Procrastination isn't Laziness - it's Fear

Are you a frequent procrastinator? Are you procrastinating right now? Do you struggle with cycles of procrastination, and feelings of shame that damage your self-esteem? Read this article to find out why you’re not a bad person and how you can take steps to stop procrastinating. 

Has Your Procrastination Become a Habit? 

Procrastinators often find themselves in repetitive cycles of avoidance and self-recrimination. Every time, they say things are going to be different. For example, next time they’ll manage their time better. Next time they won’t succumb to distractions or come up with excuses not to get started. Maybe they just need to find an accountability partner who’ll give them a nudge when they’re about to slip.

As a society we view procrastination as a bad habit that needs to be broken and replaced with good habits in order to achieve our goals of productivity. So after procrastinating, we tell ourselves, once and for all, we’ll stop being lazy and meet our potential.

Only it doesn’t go that way. Deadlines slip by, to-do lists gather dust, and procrastinators beat themselves up for their flawed character. It seems, sometimes, that the only thing procrastinators are better at than putting things off, is putting themselves down.

You Don’t Procrastinate Because You’re Lazy

If procrastinators pull back from some of the negative self-talk they subject themselves to, they’d likely realize they’re not lazy at all. When the motivation is there, they have no problem completing their tasks. Why, then, is motivation so hard to come by? Or more accurately, why is it so easy to find the motivation to do some things, but not others?

Note that at the simplest level, humans find their motivation through seeking pleasure and avoiding pain. To the procrastinator, fear (and avoidance) of pain, particularly emotional pain, readily drains motivation away.

Here are examples of what they might be afraid of:

  • Letting someone down – an especially big fear of procrastinators who are also people-pleasers
  • Having their work be criticized – perfectionism as an obstacle to productivity looms large, here
  • Being judged for their decisions – if the decision is put off, they can’t be judged for their choice
  • Failure – potential success is exciting, potential failure is petrifying

This is a big reason why someone who is procrastinating can readily tackle minor tasks like washing the dishes, reorganizing their desk, or cleaning up their inbox. The stakes of these activities are low, with nearly no potential for a negative outcome. And they come complete with an easy sense of accomplishment, which temporarily chases away negative feelings surrounding bigger tasks that await completion.

How Common is Procrastination?

If you’re reading this, perhaps some of the above sounds like you. Maybe you’re reading this right now because you’re in the middle of procrastinating and are looking for a way out. Maybe you have this tab open and another one about Bullet Journals or some other productivity magic trick that’ll finally be the one that solves your procrastination.

Procrastination isn’t the disease. It’s just a symptom. It’s a form of self-sabotage that helps you stay safe.

Whether you realize it or not, there are two hardwired needs inside of you as a human being, and these fundamental needs drive every single thought and behavior:

  • The need to feel loved.
  • The need to stay safe.

When we procrastinate, we prevent ourselves from taking action in order to maintain our current status quo. We don’t risk losing someone’s love (or approval), and we’re insulated from the danger of failure and the negative consequences that come with it.

How to Stop Procrastination 

With this perspective in mind, we can address the root causes of our procrastination. It’s easier said than done, but these are steps you can follow that’ll help lead you to sustainable change:

  1. Be kinder to yourself. It’s easy to think you just need to give yourself a kick in the pants to get going. That might work sometimes, but reinforcing your negative feelings about yourself makes it even harder to overcome your inertia.
  2. Identify the fears surrounding the tasks you can’t get started on. What are you afraid of? Are you afraid your work won’t be perfect? Are you afraid of letting someone down? On the flip side, what pleasure do you achieve through procrastination? Are you maintaining your comfort? Are you assured of someone’s approval by not taking action?
  3. Recognize that your instinct to procrastinate is there to protect you, even if it interferes with your long-term goals. Thank your subconscious for looking out for you. Just as your balance has developed since childhood to keep you from falling over, you’ve developed a habit of procrastination as a defense mechanism born from pain in the past. You’re not a bad person; just one who’s trying to stay safe.
  4. Take it to the finish line. So you’ve identified your worst fear surrounding the completion of a task. Now, imagine that scenario playing out in its entirety. You fail. What happens next? What steps do you take to deal with the consequences? Chances are good you’ll make it to the end of this thought experiment having reached the conclusion that, in reality, you can actually deal with whatever happens even if it’ll be unpleasant.
  5. Commit to providing yourself with the love you need. It’s unwise to depend on love primarily from external sources. You can achieve perfection, deliver flawlessly, and still have people withdraw their love (or approval) from you. But if you work hard to create a deep well of inner love and self-acceptance, you won’t rush to earn external approval. Fears of judgment and criticism melt away when you learn to love yourself.

Sustainable Change Isn’t Immediate

By trying to approach each instance of procrastination with these steps, you can begin to chip away at the fears which drive it. And by doing so, you create the opportunity to change in a way that’s lasting and sustainable. This kind of awareness is key for dealing with procrastination as well as other negative thought patterns you find yourself trapped in. You have to be willing to open up, be honest with yourself, and shed light on the dark parts of your inner workings. But when you do it, you’ll emerge with insights, clarity, and strength to gently conquer the parts of yourself that you’ve been at war with. 

Now, I’d love to hear from you! Share in the comments below:

  1. How does procrastination show up for you?
  2. What’s one thing you learned from this article and how will you apply it next time to overcome procrastination?

If you’d like more support on overcoming procrastination, increasing productivity, and reaching your health and life goals with ease, send me a message to schedule your discovery coaching call and explore how Life Coaching can support you! I can’t wait to hear from you!

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