Most people think of procrastination as perfectionism’s ugly cousin. We crown perfectionists with praise, while we beat procrastinators with the “shame” stick.
Procrastination stings in your pocket, chokes your energy, and corrodes your self-esteem. It’s associated with weakness, indecisiveness, and laziness. So, in other words, nothing good.
But what if we started to think of it differently?
I’m about to snitch a secret that high-achievers don’t want to be confessed: I procrastinate too, and so does everyone else I know — without exception.
This week, we’ll drill down to the root cause behind the symptom, because procrastination isn’t the surface-level slackness it appears. Frequently, it’s a self-worth deficit, not a time management deficit.
What You’ll Learn in this Episode:
- 8 causes why people procrastinate
- Using Martha Beck’s Body Compass Tool
- 5 ways to break through procrastination
- What self-love’s got to do with it
- Scratch Test vs. Pillow Test
Listen to the Full Episode:
Featured on the Show:
- Was there something you procrastinated about that would’ve made 2019 better? Don’t feel this way next year too. I only have a couple of spots left for January’s single intensive coaching sessions. Get in touch today, and let’s plan a solid start to 2020.
- Episode 151: Boundaries with Jennie Miller
- Episode 152: Productivity Makeover with Graham Allcott
- Facebook Business Page – Sundae Schneider-Bean LLC
- Facebook Group – Expats on Purpose
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Full Episode Transcript:
Hello, it is 2 am in New York, 9 pm in Johannesburg and 2 pm in Bangkok. Welcome to the Expat Happy Hour. This is Sundae Schneider-Bean from www.sundaebean.com. I’m a solution oriented coach and intercultural strategist for individuals and organizations and I am on a mission to help you adapt and succeed when living abroad and get you through any life transition
It’s not lost on me that this week’s episode on procrastination is something I’ve been putting off for a week. I actually had it in my schedule on Friday to do this episode and now it’s Tuesday, days later and I’m finally getting to it.
I am not someone who typically procrastinates, but for some reason, I did on this episode and I’m thinking about why as I’m preparing for this.
But it’s important to me that we talk about procrastination as the ugly cousin of perfectionism, which we mentioned in last week’s Episode 154 on perfectionism, because there is so much shame around procrastinating.
Dear Amelia Earhart says, “The most effective way to do it is to do it.” Wayne Gretzky says, “Procrastination is one of the most common and deadliest of diseases and its toll on success and happiness is heavy.” So if you’re a procrastinator you’re kind of disappointing Amelia Earhart and Wayne Gretzky says that you’re doing something deadly and diseased.
There’s so much shame around procrastination and I think we need to kind of think about that. I work with clients all the time in crafting an action plan and inevitably they’re fired up in the session, they know what they want to do, when they’re going to do it. And sometimes they come back to me and they’re like, “Oh Sundae, I know that last session I said I was going to do that thing, but I didn’t.” And I watch them spend the next three to five minutes beating themselves with a shame stick. They’re mad at themselves and they’re disappointed and they feel mad because they’re expecting the change they want to make to be like a flip of a switch and all of a sudden the lights on and doing things different. But that’s not how it goes right there.
The good news is that you’re a procrastinator, that it’s not like you’re failing at something super easy that everybody else has the keys to. We need to start thinking about procrastination differently and all of our recent episodes can help you to do that. Go back to the episode with Jenny Miller, we talk about boundaries, then followed by the podcast with productivity and Graham Allcott and then of course perfectionism. All of those things are tied up into why we procrastinate.
And in today’s episode I want to walk through the eight common causes of procrastination and go a little deeper and interrogate that, because I feel like we’re looking at procrastination from the wrong way and it’s leading to shame and paralysis.
Okay, so let me walk you through eight causes of procrastination and I want to give you an alternative way to think about it so that you feel more motivated to make changes in your life that last. And why is this important, especially if you’re living a globally mobile life that many many things in our lives our time critical, if we have a pending move or a sudden transition where we have to leave abruptly procrastination can really choke the life out of your energy and your joy if you feel like you’re delaying in the things that matter most.
If you are, let’s say an accompanying partner, and you’ve moved abroad over and over again and you want to do more to create something for you but you’re procrastinating, you’re actually delaying a deeper sense of purpose and meaning.
If you’re the one with the lead assignment abroad and you are working so hard and want to create more balance or spend more time with your family, you’re actually sabotaging that balance that you’re looking for by procrastinating.
So we need to look at it because our health and our happiness and our relationships are at stake.
And here’s the thing, we’re going to walk through eight causes. There’s a wonderful website that talks about developing good habits on https://www.developgoodhabits.com/. They list eight causes of procrastination, they do a wonderful job and it’s useful and I’m going to go a little bit deeper or in a different angle today based on what they’ve shared, based on how I see those things playing out every day in coaching.
So first, let’s get familiar with eight causes of procrastination. I want you to listen along and see which ones, I want to say you’re guilty of, that’s how we associate are procrastinating behavior with shame, we are guilty of one of these eight things. I want you to think about instead, what are what are the ways in which procrastination shows up? What are some of the causes that might be driving what I’m interpreting as procrastination.
We’re going to walk through the eight things together quickly and then I’m going to separate them into two very distinct categories and share with you more on where I see people get stuck.
OK, quickly from https://www.developgoodhabits.com/ here are the eight causes of procrastination:
Number one, is perfectionism, big surprise, if you’re procrastinating it’s because you want to do it perfectly and that limits the way in which we set our standards, puts the definition of what would be successful almost out of reach so we don’t even get started. For more on perfectionism go back to last week’s episode where you can see how that showing up in your life.
Number two, is the fear of the unknown, so we’re not doing something because we don’t know what’s going to happen once we get started. So if that is you, fear of the unknown that might be something that’s holding you back.
Number three, is the “I’ll do it later”, where people want to start doing but they’re like, “Oh I’m just gonna push it down my to-do list.” And when you’re making decisions, you’re like, “Oh I’ll decide that later.” That leads to constant procrastination.
Number four, is working on small tasks because they are easier, this is like crossing off the gratifying things in your to-do list that are actually easy to do but you’re avoiding the real thing that will actually make you feel more satisfied at the end of the day.
Here’s what I say to my clients about working on the small tasks because they’re easier, “Yes, it feels satisfying to cross something off your to-do list, but do you know what’s even more gratifying? Going to bed at night, putting your head on the pillow and knowing that what you did today was the one thing that had the biggest impact.”
That is way more gratifying than scratching something off the list. So for you, if you’re the one who works on small tasks because they’re easier, I want you to instead of the scratch test, how will it feel to scratch off? I want you to do the pillow test, “Will this item make me go to bed at night, put my head on the pillow and feel deeply satisfied that I took action on it.” I swear that will that will transform how you look at your to do list from now on.
Number five, is you lack experience or motivation, where you feel a lack of motivation. Here’s where you can do something called the body compass from Dr. Martha Beck, you can look at it and go, “How do I feel about doing that thing?” And maybe you body compass it and you say, “Ugh on the scale of -10 to +10, I feel like a 0, right in the middle of super neutral.”
And you’re feeling a lack of motivation, well, then you can ask yourself “What has to happen to feel +1 on this scale for me to do it?” You might discover that you’re doing it because you feel like you should, not because you want to. Or maybe you’re feeling blah about it because you haven’t gotten creative on how you can do it in a way that feels like more than a task, something you’re actually enjoying.
Number six, is you are unclear about how to get started. There’s a kind of overwhelm that’s coming because you haven’t broken down the task. If you’re the one who feels unclear about how to get started, then here’s a strategy that’s worked with some of my clients:
Step 1, brainstorm all of the things that you think are related to getting it done, it’s a complex task, let it all out. So step one is brainstorm.
Step 2, underneath your brainstorm, I want you to draw a little box and say, “How can I get started?” Pick one or two things from that brainstorm, that is the smartest way for you to break it down into something smaller and break the inertia. “How do I get started?” Write that down, write down one to two small tasks that you can start on.
Step 3, I want you to draw an exit. How to get how to get started is how to keep progressing. You’ve got that huge list up there with all of the things that can feel overwhelming. Before you get started, make a commitment to you, how are you going to keep progressing? Some people might schedule in their calendar, some people might get a tandem partner that they work with and ask them to hold them accountable. What does it mean for you to keep progress on this big complex thing.
Step 4, “How can I keep quality but not over do it?” When things are complex and you’ve got perfectionist tendencies, you might want to think about naming the quality. So, “How can I keep quality but not overdo it?” Which is already creating space for this perfectionism tendency to not go off the rails.
Step 5, “Can I schedule it?” What is the next two or three things that you want to do and put it in your schedule. That is one way that you can stop procrastination when you’re unclear about how to get started. Give it a try and see if it works for you.
Number seven, is you often get distracted. This is honestly the one that we have most control over physically but are probably the least in control of because of our tech addiction. So if reason number 7 for you is you get distracted, that might be that you have email notifications going on, your Facebook is going on, you’ve got your apps dinging at you etcetera. And this is really about helping your technology help you, so turn off your notifications, use the Pomodoro Method where you can focus for 25 minutes and then reward yourself at the 5-minute break.
Often getting distracted might be important to create boundaries in your family so that your family members know, “Hey for these next 45 minutes I’m not here, I’m doing my thing.” So often getting distracted is around boundaries and it’s around using technology to work for you not against you.
Number eight, you know the task will require effort and hard work, and you’ve got this long list of things that you have to do and you’re feeling not so motivated because it feels like it’s gonna be a lot of hard work. And you’re saying to yourself that’s going to be difficult. I’m going to say more about that one in a little bit.
But what I’m curious about now is you’ve heard these eight reasons, I want to hear which ones are most likely playing a role in your life.
- Fear of the unknown,
- I’ll do it later,
- Working on small tasks because they’re easier,
- You lack experience or lack motivation,
- You’re unclear about how to get started,
- You often get distracted and
- You know the task will require effort and hard work.
Okay, make a list for yourself, which are your top three? Which ones need the most work?
I’ve got some good news for you, I don’t want to say bad news, I’ve just got two pieces of news for you about this list. Not all of these are created equal, there are some things on the list that are simply about time energy and focus management and there are a few on the list that are vastly different.
Okay, and here’s what I have got to tell you, that half of the time when you procrastinate it’s not a time management deficit, it’s a deficit in self-worth. And when people are struggling with procrastination and they are working hard to get better at time management and are ignoring the deficit of self-worth, they are setting themselves up to fail.
So you don’t have a procrastination problem, you’ve got some self work to do and namely around self-worth, self-confidence, self-love and self-care. And when you hear that you might go, “Sundae, you’re crazy, it’s just about procrastinating, it’s just about planning your time and doing it.” No, it’s not that simple and I tell you I see it all the time in coaching, if it were that simple, you would be doing it already.
So stop beating yourself up for not doing the easy things, this flipping a switch, the light on and then you’re mad at yourself because you didn’t do that easy thing. No, you didn’t do it because you are railing up against deep self work, you are railing up against decades, if not centuries of deeply embedded messaging. And who you are and your value, family history, historical context, power dynamics.
And you’re like “What Sundae, I thought we were talking about procrastination?” We are, but I feel like in this conversation there’s something important that’s been missing. And I’ll draw out the three where I see this the most. Perfectionism clearly tied to self-worth and self-confidence where we’re staying, “I’m not good enough.”
Fear of the unknown tied to self-doubt, lack of self confidence that you’ve got what it takes to do it, to make it happen. Same with when you know the task or require effort and hard work, you’re hit hard on your self-worth and self-confidence that you’ve got the skills to figure it out.
This isn’t about just blocking time in your calendar and doing it, I’m sorry Amelia Earhart, I love you. And sometimes it’s deeper than that. And when we keep believing the best way to do it is just to do it, I’m all about action 100% just do it. But when we’re not doing it, we’re shaming ourselves for not doing it, there’s a problem.
So what I invite you to do is, when you are excited about doing something, you want to do it, you’ve made a plan, you’ve even blocked out your calendar and then you don’t do it, you’re procrastinating. Instead of beating yourself with the shame stick, I want you to get curious, just get curious. Like “Hey, this is so interesting, I said I was gonna do that and I didn’t, what’s going on?”
Just asking yourself that question, “What’s going on?” Giving yourself space to listen to the answer will bring you so much further then chunking out more areas in your calendar to pretend like you’re going to get it done. I see this time after time, after time with my clients.
So I’m going to remind you of something that I’ve talked about in other podcasts around self work. This is the deep stuff that if you ignore it, it’s still going to show up in your lives in interesting ways and in this way that we’re talking about here is procrastination.
So let’s boil this self work down to the most simplest form, self-worth. I’m defining self worth in this way, we’re going to look at I am, I have and I deserve.
Self-worth is, I am valuable or I am valuable enough.
I have is, I have value.
I deserve is, I deserve respect.
Self-worth, is simply defined as the acceptance of your inherent value. And this is important when you’re looking at big hard tasks that you have to get done, things that are not clear, you haven’t figured out yet, the unknown of what’s going to happen. When we accept our inherent value, we are standing in a more solid position to say, “I’ve got what it takes to do this.” Self-worth, the acceptance of inherent value. I am valuable, I have value, I deserve respect and so forth.
Closely connected is self-confidence.
Self-confidence, is defined as the acceptance of your capabilities. So I am, I have, I deserve, I am capable, I have skills, I deserve a chance to demonstrate them. Again, if you stand in this place of acceptance of your capabilities, you are so better positioned to do the work and make the effort of what’s required of you. When you fear the unknown and you accept your capabilities, you stand in your own power saying, “I’ll find a way.” When you are feeling uncertain about the level of quality and your perfectionism is coming and you trust that you can demonstrate it without breaking yourself, then you’re standing stronger.
So self-confidence and self-worth I hope you can see are deeply tied to these aspects of procrastination. But nobody’s talking about it, it’s important for us to acknowledge this so we can start there. It’s like if you go into a garden and you’re weeding and just pop off the top of the weed, but you don’t grow the roots, guess what, we’re still gonna have weeds. Same thing, go to the roots and it is around self-worth and self-confidence.
Self Care, let’s look at how the other aspects of self-worth play into procrastination. Self-care is defined as the daily practice of taking care of yourself, the daily practice of caring for yourself. So, I am, I have, I deserve, I am taking care of my mind, body and spirit, I have practices in place to take care of myself and I deserve care.
So this goes to the other aspects of procrastination that we were talking about, I’ll do it later, you’re not feeling motivated, you’re getting distracted. If you are taking first class care of yourself those other habits are going to be much lighter to break because you’re making you a priority and you’re coming from a place of strong mind, body and spirit and then you’re not going to be as likely to push things off or get distracted or feel demotivated. So self-care also connected to procrastination.
And finally, we’ve got self-love.
Self-love, kind of sound squishy doesn’t it? But it’s not, the definition of self-love is simply the daily practice of self-worth. It comes full circle back to self-worth, it’s when we practice self-worth, it is active. So I am, I have, I deserve. I am loving myself, I have an appreciation of my own value, I have practices in place because I care for myself and I deserve to be happy and have well-being.
So when you practice self worth you live the spirit of your own value. And you see how that’s connected to procrastination when we’re facing the unknown, when we are uncertain about how he can get started, when we don’t know if we have what it takes to do the hard work.
So what you were probably expecting from this podcast were some tips and tricks on how to stop procrastinating and what you’ve heard is something vastly different, much deeper, because I truly believe if you do the self work, you work on your self-worth, self-confidence, self-love and self-care you are standing from an active place of power.
And you can Google the crap out of time management strategies and activate them from there, but not the other way around.
So today’s episode is focusing on the causes of procrastination. I’ve shared eight that are mentioned in the Developing Good Habits site, we walked through all eight. I’ve given you some practical strategies and what you can do to break through them, but I’m also asking you to think about how some of your procrastination is tied to the root of something much much deeper.
The good news is that when you do the self work, that you no longer need to rely on these other tweaks and tricks as heavily, because you’re doing it inherently from yourself and for you, you’re standing in a place of power as an active agent in your life who says, “I am going to do it because I know I can.”
So there you have it eight causes of procrastination and perhaps a surprise that it’s not your time management deficit but it’s a sign for you to do some self work.
You’ve been listening to Expat Happy Hour with Sundae Schneider-Bean, thank you for listening.
I’m going to leave you with some final thoughts on procrastination, first is something serious from Martin Luther King jr. He says, “You don’t have to see the whole staircase just take the first step.” And stumbling along the internet I came across this quote on procrastination, “My mother always told me I wouldn’t amount to anything because I procrastinate. I said, ‘just wait’.”