Updated: Jan 26, 2020
This is it! I'm finally ready to launch this website and put myself and my work out there. It's only taken me 6 months...somehow I couldn't sit down and just put the finishing touches on it. Most of us would call this lazy, undisciplined, unorganized, or a slew of other shameful and demoralizing things. BUT as someone who is firm believer that every behavior serves a purpose and that there is always a deeper rooted issue I knew there was something more to my failure to launch. Not to toot my own horn...but I was right!
According to research from Dr. Piers Steel, a professor of motivational psychology at the University of Calgary, "Procrastination isn’t a unique character flaw or a mysterious curse on your ability to manage time, but a way of coping with challenging emotions and negative moods induced by certain tasks — boredom, anxiety, insecurity, frustration, resentment, self-doubt and beyond."
This means that “Procrastination is an emotion regulation problem, not a time management problem,” as best stated by Dr. Tim Pychyl, professor of psychology and member of the Procrastination Research Group at Carleton University in Ottawa.
What do these emotional regulation problems look like?
1. Fear of finishing a task as it leaves us open to external criticism
What was (is-I have been looking at this screen for hours) my emotional regulation problem? FEAR! Fear that once I sat down and finished this blog I would have to put it out into the world, and open the door to external criticism and judgement. As a recovering perfectionist and seeker of validation, this is paralyzing, literally. So, I convinced myself and created a narrative that it just wasn't ready. I need to add more of this, less of that and voila, if it's not "finished" I can't publish it, I can stay safe and secure.
2. Anxiety management (works short term, while creating more long term
Procrastination is an adaptive behavior, meaning that it has worked in the past hence why we continue to do it in the present. Putting things off and avoiding tasks reduces anxiety-short term. Once we have stopped thinking about the task in the present, our anxiety subsides, we no longer have to worry about it, we'll deal with it later. As I like to say "That's future Maria's problem." The thing about this one is that it creates more anxiety down the road. Usually the deadline is closer, we have less time, and now our anxiety is through the roof. In our attempt to manage our anxiety we created more anxiety. While most of us would like to shame ourselves, it's actually a hardwired survival brain trait. Our evolutionary tendency is to prioritize short-term needs ahead of long-term ones. According to Dr. Hal Hershfield, psychologist and marketing professor at U.C.L.A., “We really weren’t designed to think ahead into the further future because we needed to focus on providing for ourselves in the here and now,”
3. Exhaustion, burnout
Our emotional battery is limited, we don't have an endless and continuous supply. This means that if we have depleted our emotional energy for the day (fight with partner, feeling undervalued at work, bad body image day, etc.) we will be less likely to feel motivated, more likely to procrastinate and put it off for another time. This is our brain saying "Seriously, I just can't" Our inability to manage the emotional weight has left us without any space for new tasks.
4. Emotional adaptive mechanism
If we grew up in households where uncertainty was common and where planning/organizing often led to disappointment, chances are we learned to put things off. If our caregivers were inconsistent with plans and catering to our needs it made sense to not get our hopes up. It was best to not anticipate in order to emotionally regulate. Why would we pack our bags and get things ready to go on a trip if at the last minute it was always going to get cancelled due to a lack of funds or unexpected work function?
5. Insecurity, lack of belief in skill set
When we don't believe we have the ability to carry out a task we procrastinate. Sometimes we really don't know how to do something and sometimes we have limiting beliefs about our abilities. The second one is tied to our self-esteem. What beliefs do we have about ourselves? Do we find ourselves worthy and able to manage whatever comes our way or do we feel incompetent and worthless? When we don't believe we are capable, we have to avoid and put off in order to manage our discomfort and attempt to emotionally regulate. This is similar to reason #2: anxiety.
6. Nonalignment with internal wants/needs
Cleaning the house, writing a report, having a difficult conversation-chances are we don't want to do them. If the tasks we have to complete are not fun, create discomfort or are simply not in line with our goals we're going to put them off. We can blame our brain again; it is wired to maximize joy and minimize pain.
So, what do we do about it?
First off, stop adding more productivity tools, to-do lists, planners. If it's an emotional regulation problem these will only further overwhelm us.
Second, we can start to get curious with these emotions. Where did they come from? How did they evolve? Only when we are aware can we start to make changes.
Third, we can practice self-compassion. We can stop calling ourselves lazy or worthlessness and know that we are trying to manage and cope with complex issues. This also means forgiving ourselves (shame most definitely doesn't help) and moving along.
For me, it has meant developing a friendship with my procrastination, acknowledging the fear, and taking it along for the ride. It's an uncomfortable ride, but as cliche as it sounds, that's where the magic happens.
So, this is it...I did it, fear and all, this is my first blog post! Welcome to Holisticallygrace! I am so glad that you're here! I look forward to growing with you on this journey and hearing from you in the comments section!
All the love,