Chronic procrastinators, I see you! Past-due deadlines used to be the only way I could get something done. And I mean anything, like paying medical bills, doing laundry — even creative client work.
I used to be so embarrassed and ashamed of my procrastination habit that I refused to recognize that it was a problem. I convinced myself that my creative process needed a deadline, needed crushing stress, and self-sabotage to be successful.
It wasn’t until I realized that the stress — caused by my chronic procrastination — was doing my dirty. I was losing out on sleep. I was losing out on better clients. I was losing out on enjoying the life I built for myself.
Something had to change. I spent a ton of time and money learning from ADHD experts, coaches, and therapists about what was at the root of my chronic procrastination. This is what I learned.
How to break your procrastination cycles for the chronic procrastinators.
What is procrastination?
There are lots of stories and beliefs around what procrastination is and what it means for the people who constantly find themselves stuck in these avoidance doom spirals. so first, let’s talk about what procrastination is NOT.
Despite what you might tell yourself, despite what you’ve internalized, procrastination not an indication that you are lazy, that you need to work harder, that you need to revamp your morning routine, that you need to spend money on some course to hack your productivity.
Procrastination isn’t just something to snap out of, if it was, you would have already done it by now.
As far as revamping your morning routine goes, there might be some truth to that. Self-care. It’s always important to make sure that you are tending to your needs. When you’re tired, hungry, sore you are going to be way more likely to fall into procrastination cycles (I’ll get to why in a sec).
So if procrastination is not the manifestation of our true lazy selves — what is it?
Procrastination is choosing to do nothing or choosing to do something else to avoid the discomfort of a particular task.
Our behavior doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It is impacted by our thoughts, our feelings, and by the stories we tell ourselves.
Bring to mind the last time you were procrastinating something. Maybe it was doing the laundry. Maybe it was scheduling a meeting with a colleague. Maybe it was working on your marketing strategy.
What was the story you were telling yourself about that task?
Maybe that it would take forever. Maybe that it was boring. Maybe that colleague is annoying so meeting with them would be a huge energy suck. Maybe the task just felt overwhelming? Maybe you think your work won’t be good enough so you might as well not even try?
That is the discomfort you are avoiding when you fall into procrastination.
There are two layers to this discomfort:
And it doesn’t just stop there, these compound.
The more you avoid something the worse you can feel about it. Instead of just the discomfort caused by tedious, boring tasks, there’s a layer of shame and embarrassment for not getting it done. Instead of just blowing off that colleague, there’s a layer of resentment.
The compounding layers of internal and external discomfort just act as an accelerant speeding up the doom cycle. This is why self-care is important. If you are already tired or hungry or if your body hurts then doing a task that already has discomfort baggage, feels even worse.
And the doom spiral of feeling bad and putting off the task again will keep happening until the dam breaks.
The doom spiral ends when the consequences of not finishing the task outweigh the discomfort required to finish the task.
Then you have to expend a ton of energy to hurriedly get yourself out and get back on track. So how do you stop this out of control train before the dam breaks?
1) Decide that this cycle is untenable:
You have to decide that this is worth changing or you will still fall into avoidance cycles. You can read all you want about changing, spend forever thinking or understanding the consequences, but unless you decide and commit to the change, you won’t make the change.
2) Acknowledge your feelings and fears:
Once you decide to change, you are going to have a lot of feelings that come up. You might feel some shame around letting so many people down. You might be frustrated with yourself for letting this go on. But unless you acknowledge and tend to those feelings, these will just feed into your compounding internal discomfort.
Remember, procrastination is about avoiding discomfort. Not wanting to experience discomfort is a huge motivator. It’s not that you are a bad or lazy person. Putting your actions (or inactions) in this context can lessen the sting a lot.
3) Interrupt the compounding cycles of discomfort:
Reversing the out of control procrastination train takes momentum. To jumpstart that momentum, begin with a task that is either exciting or easy to tick off. It can be something as simple and as unrelated to the task you are actually procrastinating as getting a glass of water. The point is to interrupt the compounding discomfort and start forwarding action.
4) Use that momentum to go after something bigger:
Once the cycle is interrupted, go after something else on your to-do list that will bring you a sense of accomplishment. If your doom spiral is really big, this might be another small, unrelated task. But it’s important you feel proud. This will be the foundation to begin rebuilding trust in yourself.
5) Keep plugging away:
Momentum might take some time to build up. But when you keep plugging away, holding space for your fears, and your feelings, you will be a lot more able to make sustainable change.
Forwarding the action
I wouldn't be a coach if I didn't ask: With the information you just learned, what are you going to do to support the change you need?
Join in the conversation in my Facebook group LIVE YOUR SOUL! And remember you are stronger and wiser than we appear to be.
[TIP] Bookmark this post or put the link in a reference document, and come back to it whenever you notice the procrastination building up.