Good vs. bad procrastination
First, let us separate the good from the bad. You are often in charge of how you spend your time, you do have some say when things need to get done and sometimes doing it at the last minute is acceptable and often works out for the better. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a Dream” speech is a famous example (read more about it here).
However, it is when the action you made instead of doing the thing you were supposed to be doing has negative consequences for your life, that’s when we get into real trouble.
So before you go on and label yourself as a procrastinator ask yourself if the action you took (or didn’t take) had negative consequences. If the answer is no, then give yourself a free pass you could have been juggling competing priorities and enjoy your time management skills that are creating your unique life results. If the answer is yes, then we have some digging to do…
It’s not a time management issue…
If that’s the case then there’s a good chance, we’re not dealing with a time management issue but an emotional issue. Procrastination can be summed up as a very effective tool for short-term mood repair, meaning procrastination is your brain’s way of dealing with challenging and negative moods induced by certain tasks (read more about that in this fascinating article).
Say I have to find my receipts to give to my accountant so she can prepare my tax return – all in all a good and smart thing to do. But the thought of doing that also triggers thoughts like, “oh, I’m not organized”, “this will take hours”, “I’m supposed to have my sh** together” etc. and then all of the sudden I’m feeling low motivation, anxious and feeling like I’m not good enough and my brain goes: “don’t want to deal with that deep rooted topic right now, how can we quickly shift gears and change the mood real quick?”.
You might also now understand why you end up on Instagram so often – it’s a guaranteed instant mood changer. Even if you’re changing your mood from lazy to jealous, sometimes that’s a better feeling for your brain to deal with than self-worth, that simply takes too much energy.
So instead of doing my taxes I end up organizing and color coding the HelloFresh recipes I had laying around, so now I feel good and accomplished, like a responsible adult. You see, it was never really about the tax receipts but all the feelings and stories that was brought to light by a fairly innocent task and mind you this is all happening in the split of a second.
How to take back your life
Decide on who you are. After all it’s “you” who are making the decision to do something good and smart for your life, but then it’s also “you” who decides to do something else instead. So, who’s right? The answer is that at any given time you are a lot of different things, you’re never just one “you”. We’re complex beings, however you can navigate the waters a bit easier by consciously deciding who you are. It takes practice knowing and understanding who you want to be. We’re constantly bombarded with ideas of self, which stereotype to fit into, what we should do, what brand to wear and how to most effectively peel an egg (thank you 2009 Tim Ferriss for that one). Asking yourself the question: “Who do I want to be?” and filtering out everyone’s opinion until we get to your core might help you get over labeling yourself as a procrastinator because there is no such thing as perfect, you have to be you.
Encourage yourself. If you encounter a task that for good reason you should do, but somehow find yourself dodging it, give yourself a conscious second and remind yourself that you are a good person and you can do hard things. Like in my case with the taxes, I really needed to understand that it’s okay, I am okay and my self-worth is intact, I can spend 20 minutes finding receipts in my inbox.
It’s not a negotiation.. Once you have a good frame of reference about who you are in the moment, also remember that it is not a negotiation. If negative emotions pop up around a thing, engage in a conversation with them and try and understand why they might be showing up for you at this time and then go do the thing you said you were going to do. Don’t dwell on it, don’t second guess, just do it. Don’t let your emotions get the better of you in this case.
Don’t buy into your stories. Especially if they aren’t true. Challenge the thoughts you’re having if you find your self pushing things off. Most of the stories we tell ourselves are not true nor helpful. Imagine if you could only tell yourself positive and helpful stories. Try it for a day and see what happens.