Procrastination is such a frustrating phenomenon, isn’t it?
We know that our time would be better spent if we could stop procrastinating and get down to business, but our minds and bodies don’t seem to want to cooperate with what seems “logical” sometimes. And when we don’t get our tasks and work done in a timely way, we can end up creating just what we’re trying to avoid — anxiety, stress, and a whole lot of frustration and difficulty for ourselves (and sometimes others).
So why is it so hard to stop procrastinating…and why is it so difficult to overcome?
As a clinical psychologist who happens to have recovered from a long history of chronic and severe procrastination, I’ve been fascinated by these questions. I’ve come up with some explanations for why the cycle of procrastination — delay, avoidance, stress, embarrassment, working right up to the deadline and then back to delay again — is so vicious.
Here are 3 explanations for why we struggle to stop procrastinating:
1. Our identities are tied up in how we work.
It’s easy to understand that anything that might challenge our sense of our self-worth, might be something we might want to stay away from. Whenever we attach how we think or feel about ourselves or how others might think or feel about us to what we need to do…we instantly create a stickier situation for ourselves. We create a reason to fear doing the work, because really — who would want to feel badly about themselves if they could avoid it?
2.We associate working with difficulty.
Have you ever noticed yourself calling your work “hard” or “difficult”? It is so easy to do and so easy to forget that the words we say to ourselves have tremendous power over how we feel about what we need to do. When we tell ourselves “it’s going to be so hard,” we find ourselves getting ready for a struggle rather than thinking about how interesting our next steps are going to be. It makes it even harder to stop procrastinating.
3.We think about the negative outcomes that might happen.
Rather than enjoying thoughts of victory and celebration when we’re about to start on a project, many people (myself included) often have an unclear picture of their goals. Instead of imagining the positive results that can happen, we do the opposite — and start to focus on how painful the process will be (see explanation #2) and the dangers that might lie ahead, like judgment and criticism from others. When we’re not clear about our goals and we’re unsure about our ability to achieve our goals, it becomes clearer why we sometimes choose to stay still instead of moving forward.
If these explanations sound familiar, that’s terrific. Hopefully, taking a deeper look at the reasons you feel you can’t make progress forward can help you feel better and more empowered to take control over your own outcomes and push procrastination out of your life!
If you’re ready to try some new strategies for disconnecting from the habit of procrastinating, I encourage you to use the “4F System” every time you feel yourself slipping back into the procrastination habit. As you read through each part of the 4F System, note what comes up for you, e.g. what thoughts tend to hold you back and what actions might create more room for progress?
The 4F System for Procrastination Recovery (The secret 4-step formula to use so you can stop procrastinating)
Procrastination can cause us to be late for meetings, over-deadline with assignments or projects, and unavailable for important moments in our relationships. There can be feelings of loss and regret when procrastination is the go-to response when things need to get done. When we can’t stop procrastinating, we lose out not only on those meetings and experiences, we also lose out on the positive feelings that come when we show up for ourselves and do what we say we are going to do.
And then shame comes into the picture causing us to feel badly about everything we didn’t do and all the things that didn’t happen as a result of our inaction.
It is therefore essential that we learn the new habit of forgiving ourselves.
No matter what has happened, forgive yourself now. Forgive yourself to show yourself kindness and to let yourself feel capable and worthy of new energy, experiences, and successes. When we forget to forgive ourselves and continue to be upset with ourselves, procrastination seems to be our only option. Procrastination causes us to stay totally stuck, especially when we are feeling like we do not deserve the freedom to move forward.
When you decide to forgive yourself, you will feel a new energy emerge from within. Your brain and body are always ready to support you, and you will see evidence of this as soon as you begin forgiving yourself for what happened in the past.
Once you decide to forgive yourself and start anew, you will begin the next phase of self-reflection of facing your fear.
Sound daunting? It is and it isn’t. It is daunting because our fears make us believe that there is danger possible or near. It isn’t daunting because, more often than not, our fears are simply our ideas (or fantasies) about what could go wrong.
In order to move forward, we need to identify what we are afraid of and why, and then also decide that we will move forward even if the fear remains. When this becomes habit, we become very powerful at getting what we want to happen to happen.Alternatively, when we decide to pay attention to our fears, procrastination wins and keeps us stuck — again.
One tip to help you process and overcome your fears is to understand on the deepest level that action will calm and take the place of your fears. Taking action is your best tool for living confidently and well.
Now that you’ve taken a look at the factors that have been holding you back, you may feel your energy start to rise. You may also sense that you have a lot of things you want and need to do!
This is good news. You’re getting ready to take real, purposeful action again.
The way to increase the chances of your success in this next phase is to find your focus. Decide what you want to train your attention on. Pick one thing that you’re going to do first. It may be the most important item on your to-do list, but it doesn’t have to be, since you may be getting used to taking action again. It just have to select one item/action/project/task/target to focus on.
Why is it so important to find one thing to focus on? When you find your focus, the chances that you will feel overwhelmed decrease and your mind and body can start to help you move towards your chosen goal without distraction or stress.
At this point in the 4F System, you will likely experience greater focus and productivity, and your sense of yourself and your strengths and talents will also improve. If you’d like more of those good outcomes, let’s talk about “flow.”
Flow is when your thoughts, actions, and feelings seem to be working together to help you move towards your chosen goal. You’ve probably been in a state of flow before, if not many times before.
When you develop an understanding of your strengths and weaknesses as a thinker, creator, feeler, and a doer, it becomes easier to master your own thoughts and habits. You become aware of when you start to resist or avoid your work quickly, and you also quickly address your resistance so you can go back to that great process of flow.
When you are mindful of what you are faced with in the present moment — and you decide you are more than capable of handling anything in the present moment — you can access your talents and energy powerfully.
While operating in a state of flow, you start to be productive not out of fear, but from a place of self-confidence and openness. You enjoy creating, getting inspired, and acting boldly.
You’ve shut down and shut off the procrastination cycle, and in its place, you’ve found new experiences, opportunities, and possibilities! You’ve built a positively reinforcing cycle of getting things done and reduced the need to turn to procrastination as a way to cope.
The 4F System for Procrastination Recovery is a framework that anyone can use, at any time. Remember that when you remain committed and focused on your goals — and you believe firmly in your self-worth and abilities — you’ve already won the game. Keep moving forward and you will soon see the full range of benefits and rewards that are yours to enjoy! To learn more about learning to work and live without relying on procrastination, listen to Dr. Li’s podcast, Make Time for Success and join her free challenge, Clarity Over Clutter.