing. It’s like there is a fulcrum that is constantly filtering and weighing both sides. This creates what we call “resistance.” And resistance can be very strong.
In order to overcome this resistance we need to work with our mind and body instead of using pure force. It benefits us to work with our emotions and limbic brain to help ourselves begin to move forward.
Here are 4 starting points that usually work if we can actually implement them.
1) Get accountable in community – increase self-scheduled “pain” if we don’t follow through. We need to increase the “pain” associated with not following through. Tell others about. Get accountable around it – the “pain” of having failing others can be a motivator against the perfectionism
2) Start with smaller, fixed amounts of time. Let’s use writing as an example. Just start with 15 minutes at a time. That’s it! Doing so reduces the “pain” of the process and we’ll feel more easily lead into to it. What we usually do is say we need 3 hours and it has to go SO well. That ain’t happening! You can also see how much pain is attached to that kind of expectation. Keep it small and get used to it – soon you will be able to do more.
3) Activate the Autopilot – choose process over product. Many procrastinators actually think too highly of themselves! That book or product has to be the “best thing ever” and that keeps them stuck. Don’t focus on the product! Just get moving on the “process” and then rinse and repeat.
4) Create a schedule in advance. Yes, I know this sounds basic…but we still don’t do it! Ultimately we need to give time to the things we value. Time will not appear for your project or goal unless you block it out in advance. When that time comes we treat it like an actual appointment - we don’t change it!