It’s a New Year- What Are You Waiting For?
You want to take the next step in your career, relationship, business startup.. or basic happiness in life. But your habit of procrastinating will make sure that you don’t and it is one of the things that makes a difference between you and the top small percent of people who do achieve their goals. It’s not a coincidence that people who are happy in life, have strong friendships and strong marriages have a vision for what they want, know what their personal challenges are and are actively practicing techniques targeted to conquer their fears and perceived weaknesses. Yet, for some reason, you still find yourself protecting this bad habit by arguing for all the reasons why you just don’t have time, or you got distracted, or why this task just “isn’t fun any more.” Well I can understand why it wouldn’t be fun anymore. I wouldn’t be fun anymore either if I were dragged through the mud enough times and put high up on the closet shelf with the door closed! Clearly, there’s more going on!
Fear Tags Along
Procrastination has important emotional underpinnings and it might just betray your overall stance in life. Waiting..putting things off. “If I wait long enough then the decision will be made for me and I won’t look like such a bad guy”, “I have to put this off, otherwise I might have to face….” It is a habit you’ve developed in reaction to conscious/unconscious feelings and thoughts or beliefs that clearly are limiting your choices and keeping your life smaller than it otherwise might be. It’s easier to give up and move onto something we feel much more capable of than to take a chance (and possibly fail!) with something that we need more practice with. We will get a better “emotional return on investment” this way. And a micro-burst of energy to our self esteem, which by the way is suffering to begin with, otherwise we would not be procrastinating!
Focus and Procrastination
Focus, shedding light and awareness or attention on something is a learned skill and a practice. We develop it over time with the help of caring others (some have specific challenges where ADD or ADHD are concerned); we need to be able to focus and be mindful in order to not procrastinate. We need to be conscious to focus and again, this takes energy and personal commitment. Often when I approach a job I’ve never done before or feel even a bit out of my league with, I have a tendency to go into confusion and then into a quick feeling of overwhelm about it as a first step. My confidence tends to wane when I’m first confronted with approaching something new (like writing this article!)and have self doubt and fear about it. As a professional, I understand that the overwhelm I slide into is a relatively young ego state, pointing to relational trauma where my dependency needs were not met.
But besides that I’m good! This is one of my challenges.
Procrastination takes us out of alignment with ourselves-we say one thing, but what we do is completely different. Just like in the movie Star Wars, it becomes a battle between “The Force” and “The Dark Side”. Coming back into alignment with ourselves is critical to begin realizing our goals and dreams. As long as there is misalignment between your intentions and how you are behaving, it will be more difficult for you to reach your dreams.
What to Do Instead
The first step in getting a handle on procrastination and finding our way to what we want in life is to be honest with yourself about how you and procrastination have become best buds. Be specific; what projects has it affected, what particular times of day or week does it show up, what areas of life does it affect. How is it making your life small? If you didn’t have a voice telling you that “It’s impossible!” or “I can’t do it.” or “I can do it, …just not right now.” What would your life really look like? How would you feel? Where would you be?
Next, once you have a handle on how it shows up in your life, begin by assessing the area that you would like to focus on first, the area or project that would generate the most amount of “emotional return” on the energy invested. Draw up some goals that you would like to achieve in the next year, two years and 5 years.
For example, in the next twelve months, I would like to have taken some classes to improve the way I speak French. Some of the tasks needed to do that are to actually do the research to find the classes in my area that would be easy for me to attend and that meet my budget requirements. Then, complete registration for them; then to buy the books and materials I will need, start the classes and then to allocate a reasonable amount of time during the week to finish homework assignments. When we feel overwhelmed these very logical steps get blurred and we don’t know what to believe anymore, so it’s easier just to not do anything! It doesn’t feel overwhelming for me in these next two weeks to allocate time to do the research I’ve suggested so I will start with that. To avoid overwhelm I will simply focus on that for the next two weeks. Every two weeks I will monitor my progress and work on a new task as I complete them. See? I’ve already started to make progress.
You will be met with resistance at some point. The voices will sound like “I’m too tired” or “this is too difficult for me”, “I’m bored and this isn’t fun”. As you hear the voices, imagine that you have a young child sitting in the chair next to you, who is actually saying these things to you. What would you tell them? As parents, it’s our job to help children understand that life is not one big video game, and there will be things we need to do that are not the most exciting things-and yet we still need to do them. Console the child (inside you!) by letting them know they are admired by you for their courage and bravery for trying new things and how they are finding out they had strengths far beyond what they really knew. Tell them that you want to support them and as soon as they finsih getting their task done, that the two of you will go out and do something the child really wishes they could be doing, going to a movie, seeing friends etc. Then see what the child inside has to say. Start a dialogue with them. Accept their resistance and help guide them to a better place. The more you accept them, the less they will resist. Eventually they will learn more about what works in the world, and will build their (your!)self esteem as a result. It’s a win-win.
“Heh, I’m only human, doesn’t everybody procrastinate?” Probably, but your question almost sounds as if this is where the process ends for you- a reason why you won’t have to pay more attention and/or stretch yourself. Nice way to minimize the issue. As it turns out, you are paying a large price if you make a decision not to stretch yourself. But of course you already know that. Before you revert back to “Mañana mode”, remember that you are a model for any children in your family. They watch you constantly to see how you respond to things, what your attitude is in life and what possibilities exist. When you decide to procrastinate, you aren’t just affecting yourself but everyone around you. We are not islands. Be an inspiration to them and allow them to see possibilities. When you do, you will be the nurturing teacher they needed most in that moment as well as a happier person yourself.
Please feel free to contact me to help work through some of your procrastination issues privately
Elisa Thomas MA LMFT