Procrastination is rarely just about getting something done or indeed, not done! Naturally, many of us put off dreaded daily chores like doing the laundry or taking out the bins, but the most serious type of procrastination is that which stops us getting on with our lives and achieving our goals.
Take for example, someone who wants to change their job but constantly puts it to the back of their To-Do list. They may feel the position or place they’re in currently is a dead end, yet feel unmotivated or lack confidence to update their cv or contact potential new employers. To many, this is merely seen as procrastination, but often it’s more complicated than that. More of the time what lies beneath their procrastination is the fear they have of achieving their goals. It may sound counterintuitive but many of us are subconsciously worried about fulfilling our potential. You may have received messages growing up that people who are successful are full of themselves, arrogant and selfish. This can lead to underperforming at work or settling for a job that you don’t love.
The first step in overcoming procrastination is to find out what the pay off or benefit is in staying where you're not progressing and what it is you wish to do. Then, you think of weighing that against the payback you might receive in pursuing your true goals and leading with confidence.
How to address procrastination
In practical terms it might involve looking at how you might feel if you were stuck in the same situation in 6 months, one year and five years’ time. Often just imagining that can trigger you to realise that the ‘price’ of remaining stuck is too much. This in turn can spur you on to taking some steps to change things. A helpful exercise in beating procrastination is involving chair work – where you move between two chairs, sitting in one chair and voice your resistance to change and then shifting to the other chair to speak as the part of you that wants there to be a shift. Getting both parts to dialogue can be really helpful as each part gives the other a hearing and can respond from alternatively the scared/hesitant side or the brave, forward moving side. In this way, all of our mixed up and contradictory voices can get a hearing and be reasoned with.
Sometimes we suppress the real reasons for the procrastination as to acknowledge them might threaten the opinion we hold of ourselves. Using the example of the potential jobseeker, it could be that part of them is nervous about starting fresh again in a new company. Their ego finds it hard to accept that that is a real fear of theirs so will suppress it. Instead, they will find a more acceptable thought such as, “now isn’t a good time to move. It’s very busy. It’ll be better next month or next year when I have more time to devote to my search”.
By allowing your ‘resistant’ voice to come out, some of your more buried fears are allowed to emerge and you can start engaging with them, which may lead to less procrastination and more active engagement with the real reasons you’re putting important stuff off. For instance, if you feel safe to finally admit that starting off somewhere new is a real fear, then the more ‘confident’ part of you might suggest something like, “if you do get close to securing a job at the desired company, how about you ask to speak to someone at your level who works there to get an account of their experience and to maybe allay your fear about the new workplace being unfriendly?”. When working in this way, you can become incredibly creative about finding new ways of managing your fears.
The key step in solving procrastination is honesty with oneself. Find out the real reasons behind the procrastination and start engaging with the obstacles blocking you rather than denying their existence. That way we begin to understand ourselves a bit better instead of kidding ourselves that it’s simply because we never get down to things or that we’re lazy. The truth is that most of us can and will make changes to improve our lives if we take time to understand the real obstacles that prevent us from moving forward.
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