The Real Story Behind Procrastination

Photo of Scrabble game pieces on a white surface, ordered so they spell out 'You said tomorrow yesterday'.

Today’s article was written by Change Coach Lindsey Elliott

 

The Cambridge dictionary definition of procrastination is: ‘the act of delaying something that must be done, often because it is unpleasant or boring’.

 

I would also add to that, ‘something we believe is hard or we won’t be able to achieve or complete’.

 

Almost all of us will have experienced doing something trivial or mindless instead of getting on with the task we really need to be doing. We might find ourselves putting off writing a report, doing our homework or completing household tasks and instead scrolling on our phones or watching Netflix. When this occurs infrequently it isn’t usually a problem. But when we are a serial-procrastinator it can start to have an impact on our lives. We certainly end up being up in our heads a lot of the time, trying to figure out why we aren’t getting on with the tasks we know we need to do. If this happens over a long period of time, it can start to affect our self-esteem and how we feel about ourselves. It may also affect relationships when resentment sets in, and can increase feelings of stress.

 

So you might be asking the question, how do I stop procrastinating?

 

Most of the advice I see and hear looks at modifying behaviour to override the procrastination. It might include actions such as:

 

· Make a to do list along with a schedule to get the tasks done

· Remove distractions such as your phone or laptop

· Set a timer for ten minutes and start the task at hand

· Break tasks down into manageable steps, or chunks of time

· Give yourself a reward when you finish a task

 

If these behaviour modifications don’t produce the desired result, we are often told the solution is simply that we need to apply more willpower, find more discipline or pull ourselves together, in order to get on with the things we need to do.

 

But what if this isn’t true?

 

What if the reason we procrastinate isn’t because we are a defective human being who needs to do better?! Or that we aren’t organised or motivated enough? I’m going to explore here a few different, and what I believe to be, more helpful and underlying reasons why we procrastinate. What has been transformative in my own life is understanding procrastination has helped me far better than employing behavioural remedies, although they can have their right time and place.

 

UNDERSTANDING PROCRASTINATION

 

1. When we procrastinate, we are feeling fearful:

 

So often when we find ourselves putting off doing something, or creating the change we desire, we are afraid that if we fail, it will mean something about us. We may have some version of the story, “If I don’t start, I can’t fail”. But we also can’t succeed. We’ll never know! We may also be believing that we don’t have what it takes to actually achieve something, and so we put off doing it.

 

Or we may fear the outcome of a difficult conversation, or the disapproval of another, and so we procrastinate having that conversation.

 

There is usually some fearful belief that underlies the lack of action. See through the belief, and we simply stop procrastinating and get on with the action we want to make. You’ll also notice that these types of fear-based beliefs are about the future and have nothing to do with what is here and now. This is how we know we are dealing with our mind, and not reality! It’s talking about the future – something that hasn’t happened yet. Our minds love to pretend they have crystal-ball capacity and can predict the future; that they know how someone will react, or what the outcome will be. But if you look into your experience, the mind is so often wrong in it’s predictions.

 

2. What we think needs to be done, doesn’t need to be done.

 

Another perspective on procrastination, is that the intelligent energy of life is trying to signal to us that what you believe needs to change, or the action that you want to take, doesn’t need to. Or doesn’t need to yet.

 

We are so used to looking to our minds, into our intellect for solutions and actions, we can forget there is a deeper intelligence behind life that is really running the show! This is the energy that is spinning the planet and making trees grow and is also running through us. So whilst our personal, somewhat limited thinking may have decided that this task needs to happen NOW, maybe the energy of life is creating procrastination because it doesn’t actually need to be done now. It may also be that a change that is better for us, is simply waiting in the wings and hasn’t occurred to us yet! Or possibly that we aren’t ‘ready’ yet for the change to occur.

 

Nature has its own perfect timing (the seasons, day/night cycle etc.) built into it. What if the same is true for humans too? We aren’t separate from nature; we are one expression of it. We all have an agenda within our minds for when actions need to be taken, or goals need to be met. But what if we can start to tap into the knowing that there is a deeper wisdom within us, that knows exactly the right time for things to be done, and for change to occur?

 

There are really very few tasks that have a hard deadline on them. And for the vast majority that don’t, we often have an arbitrary mental deadline that we want to meet. And if we don’t meet it, we end up believing we are procrastinating, or not up to the job.

 

From this perspective, procrastination doesn’t even exist! It’s simply a case of the action or task not having occurred yet or the timing hasn’t arrived yet.

 

For those of you who are very action, task orientated, this may be a somewhat frustrating perspective to propose. But really, it takes a lot off of our mental to-do list if we can trust in the flow of the deeper intelligence behind life.

 

3. We believe we need to feel like doing something in order to do it.

 

This one is a very seductive belief. You may have some version of this about the thing you are procrastinating about doing:

 

“I need to feel motivated or energised to go to the gym”
“I need to feel confident before I apply for that job”
“I need to find the right time to have that difficult conversation”

 

However, if you look into your own daily experience, you will see there are many things that you do without feeling like doing them, and sometimes without even wanting to do them. I know for myself, most of the time I don’t feel like cooking dinner but I simply get on and do it, even if my mind is having a moan about it. I clean out our guinea pigs even though my mind tells me how boring it is. I get out of bed when the alarm goes off, even though I often don’t feel like it!

 

You will also have many ‘mundane’ daily tasks that you do, or things you simply ‘get on with at work’ even though you don’t feel like doing them. And that’s because the energy of life is moving us to do those things; it’s not the chatty narration of the mind that spurs action (even though it will definitely take credit for it!).

 

If you explore this in your own experience with the little things in life, trust me, you’ll start to see that you don’t need to feel like doing those bigger tasks, or taking those bigger steps towards change too.

 

4. THE MOST IMPORTANT BIT – Procrastination is all about feelings

 

For me, the most important and liberating, underlying reason why we procrastinate, is this:

 

We are only ever procrastinating a feeling.

 

Just let that sink in a moment. Can you feel any truth in it?

 

Let me illustrate with a few examples:

 

– We don’t want to do the laundry, because we believe it’s ‘boring’ and don’t want to feel the feeling of boredom or dissatisfaction, so we put it off.

– We avoid a conversation about promotion with our manager, as we are afraid of feeling rejected or not chosen.

– We don’t post on social media something that is important to us or our business, because we fear people’s reactions, and don’t want to feel rejected, misunderstood or worse…not even noticed.

– We procrastinate writing a blog because we aren’t sure we’ll find the right words, and don’t want to feel the confusion of what to say (and yes, I did procrastinate writing a blog about procrastination…the irony is not lost on me!)

 

These are just a few examples, but I would encourage you to look into your own experience when you procrastinate, and see what is really there, wanting to be felt. It is only in seeing in-the-moment, ‘oh yes there’s that feeling I don’t want to feel, that is in the way of me taking this action or completing this task’, that we are able to actually feel it and let it pass. That’s the brilliant thing about all feelings – they are designed, by their nature, to change, ebb, flow and move on…so we are never stuck in any feeling, even those we really don’t like to feel.

 

Even the feeling of procrastination moves on at some point! So you are safe to let yourself feel it, along with all the ‘story’ and ‘meaning’ about you, that you lovely mind will give it, and simply get on with what you know to do.

 

You can learn more about Lindsey here: https://www.lindseyelliott.co.uk/

 

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