Overcoming Procrastination By Tackling The Emotions Underlying Procrastination.

Published on 26th March, 2021

Overcoming Procrastination By Tackling The Emotions Underlying Procrastination.

Most of us have encountered procrastination at some point in our personal and professional lives. You may be reading this very blog post while at work with a to-do list next to you that is being ignored, or perhaps at 2am while avoiding writing a term paper. Perhaps you searched for techniques to overcome procrastination and you’ve found yourself here looking for some straightforward tips. It’s not uncommon to procrastinate - we all do it - but what is often overlooked is the emotional component underlying a lot of behaviors related to procrastination.

For most of us, procrastination is more about emotion management than time management. When you’re procrastinating, you may be avoiding the feelings that come along with the task you’re putting off than the task itself.

For example, if you have a paper due, some of the feelings that surround the particular task may be:

  • Fear (“If I don’t do well on this assignment, my grades will suffer”),
  • Dread (“I remember the last time I tried to write an essay, and it ended up keeping me up all night and then I was exhausted and miserable the next day”),
  • Embarrassment (“I feel lazy, stupid, incompetent… why is this so hard for me to do?”)
  • Anger at yourself (“Why have I waited so long to work on this, I should have started much earlier!”).
  • Guilt (“If I don’t do well on this assignment, my mum/dad/teacher/boss will be so disappointed in me”)
  • Hopelessness (“There’s no way I can possibly complete this assignment at the level I want to”)

You may also be anticipating future feelings, like disappointment and shame (“If I don’t do a good job, I’ll be a failure”).

You may be holding any or all of these feelings all at once, and you may not be conscious of it. And this makes it all the harder to start on the daunting task in front of you! You’re emotionally overwhelmed even before you can embark on the process of completing the task required. Have you ever noticed that your body and mind sometimes feel literally full up? This can feel paralyzing, and keep you from doing all the things you want to do.

It’s important to make time to explore what you’re feeling, and address some of these difficult emotions head on. You’ll be much better prepared to get the work done if you can hone the skill of emotional awareness. This isn’t a quick fix - it’s an intentional and long-term process that can be greatly supported by a counsellor or psychotherapist. Learn to recognize and understand what emotions you’re experiencing, build tolerance for the distressing feelings, and challenge the existing thoughts and narratives that come with them.

Let’s try a different example. Let’s say you have a ton of laundry that needs washing, and you just can’t bring yourself to get up and start the load. For things like household chores, often there can be an anticipation that you will feel drained and tired after the task, or perhaps you will be missing out on something more fun while you spent time on the tedious chore. It’s important to reflect on this, and ask some questions to identify why you’re continuing to avoid the task.

Perhaps ask yourself:

  • “What am I feeling right now?”
  • “What am I afraid of feeling if I start the laundry?”
  • “What are the chances I will feel X, Y, or Z when I’m done with laundry?”

Once you’ve identified what you’re feeling, you can more easily challenge the underlying thoughts and be on your way to overcoming procrastination. For example, if you’ve identified that you’ll feel drained by doing the task, you can tell yourself you’ll take a restful break after, or you can plan ahead and eat a snack now to give yourself some energy (perhaps you’re even tired before you’ve started, and the anticipation of more tiredness is making this particular task even more formidable!). You can say something compassionate to yourself like “Hey, I know you’ll be tired after folding laundry, it’s okay, you’ll be okay!” Allowing yourself to accept the discomfort a particular task brings will lower the resistance that you’re subconsciously putting out in the form of procrastination.

There are tons of quick tips for productivity out there. What I want to leave you with is a compassionate reminder that often, overcoming procrastination isn’t a matter of finding quick fixes and life hacks, but a longer term process of becoming more emotionally aware, figuring out the underlying narratives you’re holding about yourself or your work, and then working to challenge and reframe those narratives. Ultimately, you want to illuminate the emotions that lurk underneath the behaviors of avoidance, and this will help you overcome the procrastination that surrounds uncomfortable, difficult or unpleasant tasks in all parts of your life.