How are you affected by procrastination? 

You have things that get left. You have to do lists that are getting longer, emails that are sitting unopened in your inbox, maybe washing piles that are still sitting on the floor or documents taken up permanent residence on your desk. You know you need to deal with.

As you know, we’ve only got 24 hours in the day, and you may not know we’ve got one hundred and sixty eight hours in every week. 

That won’t change. Time doesn’t change.

It’s often when we talk about procrastination, we say ‘I’ve run out of time’, ‘I don’t have time to do something’, so we put something off. But the time doesn’t change. It’s what we choose to do with our time that changes. 

Research shows that people who struggle with procrastination are students, entrepreneurs and very busy people who’ve got a lot going on. 

So really, what is procrastination? 

It’s the act of delaying or putting off something. It’s the force that prevents you from following through and making something happen.

Procrastination has nothing to do with work, and we often think that it is. So I’m interested in what is that force that prevents you from taking action or following through on something that you know you need to do? That force is stress relief. 

Let me explain. When we experience stress, our brains are wired to respond to keep us safe. So we fall into patterns of behaviour, and you may have heard them before a fight or flight or freeze. They’re the most common responses that we have to stress. So if you’re experiencing stress about something, maybe it’s related to the thing that you’re putting off when you think you’re procrastinating and that you’re pushing away. Maybe it’s nothing to do with that task in hand, you’ve just got other unrelated stressors going on in your life, you’ll notice that you’ll go in to fight, flight, freeze modes in terms of how you’re responding to that stress.

Your brain prioritises your safety over and above getting stuff done.

In the flight mode, what you might notice is that you experience that heightened level of frustration or anger. You may end up talking about it quite a lot. Talking about all the things you’ve got to do, a feeling that pressure and that stress, rather than just getting on with this stuff you got today. If you notice you’re going into flight mode, you may notice that you just get distracted doing all sorts of other things that really aren’t helpful but whilst you’re doing those other things, it allows you to flee away from the thing that’s creating the stress. Kind of gets you off the hook. 

The other part is freeze, so that is almost like temporary paralysis. If your stress response is freeze, then you’re more likely to just go ‘my brain’s just shut down. I can’t even think, I can’t even do. I’m looking at everything and I don’t know what I’m supposed to start with’. So you’ll recognise one of those more for you than the others.

Procrastinating from a place of experiencing stress because of something unrelated.

You know, you’ve got to do something but there’s a whole ton of stress over here created by unrelated circumstances. Something’s going on in your life. You wake up in the morning and this big stress ball is subconsciously hanging over your head. And you look at all the things you’ve got to do with the day. You may arrive at work, you may even get to the point of writing a to do list but then you might start looking at your phone. Trigger the habit of avoidance. You’ll do anything other than the productive things you got to get on with. If you’re anything like me, you fall into that trap before you know it, you’re watching funny videos of dogs. That’s where I tend to go. But when you’re in that mode, the thing is you get sucked into this vortex of avoidance before you know it an hour’s gone by. And of course, what do you do? You feel stressed because you haven’t got all the things that are productive, things that you should have been doing, things that you needed to get done. And what’s the result of that is your stress ball gets even bigger. So what we do to deal with the stress ball is we either get frustrated or our brain shuts down or we achieve nothing or we flight away from it and we go into avoidance tactics. So it’s a perpetual cycle. Really we could call it a habit.

Another way of looking at it is actually the procrastination is 100 percent related to the task in hand.

The thing that you’re putting off, there’s some fear around that. Because if we’re putting it off, it hasn’t yet happened. So there will be fear attached to that. And it could be because maybe it’s a big presentation or you’ve got to have a really difficult conversation with somebody and you’re putting that off. And that fear around the thing that you’re putting off creates stress within you and you’re in exactly the same cycle that I just explained. Whether the stress comes from something unrelated or it comes from the thing that you’re putting off, the same pattern happens, and you may notice this pattern being repeated over a period of time. 

So I just want to say…

You’re not a procrastinator. You just employed a habit of procrastinating.

There’s a big difference with that and that is to help you get some relief from stress. That’s where I’d like you to focus when you think of procrastination. Often you’ll watch videos on procrastination and it’s all about, ‘Do this! Do that! Here’s the solution!’ I’m more interested in the root cause because there’s something driving that pattern of behaviour in you. There’s something behind all of that and until we get to that and understand where that’s coming from, giving you loads of actions and solutions isn’t going to help you. Well, it might in the short run, but not in the long term. 

I want you to just focus on this concept of this habit that I’ve mentioned already. Habits have three parts; they have a trigger, they have a mechanism, and they have a reward. In the case of procrastination, the trigger will be fear or stress in every single situation. It will boil down to that. That might be driven by your beliefs that you have about yourself or about the thing that you’re putting off, and that those beliefs that you’re creating in your own mind are holding you back. You’re holding on to something that’s keeping you stuck. 

Secondly, we have the mechanism and the mechanism in the case of procrastination is avoidance. Do something else. Other than do the thing you need to do. 

The third element of it is reward and your reward in the case of procrastination is you get a little bit of stress relief. You get to let yourself off the hook by not doing the thing at that given time.

The only way to break the habit is to identify the belief that’s holding you back and change it.

Change that pattern of avoidance. When we recognise our habits, how they are holding us back, we all have the power then to transform them. 

I want to run you through some questions that you can take away from this that I think might help you. Let me ask you to think about five things that you have been meaning to do and that you’ve been putting off – what’s appeared on your to do list for far too long that you’re aware of that you’re not doing? 

As soon as you’ve got your five things rate them one to five in terms of importance and whichever one is at number one, that’s the one that you think actually yes, that’s the most important one for me right now. And we’re going to work with that one. I’d like you to write it down because there’s a lot of power when you take your thoughts and you commit it onto paper, even more powerful when you commit to your word and you speak it to somebody else. This is the power of coaching when people get to talk out what’s going on in their head to me and we can actually question it and challenge it and clear it out. We get to shine a spotlight on what’s going on in here, because once it’s out, once you’ve committed to writing or to our words, it’s real and then we can do something with it, which is really empowering.

So if you’ve got something written down that you know you’ve been putting off? I just want you to think about what happened. What was the trigger for you to procrastinate over that thing? Was it fear in relation to the thing itself? Was it stress to do with other things? What’s happened? And how do you feel about that? Do feel relief? Do you feel frustrated? Do you feel annoyed? And what mechanisms have you been using to avoid doing that thing? As I was saying the fight, flight, freeze, you’ll have different mechanisms that you might be using. You know, you might not be looking at funny dog videos like mine, but a lot of people have those internal and those external mechanisms. Internal mechanisms is we have a little dialogue with ourselves in our own head and say, ‘it’s okay. You don’t need to do it’. And the external mechanism would be social media, looking at phones, getting distracted into something that’s not helpful. Binge watching Netflix, that kind of thing. The busying yourself.

Here’s the really magical start. Get clear on what you’ve been telling yourself about the thing itself and what you’ve been telling yourself about you in relation to this thing.

What belief have you been holding on to about that thing that you’ve been putting off? 

What belief have you been holding onto about you in relation to the thing that you’ve been putting off? And you will know whatever is coming up from that. Here’s the really big question, is any of that true? Because beliefs are just made up stories that we’re filling our heads with.

Here’s the great bit. Because they’re made up stories we don’t have to hang on to them. We can transform them into something different, something that’s going to serve us and something it’s going to help us move forward.

So instead of looking at what’s holding you back, I want to allow you to feel something that’s a little bit more empowering and focus on what is important to you. So go back to what you’ve written down, the thing that you’re procrastinating over, the number one thing on your list of five. What’s important to you about that? And whatever you thought of in response to that question, what’s important to you about that? And then go one layer deeper. What’s important to you about that? And when you got to that next layer, that’s a much deeper reason. Something that’s really important to. For you to actually start to think about how I could make that happen. 

But before you do it, let me ask you to think, what belief do I need to hold about that in order to have me do it? And what belief do I need to hold about me to have me do it? What will it give you when you’ve done it?

And when you’re clear on that just bring it back to one small action, one small thing that you can do to get you started. There is so much evidence that when we take small actions, particularly things that we like, it releases dopamine in our brain and of course, that makes us happy and the more happy we are, the more likely we are to continue. So don’t try and eat the whole elephant in one go and digest the whole task in one go. Break it down and just ask yourself, what’s the first thing I can do, something that I will like the best out of all the things? Go and do it, and it’s starting to switch that mechanism, starting to change the habits. And then your reward for that can be that you’ve completed that small task. Then just look at the next small task and so on and before you know it, you’ve retrained yourself into a new habit. You’ve got a new mechanism and that thing is no longer being left. 

So I will leave you with a summary to all of that:

  • Procrastination is not just about tasks. 
  • Procrastination is a stress relief. 
  • It has to do with the beliefs that we have either about the thing itself or about ourselves that is having us avoid doing something.

So let’s look at what it is that’s causing that stress or that fear. Let’s blast that out and then once you know what it is you really want instead and the belief you have in you to make that happen, what it’s going to give you, then one small task, something that you’re going to like, something that’s going to release that dopamine, something that’s going to make you want to do some more of it. 

I really hope that’s been helpful to you today and anything that you you need from me, then please drop me a message, let me know. I’m always here to help, and my coaching is all about this so I look forward to bringing you more very soon.