With all the productivity tips online today, you’d think anyone could make procrastination a thing of the past. This post will explore why those tips fail. Chronic procrastination often has roots in emotional life. We’ll discuss these roots and how to remove them so that you can do what you’ve been wanting to do.
Putting off until tomorrow what you can do today is a conscious or unconscious decision.
Like many decisions, emotions are involved, whether or not you are aware. When you procrastinate, you have more than a productivity problem. You also have an emotional obstacle in the way of your success.
With this comes good news and bad news.
The bad news: You probably won’t be able to override your stuckness with sheer willpower (and you should stop trying).
The good news: Emotional obstacles can be pinpointed and resolved, freeing you to pursue your desires without internal hangups.
It all begins with expanded self-awareness.
There are mental patterns that reveal the emotional issues to address. I’ve outlined five common scenarios in this post. If you read on, paying attention to the background thoughts in your mind, you may nail down the real reason you procrastinate.
A well-defined problem seeks its own solution and this is your first step! Here are the five patterns. Look for yourself in one or more of these.
1. Ultimate Futility
If you’ve been disappointed in life – over and over and over – you learn to expect more of the same. A feeling of futility sets in. You live in a state of emptiness, or vague depression.
I call this an attachment to self-deprivation. As an adult, there is indeed a world of opportunity awaiting you. Succeeding requires effort to go where you want to go in life. You may procrastinate the work involved because you’ve learned that ‘nothing works out as planned anyway.’
This is your old disappointment talking. It’s trying to protect you from the pain of further disappointment. If you decide ahead of time that you’ll never get what you want, then why bother trying?
Do you protect yourself in this way?
Your psyche is basically saying:
I’ll take my disappointment now, rather than wait until later – and save myself a ton of pointless work.
Unfortunately, protection from disappointment guarantees you’ll be disappointed, forever. The only way to experience the joy of accomplishment is to risk the disappointment of failure. If you work smart and hard, you have a good chance of succeeding. In many cases, you are guaranteed success if you put in effort. Otherwise, you have 100% chance of failure.
When you’ve grown accustomed to disappointment and the inner emptiness of futility, this can be a challenging obstacle to overcome. In some ways, you may not even be interested in letting go and taking a risk. Chronic disappointment may feel like the safest, most familiar option.
Yet, overcome it you can. And you will if you confront this issue with the help of an insightful and supportive person to guide you. You can learn to tolerate and enjoy the joy of productivity and success.
2. Pressure of ‘Success Expectations’
This one goes something like this:
If I work hard and succeed, people will have high expectations of me, forever! I’ll never be able to deliver.
So, you avoid the work and success that leads to all the pressure. Let’s keep the expectations down where we can handle them, shall we?
This resistance to the perceived pressure of success is another attempt at protecting yourself. You don’t want to set yourself up for failure through your success. So, you keep a low profile. You’re safer that way, right?
The problem is you never get what you want. You’re left with dreams that do not appear safe to have.
Sometimes planning ahead helps. Create a success scenario that accommodates the perceived pressure. Learn to manage people’s expectations and take one day at a time. That’s all any of us can do.
Behind the fear of pressure, however, is often a fear of being yourself. You can only do what you can do. You have strengths. You have weaknesses. You cannot be all things to all people. You’re human.
Are you comfortable with yourself?
When you can put all your cards on the table and let people judge you however they may, you won’t have a problem with others’ expectations, perceived or real. Then, you’ll be free to pursue your dreams, accomplish what you can, and let go of the rest.
3. But I don’t wanna….
You like to do what you feel like doing, right? When certain necessary tasks are difficult, tedious, boring or unpleasant, you shy away from them.
And you’re set up to fail at most things in life. All worthwhile accomplishments involve doing a whole lot of ‘no fun’ stuff. Even the happiest businesses in the world require dull maintenance.
I often work with people who want to start online businesses, particularly in the personal development field. I’ve been successful in this arena and enjoy helping others do the same.
It’s easy to sit around dreaming about the convenience of working from home and all the interesting people you’ll meet from around the world. The money is great and the satisfaction of making a significant difference in people’s lives is unparalleled.
And it’s a ton of work behind the scenes. Maintaining a website, doing customer service, learning search engine optimization, taking online marketing courses, keeping the financials balanced, dealing with hackers, finding new places to publish articles, endless formatting, and so on and on…and on.
I’ve spent too many nights working when I’d rather be watching a movie. And that’s the price you pay. Every dream job has a fair share of tedium. If you can’t override the feeling that you’d rather not do the tedious stuff, you won’t succeed.
Refusing to do what you don’t feel like doing is a maturity issue. Children have a very hard time doing what they don’t feel like doing. If you still do, then part of you hasn’t grown up yet.
4. Fear of Humiliation
Some people call it fear of failure. However, there is nothing wrong with failure. The problem is the sense of humiliation that often accompanies. Failure without humiliation is just another learning experience – a way not to do something.
If failure means humiliation for you, then you’ll avoid it like the plague. I once heard a psychologist call humiliation the ‘nuclear’ emotion. It’s so deep and painful and toxic…feels like it might destroy you.
Many of us grow up in families where humiliation is plentiful, however. Abuse, neglect, chronic teasing and being put on the spot takes an emotional toll like nothing else. We typically bury the humiliation deep and cover it with a mountain of psychological defenses. We NEVER want to feel that way again!
This leads to all kinds of avoidant behavior. One of the things we avoid most is RISK. As you ponder that great project you’d like to start, is there any chance that things could go wrong? Is there a risk of failure? Of course.
So, forget it! You can’t handle the prospect of being humiliated. So, you put things off. It feels safer to stick with the status quo than take a risk and end up feeling humiliated if you fail.
The solution is to unearth your humiliation issue. As horrible as this may sound, it leads to healing. With no repressed humiliation, failure does indeed become a learning experience.
5. Inner Rebellion: You can’t make me…
Finally, we have the rebel – that part of you that will not be told what to do.
Even you can’t tell yourself what to do, right?
Set any expectation and you can expect the rebel to do the opposite, and no realistic carrot or stick is big enough to make a difference.
To the rebel, cooperating with expectations – even his or her own – is caving in. And caving in is the worst case scenario. It may even feel like losing your sense of self, as if you’d be washed away in a sea of foreign expectations if you did what was expected of you.
When you identify so strongly with resistance, compliance is death.
Succeeding in the real world requires meeting expectations, your own and others’. In this reality, the rebel is a lost soul. He or she has drawn the line and there won’t be any compromising.
So, you resist others’ expectations and ignore your own. You stand your ground on principle.
And kiss success good-bye.
But it’s worth it, as giving in is akin to giving yourself up and becoming a slave.
Ending rebellious procrastination and doing what needs to be done must not be seen as the ultimate sacrifice, but the ultimate opportunity. You can expand your boundaries to include reasonable expectations. When you do, you’ll stop holding back and get to work moving your life forward.
Did you see yourself in one or more of the above scenarios?
If so, this is good news. You now understand a huge piece of the problem. This is a step toward resolution.
If you want expert help in overcoming procrastination so you can get things done like never before, consider doing some coaching with me.
I have an individualized 12-session program designed to help severe procrastinators overcome these obstacles.
When you do, you’ll feel a weight lifted and a whole new level of motivation. Imagine taking your foot off the brakes and rolling forward, smoothly and safely, toward your goals!