Do you ever feel like it is impossible to get started on a task? Are you so worried about measuring up to the expectations that you or others have put on you, that you procrastinate on the projects you know that you should be working on? People who procrastinate have higher levels of stress and anxiety. You may know that putting off important tasks is what is causing you anxiety, but you might feel as if you can’t stop. This is a result of the thoughts and beliefs you have about yourself and the work that you are doing. With effort, these thoughts can be changed, and you can free yourself from the mental prison your procrastination has put you in.
It is important to know that procrastination is not a flaw in your character, and it doesn’t mean that you are a bad person who can’t take care of yourself or function in society. It is actually something we do when we are trying to cope with negative thoughts and feelings. The core of this issue is not being able to regulate your emotions. You might feel that the task is boring, difficult, or just downright unpleasant, and that gets you stuck in a cycle of procrastination. This is surface-level. Procrastination can also run deeper than this. You can be struggling with feelings of self-doubt, low self-esteem, or anxiety. You may feel that you aren’t smart enough to complete the task, or that you won’t be perfect at it, so you shouldn’t bother doing it.
Here are some ways you can change your thoughts and avoid procrastination:
Think of your future self as a friend and not a stranger
Not thinking about how your actions will affect your future self can impact you greatly. Instead of focusing on the long-term consequences, we hone in on our short-term needs and end up putting things off to ease our anxiety in that moment. This only harms us, giving us an underlying current of stress that we can’t exactly put our finger on. You don’t need to beat yourself up about this because it’s just the way your brain is wired. The task that you are putting off is now a threat to your mind, activating the amygdala, which is the part of the brain that is responsible for the flight or fight response. It helps to not be so detached from your future self and thinking that completing your task is a problem for somebody else. Instead, show your love for yourself by making the effort for your future self. You are always your own partner.
Forgive yourself when you procrastinate
It is normal to procrastinate–everyone does it. If you shame yourself when you do it, however, you will fuel the cycle even further. Treat yourself with kindness and understanding in the face of your mistakes and perceived failures. Having compassion for yourself and being non-judgemental is a way to get past your procrastination, and will prevent you from procrastinating in the future because it decreases negative emotions and increases feelings of self-worth and optimism. If the root of procrastination is low self-esteem, you can boost your self-esteem immensely when you are patient and kind to yourself, even when you make mistakes.
When you feel like you can’t focus on the task at hand or your other important projects, curiously examine what sort of thoughts and feelings you are experiencing. What sensations do you notice? Where do you feel them? When you observe the thoughts you have about procrastinating, what happens to those thoughts? Do they go away, intensify, or cause other emotions to come up? Do they shift as you continue to focus on them? This doesn’t have to be from a place of fear, but gentle curiosity.
Get started on tasks by committing to only work on them for a few minutes.
If after a few minutes you still don’t feel like finishing the task, you can be proud of yourself for putting in five minutes of work into the project. However, many times, this is just the push we need to finish what we have been putting off. Doing this is a great way to get yourself out of the rut that procrastination causes because you aren’t putting an insane amount of pressure on yourself. Instead, you are allowing yourself to ease into the task, and giving yourself an opportunity to exit, which lowers your expectations and the pressure those expectations put on you.
Through all of this, it is important to remember that you aren’t perfect, and the people that love you unconditionally do not expect you to be perfect. Making mistakes is a part of life, so if you are doubting yourself and afraid to do something wrong, try giving yourself a little more love and understanding. Mistakes can be your greatest teacher, and if you keep procrastinating and you never try, you’ll never experience those wonderful learning opportunities.
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Alli Cravener is a social media coordinator and writer who is passionate about connecting people through words. Alli studied English at Arizona State University and has found her niche uniting concept and content in the realm of mental health and the expressive arts. Alli’s interests include painting, history, learning about other people, and wearing the color pink. She likens herself to a “mouse in a palm tree”, and she loves it that way.