By Benjamin Deu, MA, LMHC, Seattle Christian Counseling
References: The Now Habit by Neil Fiore, Ph. D
(This is the second article in a two-part series exploring why and how people procrastinate. The first article focuses on helping you get a clearer picture of your areas of inefficiency. This article focuses on understanding the emotions that motivate you to avoiding different tasks.)
As discussed in the first article in this series, knowing how you procrastinate is essential to getting a grip on inefficiency. However, you also need to understand the thoughts that drive you to avoid certain tasks. Procrastination is not merely a time management issue. It is also a mind management issue. Keeping a procrastination log can help. This is not as extensive as your activity log. All you need to do is notice when you are procrastinating, and make a note of why.
As you fill out your log, pay attention to how you are feeling when you procrastinate. What emotions are keeping you from starting the task? Do you resent having to do it? Do you feel pressured to complete it perfectly? “Be especially aware of how you talk to yourself and how your language leads to procrastination or production.” (47)
Why do I Procrastinate?
Understanding the emotions that drive you to procrastinate is essential to becoming more efficient. Many people procrastinate because they feel cowed by the task that lies before them. They avoid dealing with their fear by putting their energy toward a less important task. This makes them feel better, because they are accomplishing something, but it does not get them any closer to finishing the task they’re avoiding.
- You make the task a pass/fail test of your self worth
People who procrastinate are often perfectionists. Part of the reason they struggle with putting off projects is because they are terrified they will not do them perfectly. Rather than making the task about the purpose of the project, they make it a test of their self worth. Yes, a project can be about showcasing your abilities. However, it is not the final arbiter on whether you are a worthwhile human being.
- You become paralyzed with anxiety
The more you focus on how difficult it will be to complete the task perfectly, the more daunting it becomes. You worry that if you do not do this perfectly, everyone will think you’re an idiot, you will lose your job, and you will never be able to come back from the failure. You are soon so afraid you cannot even start.
- Your flight response escapes via procrastination
You run away from the task to a less intimidating one. You suddenly feel an urge to organize your desk or clean your bathrooms. These tasks offer some relief because they do need to be done. However, an undercurrent of anxiety remains because you know you will eventually have to tackle your major chore. (53)
- Finally, something more frightening than your perfectionist standards motivates you to complete the task
You cannot avoid the project forever. Eventually, the possibility of not meeting the deadline will become more pressing than the possibility of not being perfect. You are forced to start. This offers some relief from the anxiety of not being perfect. Now that you have too little time to do your best work, no one can blame you for not being perfect.
Face your Fears
“The first major step out of procrastination is to become aware of how fear leads to your old pattern and how creating safety leads to productivity.” (48) If you dwell on how complicated and time-consuming a project will be, you are going to psyche yourself out of ever starting. You need to approach it as the ant did eating the elephant– one bite at a time. Set aside 30 minutes to complete some part of the project. Maybe you will make a phone call or two, or research a specific element of the task. Remember, you don’t have to finish the whole thing, just take a bite.
Keep reminding yourself you do not have to be perfect. You are not God. You do not know everything, and you cannot do everything. You can only do your best. When approaching a task you would normally feel overwhelmed by, think of an aspect of the project you can do well. Talk yourself up. “Mistakes are not the end of the world.” “I can do this.”
Christian Counseling for dealing with Anxiety and Procrastination
“For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.” (II Tim 1:7 NIV) Here, Paul was exhorting Timothy to be bold in sharing the Gospel. The Lord does not want his people to be afraid. He does not want you paralyzing yourself because you are fearful other people won’t think you are good enough. What matters is what God thinks of you; whether you meet his standard.
If you struggle with anxiety, low self-worth, or procrastination, consider getting in touch with a professional Christian counselor. Talking about your problems is often a helpful first step to dealing with them. A professional Christian counselor can help you identify why you struggle with these issues, and help you find solutions.
Why-people-procrastinate by Ellison Langford
Christian-counseling-stop-wasting-time by Freedigitalphotos.net user stock images