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Nov 2, 2020

Reframing procrastination

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Procrastination is something I get asked about a lot. It’s a BIG way that we self sabotage right?


I was doing a training in Janet Murray’s membership group recently and I realised that not that many people talk about it in the way that I do, often it’s pure productivity tips, so I thought it would be helpful to give you a bit of an updated episode on procrastination because I haven’t done one for a while.


It can help you reframe the way you think about procrastination and hopefully be able to approach it more consciously and from a place of compassion for yourself.


So I'm going to talk about what procrastination really is, and what it’s not and why we do it. I’ll give you some more tips next week but for now grab your journal and see what comes up for you.


So What is Procrastination?.


It’s intentionally delaying something for seemingly no good reason.

BUT, unconsciously there is actually plenty of good reason which I will go into.


It’s universal but highly individual.  It’s incredibly common, but the REASONS behind it are down to the individual, their history, their beliefs, their conditioning and all that good stuff.


It’s the oh so frustrating gap between where you are and where you want to be.   Between intention and action.


It’s a habit. As humans we repeat behaviour, our brain likes the familiar.  We have a tendency to internalise and personalise these things and make them a part of our identity.  You’re not a procrastinator.  You just have a habit of it that’s continually being reinforced.  And habits can be broken. Trigger (stress) pattern (to avoid) Reward (stress relief)


It’s self defeating behaviour - We know this to an extent, we know it doesn’t feel GOOD.  We beat ourselves up and the negative self talk can feel quite intense.  It’s like we enjoy punishing ourselves in some way. We blame, we shame, we feel guilt. But when you start to pick it apart and see it for what it is, it can start to make a lot of sense. what’s better,  thinking you lack effort, or ability? Not doing the thing often gives us GREAT reasons why not, WITHOUT it technically being our fault.


It’s a form of self sabotage.  We all have our ways to self sabotage.  Procrastination is just one of them.  I’ll go a little deeper into what’s at the core of this so you can learn to recognise it in yourself and make changes.


It’s a symptom of something deeper. Not the cause.


Fundamentally at its core it’s a stress response.  It’s stress relief!  Your brain thinks...You want me to do something that’s going to ADD to the stress? No way! Then you beat yourself up some more.


What it’s not:

A time management issue You can’t simply solve procrastination with time management hacks.  Once you find the core reason behind the procrastination there are some where time management techniques WILL really help such as reframing your tasks to get you out of overwhelm and using techniques such as pomodoro. BUT, in most cases it’s nothing to do with time management at all.

Laziness or a lack of willpower..  A lot of the ways that we procrastinate involve doing a whole lot of nothing right.  Cat videos, scrolling, netflix, staring out the window, getting another snack. So it’s easy to see how we, or the people around us, could label it lazy.  But understand it’s not.  Yes self discipline is required, self awareness is required.  But it’s nothing to do with your willpower.

An ingrained personality trait.  It’s not who you are at your core.  We need to release a bit of the guilt and shame around procrastination. It’s something you’ve learned, not who you are.

Your fault.  This is fundamental to understand.  It’s NOT your fault, you’re not broken. There’s nothing ‘wrong’ with you. I want you to release the pressure valve and hopefully reframe the behaviour so you can handle it in a much less judgemental way.

So, Why do we ACTUALLY do it?

There are SO many reasons, as I mentioned earlier it’s very individual so we’re going to pick it apart a bit so you can hopefully identify what’s underneath YOUr procrastination.  There may be several.  You may see different reasons in different situations but hopefully it will help it make a little more sense for you. 

Overwhelm.  You can’t make future oriented decisions in the midst of stress.  When you’re overwhelmed, you’re stressed.  You’re in Hyper arousal. Often when we’re procrastinating we’re focusing too hard on the bigger picture, rather than being able to prioritise, out one foot in front of the other and get there step by step.

Too many options.  This is something I see a lot with clients.  Too many options meaning you don’t know where to start.  You Procrastinate on the decision itself. You’ll do a little bit on one idea, a little bit on another but you procrastinate and avoid the tasks that are the ones that will move you forwards. 

Fear and self doubt.  Failure, success, Judgement.  The stories we tell ourselves about what happens when we have the thing we’re avoiding can create fear, even if it’s at an unconscious level.  If you think the task you’re needing to do will move you towards success.  But unconsciously you believe that when you’re successful it will cause tension with your spouse or you might lose your friends, why would you do it?  Or if you think you’re going to be judged negatively, why would you put yourself in that situation?  Why would your ego, your unconscious mind, your nervous system let you put yourself in that position? So we need to work around making it safe.

Lack of Motivation. This is a SUPER common one.  Think about what demotivates you?  A lot of the reasons behind procrastination are inherently demotivating.  So you need to create that for yourself. So on the flip side to what de-motivates you, what motivates you?

Not being clear on the steps.  If you aren’t 100% clear on the steps to hit your goal, you’re missing a load of goals along the way.  So you’re trying to jump from where you are to the end.  So of course you’re going to procrastinate when you don’t actually have all the information that you need.

The future is too far away.  Here we have a few potential things going on. Present bias. Prioritising short term mood/pleasure over long term needs.  Perceive what you want to be too far in the future.  Often we think of our future selves as strangers.  So in essence, it’s someone else’s issue.  The reward itself is too far in the future. Meaning the motivation isn’t strong.

Perfectionism.  This is a BIG one when it comes to procrastination.  If everything has to be perfect.  If the fear is that it won’t be, it makes sense that you’d put it off.  If you’re afraid to make a mistake, why would you take action?

You feel like it’s too difficult/overthinking.  Why would you start if it’s too difficult?  We like to over complicate many things, sometimes it takes that step back to see the route forwards. 

There’s a secondary benefit to the behaviour.  What secondary gains are there for you?  A secondary gain is a positive payback for a negative behaviour or thought.  We’ve already talked about procrastination being a stress response.  You will be getting rewarded in some way.  Putting it off creates relief, around what exactly will be individual to you, but that relief is a positive reinforcement to the habit which is why we can feel so stuck.  

You’re exhausted/tired/burned out. This is a hugely overlooked reason for procrastination.  I procrastinated over creating this presentation because I was exhausted from being in launch mode.  Procrastination is often your body’s way of forcing you to take a break. It doesn’t distinguish between good, bad, right or wrong.  It just wants to keep you safe and alive.  

You just don’t want to! Let’s be honest, this is a thing! We beat ourselves up thinking there’s something ‘wrong’ with us, but the reality is we just don’t wanna!

So hopefully this helps you look at it slightly differently.  I’ll do another episode on some of the ways we can overcome procrastination but for this week if you’re a regular listener I want you to get your journal out and start thinking about what might be underneath your procrastination.


You may notice you have different reasons behind different situations.  But for now, just recognise it.  Observe it.  Be more conscious of it.  Think about How you know you’re procrastinating.  Are there particular tasks that cause it? 


Just notice.