Breaking the Procrastination Cycle
Procrastination has been a challenging quality of mine for as long as I can remember.
I used to stay up way too late in high school nitpicking through project details, I had more than my fair share of nights studying until 4am in college, and I’ve been way too stressed out trying to meet deadlines while not missing any details in my professional life.
It’s no wonder I developed anxiety. 😂
On a serious note, I think there can be a lot of misconceptions about procrastinators, many of which I’ve unkindly repeated to myself:
You don’t have a strong work ethic.
You don’t care.
Not only were these extremely unkind things to say to myself, but they couldn’t be further from the truth. Saying these things to myself or, PSA: saying these things to someone you care about who is also procrastinating, does nothing to help turn off that procrastination gene.
The truth? I DO care. So why do I procrastinate?
Usually, I care so much about things being perfect that I am subsequently terrified to fail or produce anything less than perfect. My fear of failure stops me from even starting because in the back of my mind, I’m already telling myself that the finished project won’t be perfect and that it won’t be good enough.
Let’s be honest- usually when we’re procrastinating, we’re not stopping to have an honest conversation with ourselves and the devil on our left shoulder. It’s much easier to evade that route and mindlessly scroll through Instagram, binge on Netflix, or take on another easier task that we can quickly complete and be satisfied with the result.
Even if I’m not conscious of it, I know my subconscious is much happier with a small completed task than it is repeating negative affirmations while also being acutely afraid of failing.
So the million dollar question…. How do I stop procrastinating?
I’m pretty sure I’ve even googled this at some point. It’s something I’ve been consciously working on and I can tell you a few things that I wish I would’ve figured out a long time ago:
Start by being kinder to yourself
Can you imagine how awful your friend [and you] would feel if you constantly told them, “You’re lazy. What you do isn’t going to be good enough. Someone else would probably do this quicker and better.”?! They would feel terrible and I’m guessing you would too – so can you imagine the kind of turmoil going on in your subconscious when you’re both saying and hearing these things?
You’ve got to start being kind to yourself and that starts with honesty.
Be honest with yourself.
The next time you find yourself holding off on a project or task… really think about why you’re procrastinating. If your first response is… “I just don’t want to do it.” then ask yourself again. My guess is that if you keep asking yourself… your conversation would go a little something like this:
Why don’t you want to do it?
“Because I’d rather do XYZ.”
Why would you rather do XYZ?
“Because it’s easier”
Why is it easier?
”Because I know how to do it / I know it will turn out okay / etc. etc.”
Taking this tip from my therapist, ask yourself “why” at least 5 times and chances are, you’ll get to the real reason for your procrastination. Feeling unsure of what you’re actually supposed to do for your work powerpoint? Ask your boss for clearer guidelines. Feeling like you don’t know enough about what you’re writing about? Start by doing some more research. Afraid you’re going to fail? Just start.
That last point is absolutely easier said than done, which brings me to my third point:
It doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be good enough.
Before the devil on your left shoulder goes off on a tangent about why this doesn’t apply to you, bear with me for a minute. Sometimes the fear of failure is so intense that we don’t start because we’re afraid of what the finished project might look like - but chances are, once you start, it’s going to get easier to keep going. Start writing. Start editing your photos. Start outlining your project. You can always go back and edit an essay but you can’t edit a blank page.
I’m going to look past my own fear of perfection here for the sake of being honest – this is something I tell myself every single time I start writing. I love writing, and it’s become an incredible outlet for me, but that fear of not being “good enough” still sneaks in every time I open Word. Reminding myself that - it doesn’t need to be perfect, it just needs to be good enough – gives me permission to just start writing. (And yes, this is just as applicable in a professional setting because I tell myself the same thing every time I find myself afraid to start on a work project.)
Sometimes just giving yourself permission to be imperfect is all the slack you need to get started, and having an imperfect project is always better than one that’s not done at all.
What helps you when you find yourself procrastinating? I would love to hear it!