People come into my office all the time feeling guilty about procrastinating on important goals. “I’m just lazy,” they say.
Let me just put this out there on the table: THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS LAZINESS. Labeling ourselves as “lazy” is a shame-based trap that leaves us with nowhere to go. It is a destructive myth.
People are never lazy. Human beings procrastinate for one of four reasons:
- We have Executive Function challenges
- We are unmotivated
- We are scared or anxious, or
- We are grieving.
Those, we can do something with!
Executive Function Challenges
For some people, (for example, those with ADHD or Traumatic Brain Injuries,) what might look like procrastination is actually an organic time/task management issue because your brain is wired somewhat differently than those without these issues. There are people called Executive Function Coaches who can help you come up with strategies that makes sense for the way you uniquely think. (For help in locating an EF coach, hit the Contact Tiffany above above.)
If you’ve fished around inside and determined that you have put something off because you are unmotivated, ask yourself sincerely, “Why?” And then answer your question! It could be that this thing you feel you “should” do is really not yours to do at all! It could be that you are discontent in an area of your life and so doing those tasks feels like pulling teeth. LISTEN TO YOUR DISCONTENT! It is likely leading you to do something much better with your time and energy.
“Discontent breeds life-long change.” ~ Sarah Ban Breathnach
Figure out what changes you need to make in your life, either in the short or long term. If there is a long term change you need to make you will still likely need to complete the dreaded task you’ve put off. However, doing it with an end in sight and a new direction in front of you is a whole lot easier than doing something that feels like pointless, endless drudgery.
Because one of my clinical specialties is anxiety management, a lot of the people I work with procrastinate because they are anxious. Anxiety is like a monster in the closet. As long as the door is shut and the light is off, we imagine the monster to be huge, hungry and smelly with fangs and claws. He grows in there as we pretend to not be thinking about him or smelling him behind the door. However, when we flick the light on and open the closet door, we realize that the monster is really not all that big at all. Yes, there really is a monster in the closet, but he is not nearly as threatening as we imagined. When we talk with him and ask him what he’s doing there, we find that he is entirely manageable. (For more info on dealing with anxiety, see Anxiety.)
You may be procrastinating because you are afraid of failure. You may be afraid of success. You may be afraid that if you attempt the task in front of you, someone will find out that you are “not good enough.” Taking your anxious thoughts out from behind the closet door gives you a place to start in order to make healthy, life-giving changes instead of being trapped in the cycle of anxious procrastination that ultimately makes us more and more anxious and self-shaming.
In spite of the fact that I’ve worked with people in their grief in various capacities for over 20 years, it did not occur to me until two days ago, while sitting with a dear friend in the middle of her devastating grief, that when we procrastinate while grieving we are actually stopping time in a way.
Procrastination can help us hold on to the illusion that things have not actually changed: Our loved ones have not died, our marriage has not ended, our children have not left the nest, we haven’t really lost that job or that business. We are insulating ourselves from the sometimes wrenching pain of accepting the reality of our loss.
If this is where you find yourself, please be gentle with your tender feelings. Ask yourself what you need in order to feel nurtured and take care of yourself. The pieces will come back together in their time. If the thing you’ve delayed is essential to your well-being, (like paying your bills or making meals,) please either delegate that task or reach out to someone who can do the task alongside you. If it is non-essential, perhaps getting that thing done is not more important than managing your grief. (For a good summary of J. WIlliam Worden’s “4 Tasks of Grief,” read http://www.counsellingtutor.com/the-4-tasks-of-greiving/. These tasks apply whether we are grieving a loss through death, or the loss of a life-dream.)
To summarize, facing the thoughts behind our procrastination is gives us a doorway to make essential changes and self-care that will lead us to a more vital existence. USE YOUR PROCRASTINATION to give you insight into what you need in your life! Don’t get caught in the futile shame loop that drives the lie that you are lazy. YOU ARE NOT LAZY. (No one is.)
If you’d like help sorting through what your procrastination might be leading you to, click Contact Tiffany above and let’s start figuring it out together.
“Surviving is important, but thriving is elegant.” ~ Maya Angelou