That’s what I say to myself when I know I’m in avoidance mode. The train has pulled into the station.
For as long as I can remember I have been a procrastinator. I even waited until the final hour to write this.
In my gut I knew that although PBS’s documentary on the engineering required to move a 45 thousand ton cruise ship from the pristine waters of Italy was riveting, watching it wasn’t getting any words on the page.
Even in the background of my mind I could hear myself saying, “Turn it off. Get up and write.”. And to make matters worse I purposefully ignored the alarm specifically set to remind myself to take out the trash the night before it’s scheduled pick up time.
Procrastination begets procrastination. It compounds, like interest.
If you’ve ever struggled with procrastination and avoidance, first, let me say how glad I am that you’re finally here! Second, let me say you’re not alone. Not by a long shot. As a life long master procrastinator I truly believed that I was flawed so profoundly, that nothing could help me climb this hill. I believed that my inability to get shit done was an inbred defect that I alone would have to battle until, somehow through sheer force, luck and persistence it would just go away.
This belief continued on with me for a very long time. Through my late teens, into all of my twenties and now, is here still, saying hello at 30.
I hate it!
In fact, I pleaded with my counselor to help me remove this issue from my life as if I was pleading with a plastic surgeon to have my nose readjusted. Can’t you just fix it? My #1 most loathed character defect is this: the unswerving inability to follow through when nothing is standing in my way and I could very easily act with favorable results.
My dear friend Rob picked up on this. He texted me a screen shot from a book he was reading. It said:
“Procrastination is related to shame.”
Then he texted, “You might want to take a look at that”. I really didn’t.
What is it about that word shame that really makes your eyes glaze, and your ears point down like a dog? Naturally as any good procrastinator would do, I tucked that one under the rug and started shopping for shoes online. Who wants to explore the connection of shame and procrastination in their life? I, for one, would rather go to the gynecologist.
For obvious reasons, you can’t procrastinate forever. There are built in critical mass mechanisms that prevent it from reaching infinitude. The primary one being death. The second? Having your electricity cut off. And the third? A slight emotional and psychological melt down.
I seriously thought that crying hysterically and feeling like I was dying was a normal part of being a woman. How sexist.
The problem with procrastination is that it keeps you from having so many things in life that you truly desire and even deserve. But because of the nature of procrastination it is incredibly hard to deconstruct. Here’s what you don’t know about procrastination and those whom it ravages:
1. We are people pleasers.
Going back to that “s” word for a moment, shame has a lot to do with being deeply unloved or rejected. Shame can come from any event in life that sent the message, “You are wrong”. To avoid accumulating more rejection so as not to be unlovable, procrastinators become deft at pleasing those around them even at the expense of their own self-respect. Which leads me to my next point.
2. We have a hard time saying “No”.
With pleasing others comes the inability to think before committing. We almost have an allergy to saying “No”. It’s a word for babies and dogs.
3. We are over committed and burnt out.
Thinking becomes black and white. It splinters off into two extremes: All or Nothing. Committing to more projects than any average person would seems perfectly normal. All the ‘yes”s feel like you’re doing a great deal of good which makes you good.
4. We isolate.
Once we reach that carrying capacity, we break. Shutting down seems like the safest option. By shutting down we remove the temptation to get caught in the middle of ‘yes’.
5. We make less money.
Procrastinators have an incredibly hard time knowing their worth. Believing a certain wage is fair or asking for a raise is out of the picture. Plus, there are obvious consequences to procrastinating at work.
6. We have unhealthy habits.
It’s tempting for most people to bow out of the a.m. run or cooking at home instead of eating out. But for those who do not struggle with procrastination, self-motivation usually gets the gears turning. When it comes to healthy habits, procrastinators can literally wait years to follow through with their health goals. Eating one bowl of ice cream becomes a major defeat and so why not just eat two because “I’ve already messed up this far”.
7. And this is the worst of them all. We are creative geniuses that never act on our ideas.
Many procrastinators are amazing visionaries with ideas that could solve varied and important problems. The trouble is, years can go by before the procrastinator acts on the impulse. In many cases the idea that was cutting edge in 2005 is now common place and making someone else millions. Suck town!
All this sounds awful right?
If you’re not a true procrastinator you might be thinking, “Just do it already. Snap out of it! What gives?” You see, for moderate to severe procrastinators, like myself, it’s not that simple. Overcoming a habit that has been forming for many years or that’s a family inheritance, is beyond daunting.
That’s why I’m not going to be a procrastinator and leave you hanging with all these bad vibes and no solution. Let’s break it down together.
1. Being aware is powerful
We’ve all heard that admitting you have a problem is the first step. And this is good. You should admit you have a procrastinating problem if you do. But more important than that is recognizing that you don’t have any power over the force of procrastination. You can get to a point where you’re no longer consumed by procrastination but you’ll never not procrastinate ever again. You’ll only get better at following through and bouncing back when you do.
2. Not just daily but hourly
Break down your day into 24 hours, subtract 8 hours for sleep, and 1 hour for getting, an hour for travel, and an hour for lunch and you’ve actually only got 13 hours to focus on. Fewer hours means less time to procrastinate. Since
Procrastinators take on too much, so paring projects and obligations down to one per day is key to breaking the habit. One major project per day is more than enough. Basically, don’t set yourself up for failure. Come up with one thing daily and get just one project done like doing the dishes, paying one bill, etc. Procrastinators tend to have to-do lists for one day that truly should be broken up into one week. When you can’t get it all done in one day it feels like a failure.
3. A fellowship of supporters
Fellowship brings a natural accountability not a rigid accountability and this always builds confidence to face your fears. When you’re with supportive people 2 things happen. One you’re celebrated when you follow through. Two, you’re motivated to be like your supporters. A bond is more motivating than anything else; not rules, not promises or obligations. Its the connection between people that inspires the most meaningful motivation.
4. Be your own coach
I can’t rely on others to get me out of procrastination. I have to change my inner dialogue and be my own mentor first. At this point in my life, procrastination is no one else’s doing but my own. It starts with me. And it starts with you. Be your own mentor. Put the procrastination in perspective by reminding yourself of the truth not the extremes.
5. Recognize the trigger
We have to accept that procrastination is not life or death. If you procrastinate today it doesn’t mean you have to die tomorrow. You can accept the failure but that’s not the whole truth. You have to recognize the trigger. What triggered you to procrastinate? How did the events unfold that lead you to isolate and avoid?
6. Accept hand-holding
If you’re trying to overcome a lifelong procrastinating habit, you have to accept a little bit of hand holding in the beginning. Baby steps are OK. Since procrastinators are susceptible to black and white thinking, they can often see baby steps as “not counting”. With hand-holding, you have to be ok with the fact that you may have been doing things wrong for a long time. But trusting the guidance of the people around you who have overcome procrastination is important. Being humble, not humiliated. It won’t feel natural at first to follow through consistently. So have faith in the people around you who are cheering you on.
7. Have a healthy fear
The worst thing about procrastinators is that they have untold potential; unrealized potential that if they could only stop procrastinating could be unleashed. The truth is someone else can act upon the ideas you’ve had for many years. And honestly, you may expire before you yourself act upon these dreams. This is a healthy fear. (I’m not trying to scare you. Just tell you the truth). So remember that you have a vision and a responsibility to do what’s within your power to deliver that vision to the world.
My hope for you is that no matter where you are with this, that you truly do find your way out of it. If you’re a serious procrastinator, I know first hand how painfully heart-breaking and demoralizing it can be. I want you to have the freedom to follow through with your dreams and your daily life. I want you to know what it feels like not to be burdened by the undone and the forgotten. So take a step, any step, and have faith that it’s moving you in the right direction. I give you permission to let it be more than enough!
What about you? Have you ever felt that you’ve missed out on life because of avoidance and procrastination? Or are you a recovering procrastinator? If so, how did you overcome this frustrating habit?