The Procrastination Cycle

In my last blog, I talked about self-sabotage, why we do it, named some of the most common methods of doing so. I also promised to dig a bit deeper into each of those methods throughout the week. As a self-saboteur, procrastination is one of my key tools. In fairness, it’s not an intentional tool. It’s a super convenient one, and I’d say that it’s probably one of the prime self-sabotage techniques for people in general, when it comes to avoiding our fears.

Why is procrastination so commonly used to self-sabotage?

1.  You can literally procrastinate by doing anything – scrolling social media, walking the dog, picking your nose, you name it.

2.   Most of the time (picking your nose perhaps notwithstanding, but who am I to judge), procrastination can seem convincingly justified. For instance, you may know that you have to start on that guest post you were asked to write, but wouldn’t it be so sweet if your spouse came home to a clean house and a special dinner? They’ve been working so hard, they deserve that, don’t they? And they may well deserve it. And you also have been working hard, and were finally asked to write a guest post and you deserve that too. But if you’re worried about your post not being good enough, getting negative feedback, repercussions of others reading it (i.e. if you’re talking about a personal topic like I do with mental health), it’s super easy to justify putting that off, especially when it’s to do something for someone else.

3.  It often helps us feel accomplished, even when we’ve avoided our main task. And sometimes, it really is getting things done. We manage to tick of smaller items, less scary items, all while skirting the one thing we really needed to do to reach our goal.

4.  Starting is often the hardest part. Think about a morning workout routine. I can say with full honesty that the toughest part of my morning workout is not the workout. It’s hearing the alarm, getting up in the dark, getting dressed, and getting set up for my workout/going outside for my run. Rarely do we jump out of bed at our alarm, eagerly get dressed, hurry to the gym/get outside for our run and then stand there and say “Nope, not doing it.” It’s that getting started. It’s that first initial push to move forward with the plan.  Especially because once we start, we’ve often forged some sort of internal commitment to ourselves to see it through. Which opens us up to things like failure, rejection, and all sorts of other things that make us feel vulnerable. But when we procrastinate, we don’t have to get to that stage.

5. It can be super tough to identify. Obviously, if you’ve chosen to pick your nose for hours instead of work on the guest post, it’s a bit more obvious. But if like me, you procrastinate with productive activities, maybe even activities related to the task at hand, it can be significantly more difficult to pinpoint. I, for example, am a procrastination brain-stormer/researcher/list maker (I’ll delve more into lists and self-sabotage later this week). I have more notebooks and documents and apps filled with varying versions of the same brainstorm for Spread Hope Project and advocacy work that I’ve lost count. I always tell myself I just need to think it through a little more, or make one more list of ideas, or read one more article about xyz to make sure I have all the possible ideas and information I need. When really what I need to do, after the umteenth list and brainstorm, is just get started. I’ve finally recognized this, because I have recognized that my strength is in the big vision and little details but the implementation (part where I get started) trips me up. But it’s taken me a long time to recognize that.  When your activities seem productive and goal-oriented, it’s a lot trickier to identify them as procrastination.

So what can we do about it?  

As a self-proclaimed procrastinator, I wish I had all the answers. But I do have some tricks that have helped me.

Identify the procrastination technique(s).

  • Record it old school. You can keep a bulleted list of what you’re accomplishing/doing. You could also use an old school planner, that breaks down the day in increments (usually by the hour). Traditionally, this is used for planning out your day, and you an use it that way. But you could also use it to write down how you spent your time throughout the hour. And don’t cheat either – if you spent 15 minutes scrolling through social media, include it. It doesn’t have to be exact, but if you notice that Facebook comes up in every hour (and your job doesn’t involve primarily social media), it can help indicate patterns.
  • Use a task  timer. I like the Task Timer app for iphone, but there are other (free) options I’m sure. This app uses the Pomodoro Technique, and allows you to assign different task categories. Each time you restart the timer, you can select the task category. Be honest about your tasks – if you plan to spend the next 25 minutes checking social or doing laundry or whatever it is, mark it as such. You can then go back and notice how much time you spent doing what.
  • If you’re primarily on the computer, look at the open tabs on your browsers. This often shows you what you were doing to distract yourself.
  • Have an accountability partner. This obviously takes someone who’s willing to participate, but it can be a big help. Set a frequency with with to regularly check in. This also means we’re more likely to keep track of what we’re accomplishing, which can help identify patterns. Often times, others are better at noticing our patterns than us.
  • Remove those things you think *may* be your procrastination culprits. Put your phone away. Log out of social media. Close all browser tabs/apps/etc except for the ones your specifically working in right now.  If cooking/doing laundry/etc is your distraction, close the door to those rooms or go in a room far away from the kitchen as make sense. If you start feeling “naked” without these outlets, you’ve probably hit on (at least some of) your procrastination techniques.

You’ve Identified the Techniques… Now What?

  • For starters, keep up with the bullet point above. Move away as many distractions as you can, if you know that they’re your procrastination techniques.
  • Schedule in time for your favorite procrastinations, and stick to it. If you use a timer or a planner, dedicate one or two of those time blocks to your favorite procrastination. This is especially helpful procrastination techniques that double as tasks that actually need to get done (eventually). If you do indeed need to do laundry, knowing that you’ve blocked that time to do it during the day can help that gnawing feeling of “What if I forget or get too busy, I better just go do it now…”.  Not all procrastination is intentional – sometimes we think “oh I’ll just pop a load of whites in the laundry before I get started on that blog post”, and two hours later we’ve washed and folded our entire wardrobe and organized every drawer by color.
  • Pare down your to do list to three items max. Fewer is better, but I get that we all have deadlines.The bigger ticket/scarier/more complicated the items are, the fewer you include. I’ll talk about this more in a dedicated post, but often procrastination comes from feeling overwhelmed – again, that whole “getting started” piece.
  • If you get stuck just do something, anything (related to the task). As I mentioned, fear often keeps us from getting started. It’ll tell us something like “You can’t write that article. You don’t even have a title. You can’t turn in an article without a title.” Our brains psyche us our and we’re frozen before we even get started. And the more this builds up in our head, the more that rides on this title, the more we tend to freeze. So if you have to, put in a placeholder. It can be “Insert title”. It can be a general topic of the article (Procrastination). If you get stuck on what to write in the article itself, just start write anything related that comes to mind. Go back and fix it later, but get something down.  I talk a lot about writing here, but this can be true for just about any task that we’re dreading.  We often procrastinate – and self-sabotage – when we put so much pressure on one decision (the title of the article), when really, if we just got started in some way, we’d figure it out as we went along.

I hope some of these help! In my next post, I’ll be talking about the Endless To Do List and procrastination.

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How Do You Work With Fear?

It’s natural, as we grow older, to have a bit more fear (at least, I feel it is). As a child, we  didn’t know all the ramifications – we could fall and get hurt if we did this or that, we could get emotionally hurt from xyz, we could be rejected or fail if we went after such and such goal. As we get older, and we learn more about how things work, how life happens, as we experience more struggles and challenges, there’s more to fear. As a toddler, you didn’t (hopefully) have to fear that if you went after your career dreams and failed, you may not be able to pay your rent or mortgage, or feed your family. Fewer responsibilities often meant fewer fears of what would go wrong.

As adults, we’ve been through a lot of life experiences, ups and downs, successes and failures, achievements and disappointments. We know what can go well, but we also know what can go not so well. And often times, especially when you’re dealing with depression or anxiety, it’s that “what can go wrong” that gets magnified. And often, that can lead to fear. Furthermore, because depression and anxiety often like to lie to us, clinging on to those fears and reiterating that we’ll fail or be rejected or some other concerning outcome, that fear begins to sound a lot more like fact to our brain. It slowly morphs from “but what if I fail” to simply, “I fail”. To clarify, I’m not blaming us for this. It’s our illness, doing what it does so well, grabbing hold of the most vulnerable pieces, and clamping down on them, and makes it feel impossible to see any other outcome. Furthermore, it often feels impossible that if this “worst case scenario” happens – we fail, we get rejected, we mess something up big time – that (at least in time) it’ll be OK. That maybe, in even trying and failing, we’ll move closer to where we want to be.

This is a challenge I’m actively working on with myself right now.  While I am not trampling over my fears thoroughly, I am learning a few tricks along the way that I thought I’d share.  Sometimes, in these situations, it helps me to approach things a bit backwards – look at all the awesome possibilities first, and then bring it back down slowly to “ground level”, so that maybe I can begin to work on the fear of other, less awesome, outcomes. In order to do this, I’ve been asking myself a few key questions.

So here goes a big first question. I’ll share some of my own responses to it, in case that helps you to record your own.

What would you do or be if fear wasn't holding you back_

What would you do/be/go for if fear was not holding you back?

To clarify, this isn’t a “perfect world” scenario. It’s simply, “if you are who you are, where you are, with all that is you, but without xyz fear(s) holding you back.”  As promised, here are a few of mine – they range from the mundane to the big, because we (or at least I) have all kinds of fears, and big or small, they can hold us back.

  • I’d submit writing to more sites/sources
  • I’d cook/bake/try more culinary stuff without worry that they’d be awful (told you some were smaller than others)
  • I’d try my hand at growing my own herbs and veggies (I make half-hearted attempts, but I know I’m afraid I’ll fail, and haven’t pushed myself).
  • I’d work on publishing my novel
  • I’d work for myself again – I’d dig in, and figure out what I had to do to make it happen, instead of hemming & hawing & “I don’t know”ing.
  • I’d expand my advocacy to things like videos, or maybe podcasts.
  • I’d reach out and try to get more involved in advocacy panels or speaking or something along those lines.
  • I’d reach out to friends more, and try to get consistent get-togethers planned (like “we play board games every Tuesday” or whatever). Yes, this is a fear thing. Friend rejection is a serious issue for me me.
  • I’d learn how to do more around the house – fix more stuff, etc. My husband is awesome at this, but I’d like to learn too.

As you can see, there are some big items, and some seemingly silly items. “If you weren’t afraid, you’d cook?” you might ask. Yes.  I’m so afraid I’ll mess it up, do it “wrong”, embarrass myself (I don’t even know what this means in relation to cooking but it’s a fear), set off the smoke detectors because I’m burning something, etc. And it may not seem like something that’s holding me back, but I hate feeling like I can’t do simple things, and it wreaks havoc on my self-confidence and self-esteem. So whatever your list entails, don’t cross it off because it seems silly or unimportant or like it can’t possibly be holding you back. If it came to your mind, it’s important. Plus, these “silly” fears play an important role in getting us “over the fear hump”, which I’ll discuss later on.

 

Question number two:

If your fears came true, what's the worst that's likely to happen_

If you try and your fear comes true, what’s the worst that’s likely to happen?

Two clarifications here:

1.) I’m not talking about fears of serious life events – like fear of losing a loved one, or of serious illness or injury.  Obviously, when it comes to serious impacts on our lives and health like this, we have to consider these serious possibilities. I’m talking about “What if I do try to cook that dish or to grow those plants or to make those plans with friends, and it doesn’t work out as I hope – i.e. I fail, mess up, get rejected.”

2.) Note that I say “is likely to happen”. Yes, there’s always technically the chance of the absolute worst case scenario. I could try to cook something and end up burning down my kitchen. That does happen. But the worst that’s likely to happen is I burn it, have to throw it out, and order pizza for dinner. And in the process, I’ve perhaps learned what not to do when cooking that particular item, so I have more knowledge for next time I try.

So, what’s the worst that’s likely to happen? Of course, the bigger ticket items are more risky. If I try to work for myself and it fails, then that’s a bigger problem than if I try to garden and it fails. But knowing these, even the more serious concerns, is a first step, because it helps us get a plan in place.

 

Question number three:

Are past failures or rejections actually what you think they are_

If you’re basing your fear on past experience, is the past failure/rejection/etc actually what you think it is?

Confused? Let me explain. Real life example: The first time I cooked for my now-husband (then boyfriend) in our house, I decided to make breakfast for dinner. I knew I could make omelettes so I felt pretty solid, despite my cooking fears. And I burnt them. Horribly. Like, smoke detectors going off and scaring the dog, horribly. We had to dump them and order pizza. My brain, in those moments, turned on me faster than a sworn enemy would: See you can’t even cook the most basic things! You’re incapable. How can you be almost 40 years old and not even be able to make eggs? How pathetic!  Except what I never considered, and my (now) husband then pointed out, is that it was the first time we’d used the oven in the new house, it was a very old electric oven (I was used to gas ovens), the coils weren’t even so it wasn’t cooking proportionally, and it looked like it hadn’t been used in probably months, if not longer, so the oven itself was metaphorically rusty. In short, maybe the issue was the oven, and not me (at least here – admittedly, with some cooking, it is me). So, are the failures/rejections, mess ups, etc actually that? Or could there be another reason they’re occurring. Note: Answer this honestly. This isn’t to push away all responsibility. That’s the opposite end of the spectrum. But it could be that your fear is based off a failing or rejection or mess up that actually… isn’t. This can help dissect that.

 

Question number four:

What small steps can you take to build up to your bigger fears_

What are some small steps that you can take to work up to your bigger fears?

Another real life example: I’ve been wanting to attempt publishing my novel since I finished writing it over a year and a half ago. But I’m afraid of rejection, that it’s not good enough, and all these other things. So, this past September, my dad came up with an option: He produces Wordgathering Journal (an online journal), and suggested publishing a draft of the first chapter in the journal. Despite the fact that it’s my dad, and I trust his judgement on what’s good enough to go into the journal, it was nerve wracking – this was the first time any fiction work of mine was being put out for public consumption. But the fact that it was one chapter, and my dad was publishing it, made it less scary. Now, I’m looking into eventually self-publishing the full thing. That one small step gave me confidence to go further. It also gave me the insight to look at other options for getting my work out there – it didn’t have to be “big publisher or bust”.

So look at your fears, and see how you can break them down. It probably won’t dissipate the fears all together, but they may break down into manageable fears, as mine did above.

 
And finally, a tip/thought:

Practice doesn't make perfect, but it helps.

This is where to address those seemingly “silly” fears first. It’s way easier to think, “Tonight, I’m going to try to cook a simple dinner” than it is to say “I’m going to go for it and try to get my novel published”. These smaller things, when we start to move with the fear (note: not past it, but with it, meaning, we’re not unafraid, but we’re not frozen with fear), can help us build up to those bigger ticket items.

The bottom line is, the more we practice (thoughtfully) doing things we’re afraid of, the less frightening it becomes. I say thoughtfully here because I’m not saying “throw all caution to the wind and hope it all works out OK!” But the point is, often, one of the most frightening things is the unknown: What will happen? What if this? What if that? What if, what if, what if… But the more we practice moving forward with our fear, the more we get used to it. That’s not to say that we should just all be used to rejection and failure. Those hurt, sometimes terribly, and if we were all completely ok with every rejection we ever got, that might be just as concerning, especially when it’s on a personal level (friends, relationships).  But the more we work with our fear, the more we understand that sometimes, rejection and failure and messing up happen, and that when they do, we can get through it. And sometimes, they don’t happen. And that’s even better.

 

What Are You Really Afraid Of?

This week’s topic is fear – a topic that’s near and dear to my heart. To clarify, not because I love fear. Not by any means. But because I have fear, or should I say fears, and plenty of them.  While I do deal with some more external fears, like claustrophobia, heights, flying (ironic, for a travel planner I know), and a particularly strange fear of getting locked in a bathroom (there’s actually history to this one), my biggest fears are internal:

  • Fear of failure
  • Fear of rejection
  • Fear of loss of control (of life, of my mind, of anything)
  • Of never being truly happy
  • Of never finding my path in life

So if you, too, battle these, know that you’re not alone. Often, fear of failure and rejection, and even fear of loss of control, can show up as behaviors such as self-sabotage (whole week’s focus coming up on this), procrastination, talking ourselves out of going for something we really want, giving up on our dreams and goals even if they’re attainable or in reach. And frequently, because of these, our fears become a “self-fulling prophecy” and form a vicious loop.  If you struggle with depression or anxiety, this loop is often even trickier. To clarify, I am NOT saying that these things are our faults, that we’re to blame for feeling depressed or for having low self-esteem or confidence or self-worth. I’m not saying that at all. Here’s what I’m saying:

Depression and anxiety make it difficult for us to fully trust ourselves. They lie to us, telling us that we’re worthless, hopeless, not good enough. They tell us we’ll never be successful, or catalogue a list a mile long of all the things that will go wrong, to the point that we may be overcome with anxiety. When you’re consistently being told you’re worthless and hopeless and not enough, that you’ll never succeed, that nobody cares about what you do, or whatever other lies our illnesses tell us, the results are often low self-esteem, low self-confidence, and low self-worth. Afterall, being told this enough, even by ourselves, has a lasting impact. And if you’ve ever been told this by others too, that only compounds it further (note, we’ll go into stigma and dealing with other people’s B.S. later in this topics series). Speaking from personal experience, convincing yourself that you’re going to succeed, that you don’t need to be afraid of failure or rejection or anything like this,  can be incredibly difficult when you’re really struggling with feelings of worthlessness.

This is something I’m working with actively at this moment, and it’s something that I think a lot of us experience, at least on some level. Over this week, I’m hoping to offer some thoughts to help maybe break down the fears a bit, to make them seem more manageable, and also offer some tools to try to work through them.

To start with, here are a few questions to think on:

1. What do you truly fear? This could take a little digging, but it helps to get to the bottom of the fear. A few tools that might help dig deeper here.

  •  Note that the true fear may be hiding behind another fear. For example, you may be saying, “I want to start my own business, but I’m afraid I’ll make less money, and I won’t be able to pay my bills.” And maybe money is where the fear ends – maybe you are making six figures now and your business plan you’ve created for your own business doesn’t account for that kind of salary. But often, it’s not this cut and dry and we have to dig deeper and ask ourselves, “Is a this really what I’m afraid of?”  Or to put it another way, in this example, “If you started your own business and you were successful, would you have less money and not be able to pay your bills?”  See if this assumption of success changes the inner dialogue. If so, the real fear not be simply be the salary to bills ratio, but that you’ll fail in your business venture. When examining your fears, look for what’s being left unspoken, and that might help you get to the heart of the issue. Often our fears are layered, and we need to address each aspect of them to fully work with them.
  • Also note that sometimes, fear disguises itself as anger. For instance, say you’re a writer and have a dream of getting published. And someone says to you, “You’ll never be published. You’re not all that good. Why don’t you go after a more realistic dream?” Sure, most people would get hurt. Because it’s a hurtful statement. But if you get really angry, and (internally or actually) start screaming at them, “How dare you say that. You’re an a$$hole! You don’t know what you’re talking about. You wouldn’t know good writing if it hit you in the face!”, make note. Make further note if you’re still mumbling to yourself about how wrong they are days or weeks later. It is true that it’s a pretty rude (and unless they’re your editor, probably unnecessary) thing to say. But often, we get most angry at something because deep down, there’s a tiny voice that says, “what if they’re right?” It doesn’t mean it’s a justified voice, but it’s often there all the same. People putting a voice to our deepest fears can make us feel exposed and vulnerable, and that’s often not a comfortable place to be.Often, to protect ourselves (think fight or flight), our body goes into anger mode, to mask feeling exposed. So take note of those moments. They can often be the most telling.

2. Do you feel this fear is holding you back? I ask this because it’s not always the case. Three reasons: First, some fear can healthy. It can keep us from situations that are actually potentially dangerous. Second: Fear can make us think things through more. For instance, if you think starting your business will result in a lower salary, you probably should address the “how will I pay the bills” question, even if it’s not your deepest rooted fear.  Third, some people use fear as a motivator. They are determined to get past their fear, and it fuels them to push themselves when they otherwise might stop. Sometimes, pushing past the fear in itself is a goal, and it can be a good one. But if this does not sound like you (I know it often doesn’t sound like me), here are some ways to figure out if fear is holding you back.

  • Do you notice you often get stuck at the same point in tasks/projects/activities?  I, for instance, am gung-ho in the idea and brainstorming stage. I am great at the planning, I make content calendars and marketing plans, I have business plans bulleted down to the tiniest detail. And then, when it’s time for implementation, I freeze. Or I make one small effort, and if it doesn’t seem to immediately return a positive result, I get discouraged and often back off. It’s easier to find reasons why it’s a bad idea or it won’t work or I’m too busy, or I just can’t do it right, now than to face potential failure.
  • Do you procrastinate consistently when it comes to certain tasks or goals (by which I mean tasks or goals that you want to do, at least in theory – not like taking out the trash or cleaning the toilet)? To clarify, procrastinating doesn’t have to be scrolling through Facebook for hours (though it can be). But if you find that every time you have to do xyz, you suddenly realize that you’ve been meaning to organize your sock drawer, or rearrange the kitchen pots and pans, or clean the tub again, note it. Or, if like me, you constantly think you’ll just make one more list or read one more applicable article just to make sure every tiny detail is perfect, instead of actually starting on the next steps, you may well be procrastinating. Procrastination can be sneaky, so look for it in non-obvious places – like working around every other item that could possibly ever be on your to-do list, instead of starting on the one task you said you were going to do today.
  • Do you deal with all or nothing thinking when it comes to your goals? For instance, for the writer above that wants to be published, if they say something like, “It’s not like it’s going to be a best-seller, so what’s the point?”, fear is probably holding them back. This falls under the “I’ll never succeed so why try” category.  When you deal with a mental illness, gray areas can be especially tricky. Speaking from personal experience, when I struggle to trust my own brain, it can often feel like I need “solid” thoughts to hold onto – something is good/bad, right/wrong, this way/that way, success/failure. And having that anchor can be really important, because there are times that the whole world can feel gray, fuzzy, wobbly. But it can also feed fears of failure or rejection, because we may see the only possible outcomes as success or failure, not a sliding scale. This is something I am especially working on right now, and there will be a whole theme on “gray areas” later on.

If you’re working on determining your fears, I hope these help. My next post will be on what we can do once we have determined what are fears are, and how (if) they’re holding us back.

And to close, a final reminder: fear is a natural part of life. It’s ok to feel afraid. I’d venture to say nobody lives without some fear – even if it’s a small, less-obvious fear that they may not even be aware of. Having fear is part of the human experience.  We don’t have to be fearless. We just need to work on identifying those fears, and how we can best work with them to move towards our goals and dreams.

 

It's perfectly OK to be afraid.

 

 

Everyday Inspiration

2018 Goal_Find Something Hopeful In

This is 2018 Goal number 3. Every day, I’m surrounded by people and life that inspires me. My friends’ hard work, big hearts, knowledge, perseverance. There stories that I hear of people overcoming major obstacles. There are children I know, who find the joy in even the tiniest thing. Who don’t worry about last month or next week, but are enjoying the moment. There’s my dog, who literally things every time she looks at myself or my husband is the best moment ever. Who is so excited for every meal, that’s the exact same kibble she’s gotten for the last 2.5 years, like it’s a giant steak that she may never get again. Running after a toy is the most fun thing in the world. Every time.

Often, I’m inspired by nature – the sun on a perfect cloudless day, making life just a little bit sweeter. The first signs of spring, the smell of rain, the vastness of an ocean or the peacefulness of the woods or a mountain. These calm me, help me think more clearly, make me feel hope even on the most difficult days.

I want to capture these moment. To take stock of them, revisit them when I need a little extra dose of inspiration, on those particularly rough days.

Today’s inspiration was simply a positive feeling. I woke up, worked out, meditated. I felt good. I told myself that today was the day to go after another of my 2018 goals: doing something every week that scares me. And I did it. It wasn’t anything major, simply an email that I really didn’t want to write because of where it could lead. But I knew I had to, and I did. It made me feel accomplished, despite being such a small task. So in a way, I suppose I was my own inspiration. Me, and the positive feeling that started off my day.