Don’t put off tomorrow what you can do the day after, isn’t that how it goes? No, I know that’s not the correct line either, but that’s often what happens. In fact, it shouldn’t be a surprise that I put off writing this post for a few days, even when I knew it was something I wanted to talk about. That’s because the energies around procrastination are powerful and persuasive. When it sets in, it’s hard to push things along, to just do it. Avoidance, thought looping, inner criticism, and denial tend to rear their heads and paralyse action.
Procrastination is a complicated psychological issue that’s been linked to anxiety, depression, self-esteem and confidence issues, to name just a few. However, I’d venture to say it’s something all people struggle with from time to time. Though typically it’s viewed as a behaviour, I prefer to see it as a state of mind that we enter into. Specifically, I liken it to being held in a suspended state of anxiety, stuck in a mental spider’s web. The more you struggle, the higher the anxiety cranks up. Resistance to completing the task builds. And the more you think about how you should be doing something, and doing it today, the more stuck and tangled up in it you become. It’s a debilitating, high-pressure situation. So how do you break free?
One way to work with procrastination is to, yes, begin to work with it. It’s important to understand that it’s just a symptom, not the problem itself. You aren’t battling against procrastination, you aren’t trying to destroy it, you’re trying to understand it. By pitting yourself against it like an enemy, you’re only battling yourself –admittedly, I know this from first hand experience. And that can get you even more stuck in the web.
You have to get to what’s just behind the procrastination, what’s driving it. You have to get real. As in, what are the real reasons for the delay? Here are just a few examples of what it might be:
- Perfectionism – instead of an effort being ‘good enough’ (and still be a high standard), it has to be flawless, perfect, unable to be criticised.
- Anger – perhaps you’re upset with someone or something, and don’t want to complete the task because of it. It’s easy to be passive aggressive through procrastination.
- Overwhelm – putting off the work until the overwhelm/fear/anxiety subsides and a better feeling is in place.
- Self-sabotage –This could also be called having an inner critic that inhibits success.
And there are others. From what I know about procrastination though, fear is underlying almost everything about it. Fear of success, fear of failure, fear of being imperfect, fear of overwhelm, fear of being wrong…all kinds of fear. Next time it comes up, it may be worth asking yourself, “what am I afraid of?” Another good question is, “what am I avoiding?”
Counselling and psychotherapy can helpful because it’s a forum to examine belief systems, thoughts, and fears that may be contributing to a mañana state of mind. Exploring these things is an important first step in cutting ties with the procrastination web.