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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Are You An Awesome Self-Sabotager Too?

Welcome to week three of the Spread Hope Project weekly themes. This week’s topic is one that I’m super excited to talk about: Self-Sabotage. Why, you might ask, am I super excited to talk about this topic? Because:

I am an awesome self-sabotager.

 

Self sabotage

(Grammar note: I realize the proper term may be “self-saboteur”, I like sabotager better). And by awesome, of course, I mean this is something I understand all too well, because, if I’m being totally honest (and why wouldn’t I be?) this is probably something that I do daily. In fact, it’s something many of us do regularly. Sometimes without even realizing it. The truth is, self-sabotage is way more common than you may think, and it often shows up in forms nobody expects – in fact, often, it shows up in forms that, on the surface, look quite positive and productive (more on this later).

Why do we self-sabotage? Well, we’re all unique people living unique lives, and so therefore I can’t speak for each and every one of us, but there’s one thread that tends to tie together a lot of self-sabotage efforts.  If you’ve been reading these weekly theme series, it’s one you might recognize from last week: fear. Fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of success (yep, this exists – if we’re successful, there’s pressure to continue to keep becoming more successful, and that’s freakin’ scary), fear of the unknown/uncertainty, imposter syndrome. I could go on and on. And underlying these fears may be feelings such as low self-esteem, self-confidence, and self-worth. This isn’t always the case, of course, but it’s not uncommon. If we’re struggling with our self-confidence, it’s a lot easier to convince us (and for us to convince ourselves) that not only are we going to fail, but that the results of failing are going to be awful. For those of us who live with mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety, these feelings can be magnified further. And when these are magnified, so too may be the fears, and that can lead to even stronger self-sabotage.

Now let me stop for a moment to clarify something: the word sabotage sounds pretty awful. And when it’s done intentionally, maliciously, towards someone else, it is. If you intentionally sabotage someone’s relationship or big day or something like this, obviously that’s not OK. But when it comes to self-sabotage, I believe that often, it isn’t a conscious decision, and it’s certainly not intentionally malicious. Rather, I think we frequently do this as a form of self-protection, a sort of preservation of self. When you are struggling with depression and experiencing extremely low self-worth, for example, rejection or failure could be especially devastating, furthering the depression and feelings of worthlessness. So our brain, without our conscious input, says “Hey, that doesn’t sound good at all, so I’m going to do what I have to in order to not get rejected”. And one of the ways in which we can not get rejected, is to prevent ourselves from going after something fully in the first place. Thus, self-sabotage.

That said, just because it’s not a conscious decision to start with doesn’t mean we can’t bring consciousness to it. Which is to say that when we learn to recognize our patterns of self-sabotage, we can potentially spot when our brain starts veering that direction, and hopefully learn some ways to intervene.

 

how do you self-sabotage

 

As I said, I’m awesome at self-sabotage. Which isn’t awesome, but it does mean I’m pretty familiar with it. And while there are so many ways to self-sabotage, there are some methods that, from my observation and experience, seem to be particularly common.   I’ll be delving into some of these more thoroughly later in the week, but wanted to give an overview here.

  • Procrastination. This might be number one. Raise your hand if you, too, find just one more really interesting article to read or Facebook post you must comment on before starting that task that makes you nervous/concerned/etc. I’ll be delving into this a lot more later.
  • The endless to do list/always being too busy. If day after day, week after week, you’ve built up your schedule or to-do list to the point that there’s no humanly possible way you’re going to get through it all, you might want to take a closer look. If you’re one of those people who wears “too busy” like a badge of honor, please don’t hate me just yet. I’ll explain further when I do a deeper dive into this topic later this week.
  • All or nothing thinking. For those of you who, like me, struggle with gray areas, all or nothing thinking (“it’s not worth it unless I get this exact, specific result”) is a super easy way for our brain to freeze us where we stand, thus sabotaging our efforts to move forward.
  • Setting goals with unreasonable time frames, requirements, or that require all “outside influence” (i.e. where you have very little to no control). It’s OK to be optimistic and go outside your comfort zone. In fact, I encourage it. But have some smaller in between goals to build on too. If my only plan for paying off debt is winning the Powerball, I’m probably setting myself up for disappointment (aka sabotaging my efforts).
  • Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. We’ve heard this before in slightly different context, right? Now, this doesn’t mean giving up after the first failure or rejection. Persistence is key in reaching goals.  But every disappointment, or at least most, provide a learning opportunity. If you learn/ change/tweak nothing, you’ll probably get the same result. Think Charlie Brown kicking the football here.
  • Not being true to ourselves. Have you ever tried to dedicate yourself to job or project or program that goes against everything that is you? I’m not just talking about “my job isn’t my dream career”, but something that really, authentically doesn’t feel like you. It might work for a while, but eventually, you burn out. Furthermore, resentment and bitterness often set in. It’s incredibly difficult to feel successful and fulfilled when you’re bored, burnt out, resentful, and bitter. Knowingly setting ourselves on this course, therefore, sabotages our efforts.

There are more, certainly. These are the ones that I see most commonly. I personally have done all of these at times in my life, and some are still tough habits to kick. Over the next week, I’ll be digging deeper into each of the above, offering ways to recognize them, and tools and tricks for dealing with them.