Why we procrastinate (and how to forgive ourselves for it)

May 5, 2024

This week we're doing a deep dive on one of our favorite topics: procrastination!

We'll talk about why we procrastinate, the relationship between procrastination & fear, and of course our stress-tested strategies for busting through it.

First, clear the slate.

Most of us know what it’s like to procrastinate — something feels too hard or unpleasant, so we postpone till some vague, later time. 

In times like this, you may feel like you’re lazy, but here's what's actually happening: research suggests that we procrastinate because we have challenging feelings and stories about how something will go that we of course want to avoid. In other words, it’s very understandable and human!

We’ll be sharing tips and tools to help us move forward this week, and the first is to clear the slate by forgiving yourself for past procrastination. Because when we feel bad about it, it can cause us to procrastinate more (causing more feelings that we want to get away from), and becomes a vicious cycle.  

So go ahead, give yourself compassion for being human and putting off that project yesterday. 

Instead, try to anchor in the value this work has for you — to get paid, to help a client or colleague, to have space on your schedule again, to release your mind from the heavy weight of an unfinished project. Feel free to play around with that instead.

🔦  Anchor in a personal value: Why is this task important to you? Who benefits from your moving forward on this task? This could be a colleague, clients — even you! 😜

Shine a Light and Embrace the Fear!

Here's something important to understand: Fear normally lurks in the background, in the dark, and as soon as we shine light on it, it seems to dissolve and lose its power. 

If you find yourself stuck, or procrastinating on a goal, take a moment to observe what is going on inside your body, and shine a light on the underlying emotion

Procrastination is often caused by an underlying fear — fear of the unknown, fear of failure, fear of boredom, even fear of success

Fear isn’t necessarily a bad thing. When we do new things, it’s uncomfortable; we’re stepping out of our comfort zone into the unknown. But stepping into the unknown is exactly what helps us grow. Often, when we can see the fear, the fear weakens, and helps us find the courage to take a next step

So if you find yourself procrastinating today, I invite you to ask yourself: what exactly am I afraid of? Just noticing is an extremely powerful first step.

What Story Are You Telling Yourself?

Often, when we procrastinate, the underlying fear of failure drives us to avoid the task. So it's important to ask ourselves: “What is the story we’re telling ourselves that is holding us back from our goal?”

Every time tax season rolls around, I hear a voice telling me, “you’re bad at following all those instructions, you hate it AND it’s painful.” This isn’t totally untrue, but it’s also not really true. It’s extreme, and not grounded in reality. 

Once I’m in my online tax portal, I follow the instructions, and sometimes feel some positive emotions as I plough through, like pride, and satisfaction. This turns out to be true for many of us — many humans, especially those who procrastinate more, overestimate how hard or painful a task will be.

So, let's get curious about these thoughts and beliefs:

🔦  Think about your personal story around a task that you’re avoiding. Maybe it’s, I suck at math, or I suck at organizing. 
🔦 Where did this story come from? Is it true for me now?
🔦 Is this story contributing to or undermining my happiness?
🔦 Is there a truer and better story I can write now?

For example, filing my taxes isn’t awesome, or my greatest strength, but I can do it, and I feel good when I finish, and there are actually pleasurable wins along the way. 

What stories are holding you back from diving into the work, and taking steps toward reaching your goals?

Busy Doing Everything But That

We all procrastinate sometimes! And sometimes, we do other important, good things when we are procrastinating. But there are times when we really need to get something done. 

If you find yourself busy without really getting anything done, or if you think you might be procrastinating, here are four things you can ask yourself to help you get back on track:

🔦 Pause.
🔦 Ask yourself, how do I want to feel in an hour? 
🔦 Ask yourself, what is one thing I can do to get closer to that feeling?
🔦 Do that thing.

If I want to feel strong and energized, getting some exercise is more likely to get me there than scrolling instagram for an hour. Putting my shoes on might be a great (literal) first step! ☺

Embrace Imperfection

Before we wrap up, let’s take a moment to talk to the recovering perfectionists out there — I am one, and I know that this is a great breeding ground for all kinds of procrastination.

It sounds perfectly reasonable to want to wait for the right time to do the right things and do them really well. But the truth is, we sometimes let perfect be the enemy of everything.

This leads us to our final tip for taming procrastination, and that is “make the first pancake.” Especially for those of us who don’t have a lot of energy in the morning, doing something imperfectly is the perfect first thing. So go ahead and throw down that first task fully expecting it to be imperfect, just like that first pancake! It rarely turns out perfectly, but it gets you into the flow.

Remember — you can’t get to the more awesome second pancake without making the first, so make that weird first pancake! 🥞  (Writing a truly crappy draft of something is a great example of this). 

Final Thoughts

I hope the Procrastination theme resonated with you in some way! Definitely let us know! 

We learned about the power of forgiveness for moving on from procrastination, shining a light on our fears, and countering negative self-talk and predictions.

Remember, we are all perfectly imperfect, and that is what makes us human. So I invite you to embrace your imperfect humanness today.

See you around some of the sessions!

— Anna