All humans procrastinate.
Just knowing this will help. Procrastination is not an identity flaw that needs to be “fixed” but part of being a human in the modern age. Our brains are drawn to do what is easy and want to avoid anything emotionally uncomfortable. This is how we are designed, and the creators of the phones and apps take advantage of that. So it takes some intentional effort to create a life in the real world that involves you using your brain and not the distracted brain using you.
If you want to be more focused and less distracted, it is helpful to understand why we tend to put things off.
Most of us procrastinate because we want to avoid the uncomfortable emotion our subconscious anticipates.
In other words, we often procrastinate when we think we will be bored, be confronted, feel dread, or have to put out more effort than we have in our mental bank. For instance, if you tend to procrastinate on doing your taxes, you may feel uncomfortable dealing with or facing money. If you put off going to the doctor, it may be you want to avoid the discomfort of stepping on the scale or hearing unwanted lab results. Likewise, if you procrastinate on big projects, you are likely overthinking how much time it will take or that you won’t have the concentration to perform.
The irony is that anticipating a negative emotion and procrastinating feels much worse than when we do the task. In other words, our emotional experience of anticipation is much worse than reality. But, typically, once you sit down and start the project, it is FINE! Once we start and get going, we often feel relief, not dread, boredom, or struggle. Beyond that, if a task is important to you, then you can handle it being tedious, boring, or scary. The emotion won’t hurt you. Forgive your brain for not wanting to do the tedious, upsetting thing, and then do it anyway. Allowing for emotion and doing the unwanted task anyway trains your brain and gets easier and easier every time.
The second driver of procrastination is our relationship with time.
Paradoxically, having a lot of scarcity around time creates a sense of urgency, and we end up not taking advantage of our time. Our brains are funny. Once we think there is not enough time for everything. When we think there isn’t enough time, we create more things to do! Then, faced with an even longer to-do list, we want to tackle the easier things first, again putting off the main thing we are avoiding. (sound familiar?) On the other hand, if we feel an abundant relationship with time and feel settled, we can create the time to do the important things. When you think, “I created the time to do this important project,” It becomes much easier. Feeling abundant and grateful for our time creates this space to tackle what is essential. When you are the boss of your time, then you get to set the schedule. Bit off in small chunks- great. Set aside a full day to accomplish your project, and get it done-terrific. You get to decide. No one owns your time but you.
The third and most common reason for procrastination is the growing suffering from perfectionism.
A Psychology Today article describes perfectionism as living your life like an “endless report card.” So many of us are infected by this idea that if we don’t do things “perfectly, ” it is a failure. But news flash, no one is grading us in the big world except our harsh inner critics. Perfectionists procrastinate because if you avoid doing a hard thing, then you prevent the self-punishment that will come up. So painful. That inner critic is holding you back. The only way to grow is to give things a try and do it badly. You will grow by trying. And please, please, stop trying to be excellent at everything. That sounds exhausting and not fun. There is so much more freedom in not caring so much about how you look to others and caring more about how you feel inside.
If you are a procrastinator, here are a few tips to help you feel better and get to work.
- Normalize it. All humans procrastinate. So if you are adding a layer of shame to your delaying things, permit yourself to drop the shame. You are a valuable human being, whether you are on top of your to-do list or if you are not even sure where you put that piece of paper and what is on it.
- Forgive the subconscious brain. Realize that you feel much worse avoiding the task than actually doing it. Forgive your brain that it doesn’t want to be bored, face bills, or focus on something challenging. You can talk to yourself and remind your brain that sitting down and doing the work will not be as bad as it thinks, and better yet, you will get some relief, a little dopamine hit, once you get started on your dreaded project.
- Be willing to be a beginner. Let it be messy and put out B-minus work. You will train your brain that it is safe to be less than the illusive “perfect.”