The Self-Defeating Cycle of Procrastination

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Everyone procrastinates every now and then, right? We all occasionally put things off that we don’t enjoy doing – that’s  not an issue. But when you regularly avoid doing things that are in your best interest to complete, if procrastination is a way of managing stressful situations,  it becomes a problem. Why? Because your tasks start to pile up which means you’ll end up working longer hours and can eventually lead to you feeling stressed and exhausted.

I used to think that to overcome my procrastination, I would just need to motivate myself enough to do the task I was putting off, but the solution is a little more complex. You see, I used to believe that my procrastination was down to poor time-management skills, and my lack of self-control and willpower. No, no, no! How wrong I was!

The real reason for procrastination is emotional regulation. Let’s explore this in more detail.

When was the last time you procrastinated?

Think back to the last time you found yourself putting off something that needed doing. Was it at work, avoiding a challenging task? Was it at home? Whatever the case, you probably put it off because in your mind, you predicted that it would have been an unpleasant experience; subconsciously, you more than likely didn’t want to deal with the emotions that come with the task. And this is the real story behind procrastination. What sort of emotions am I referring to? Some of the most common reasons why people procrastinate include: to avoid feeling incompetent, the fear of failure, criticism, judgement, frustration, self-doubt or even simple boredom.

Recognise procrastination for what it is

The first step in overcoming procrastination then, is to recognise it for what it truly is…

the unwillingness to deal with emotions.

Procrastination is a coping mechanism to avoid projected, unpleasant feelings when thinking about the task that needs to be done; it is rooted in fear and fear is a powerful emotion. It could be fear of failure, fear of success, or the fear of not being perfect. Whatever the unpleasant feeling you associate with the task, this results in higher anxiety levels (which is a normal reaction when you’re pushed to do something that makes you feel uncomfortable) so in order to avoid these anxious and painful emotions at all costs, you indulge in other tasks, like scrolling through your social media feeds for example, to make you feel better.

But the problem is that this is a temporary, short-term fix. Procrastination keeps you feeling safe and on solid ground temporarily, after which feelings of shame and guilt start to emerge as you think about what you should be doing which can make you procrastinate even further. So you enter a vicious and self-defeating cycle which creates even more anxiety, even more stress and even more negative emotions.

How do you overcome procrastination?

1. Identify the problem

To overcome procrastination, ask yourself three key questions:

  • When do I procrastinate?

In other words, ask yourself in what situations you tend to procrastinate. Do you find yourself procrastinating if you’re working from home? Are you ok with starting a task but have trouble completing it or do you find it difficult to just start in the first place?

  • How do I procrastinate?

Identify what you do instead of completing the task that needs to be done. Do you find yourself procrastinating by scrolling though social media? Do you watch TV? Do you find something else to do that is unimportant?

  • Why do I procrastinate? 

In other words, what’s the cause? Are you easily distracted? Do you look at what you need to do and simply feel overwhelmed because you don’t know where or how to start?

Here’s a list of the reasons why I procrastinate:

  • I’m disconnected from my future self because the benefit/rewards of completing the task in question is way too far in the future
  • Feeling overwhelmed because there’s so much to do and I don’t know where to start
  • Anxiety.
  • Perfectionism.
  • Fear of receiving negative feedback.
  • Fear of failure.
  • A perceived lack of control.
  • Lack of motivation.
  • Lack of energy.
  • Prioritising my short-term mood.

Can you relate to any of these reasons? I know I’m not alone in this. Would love for you to let me know in the comments below😊

By addressing the real reasons why you procrastinate, you’re more likely to start completing your tasks and achieving your goals.

2. Employ self-compassion and forgive yourself for procrastinating

Plenty of research studies have been conducted on procrastination. Because procrastination is linked to negative feelings, showing yourself compassion and forgiving yourself reduces the guilt that surrounds procrastinating.

3. What’s the next small action?

To get started on any task you’ve been delaying, ask yourself what the simple next step would be to get started. By asking yourself this question, you take your mind off your emotions and focus on easily achievable action. For example, the first step in clearing out your drawers is to open one drawer. Similarly, the first step in cleaning your inbox is to open your email.

Instead of relying on Nike’s ‘’just do it’’ slogan, say ‘’just get started’’. Taking one tiny action is the key here. By taking one small action, what you’re doing is shifting your attention from your emotions to action. This results in an increase in self-esteem and a decrease in the desire to procrastinate, and each baby step you take gets you closer to the finishing line. So as Mark Twain so rightly said over a hundred years ago,

‘’The secret of getting ahead is getting started.’’

4.     Learn To Say ‘No’

The more you take on, the more overwhelmed you’re likely to be and the more overwhelmed you feel, the more you will (yep! you guessed it…) procrastinate.

If you find it difficult to say no, you may have people-pleasing tendencies. I’m all for helping others, but when you always say yes, even if deep down you really want to say no and take on more work than you can realistically manage, this will have a negative effect on your life in the long-run.

Not sure if you fall into the always saying yes when you mean no category? Take my free
People-Pleasing quiz here to find out and/or receive my PDF guide: How to Stop Being a People Pleaser here

Would love to hear the reasons why you procrastinate. Let me know in the comments  ⬇️

With love,

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