3 Questions to Ask Yourself When You Can't Stop ProcrastinatingNone By Homaira Kabir
My big project is due next week. It sits in my planner—in red, bolded letters—haunting me.
It’s been there for over a month now. I remind myself every day that I'll get to it tomorrow. The next day, it mocks me like the Nike ad: "Yesterday you said tomorrow." Why oh why can't I "just do it"?
I've tried every procrastination hack out there. I've tried to break the project down into mini steps, but the number of steps only makes it look even more daunting. A journey of a thousand miles may begin with a single step, but boy, at my height, that adds up to more than 2 million steps!
I've tried posting "I can do it" notes on my computer. Apparently that gets the adrenaline flowing. I've even tried a couple of the power poses that psychologist Amy Cuddy talks about. They've certainly made me feel powerful—to do something totally unrelated!
I've even tried commitment devices. I told my husband to not fix dinner unless I finished a chunk of my project. I spent the afternoon going over pictures from our Croatia trip two summers ago, and we ended up ordering in instead.
And then something happened. In a semi-reverie of sorts, a result of overeating at lunch (yes, a feeble attempt to avoid the dreaded project), I seemed to mentally doze off into my childhood. There I was, working madly at my project in the hopes that I'd bring home a gold star that would place me on the same revered pedestal as my brothers. There I was at my school desk, fearfully awaiting my mark because it would determine whether I was worthy of my parents' approval. There I was with my star, yet feeling that the praise I received was neither genuine nor deserved.
I could suddenly see the 8-year-old in my present self. Here I was, setting the bars so high that the mere prospect of working toward them brought up the same dread and trepidation. Here I was second-guessing my value, beating myself up, and talking myself down to make sure I didn't reveal my perceived incompetence. And as this realization dawned on me, a wiser me seemed to reach out to the little girl in pigtails: "You have so many strengths. You don't have to prove yourself."
I think I needed to hear that. From myself. And once I did, my entire perspective on the project changed. I began to view it as something to enjoy, to grow through, and to learn from, rather than something that would place the stamp of approval on my worth. Because that was too daunting a task. Dr. Barbara Oakley's fMRI studies even show that thinking about something daunting feels like pain in the brain—so we avoid it.
If you too struggle from the procrastination habit, here are three questions you need to ask yourself:
What Do I Fear?
Go deep with this thought. Don’t be satisfied with the more superficial answers that your rational brain may throw at you. It may say something like, "I want to do well. Got a problem with that?" Mine did. But then get curious, and ask kindly: "And what if you didn't do well?" The deeper you go, the more you'll peel back the layers to the little child within you that is the real conductor of your life.
What’s Different Now?
Once you've heard your inner child, embrace her with compassion. Sit her down in your lap, hold her hand gently, and remind her that she is safe with you now. That she was little then, and dependent on the love and approval of others. That she has you now, who values her, who believes in her and who will always cheer her on, regardless of how well she does or how many stars she brings home.
What Will I Do?
With this new relationship grounded in security, think of what you need to do to approach your task. Remind yourself of Dr. Oakley's work on procrastination, which shows that shifting your focus from product to process helps you approach the dreaded task rather than escape it. What are the steps you will take? What are the timelines you'll set for yourself? Who will you reach out to for accountability and support?
Surprisingly, I found that I ended up doing a lot of the same things I had done before. I broke down my project into small and actionable steps, I empowered myself with positive self-talk, I even asked my children to hide my phone as a commitment device. But I didn’t spend my time looking for it....
Instead, I actually got down to "just doing it." Because this time around, I had my little child by my side, holding my hand and trusting me with the journey ahead. Together, we could set challenging goals and motivate each other to work toward them, while still finding time to smell the roses along the way.
Homaira Kabir is a positive psychology coach and cognitive behavioral therapist. She offers courses and coaching to help women develop the self-confidence and inner strength to identify and achieve their biggest and boldest goals. You can take her free quiz on learning to grow authentic self-worth at her website.
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