5 Areas that Procrastinators Have All Wrong

Waste“What a waste.”

What kind of feelings did you just have reading the phrase “What a waste?”  Did you feel guilty?  Did you feel ashamed?  Did the phrase sound really familiar?

I grew up being pretty conscious of not wasting things, like food and material items. Conserve, conserve, and then conserve some more.  And then reuse, please.

Many years later, I read an article (I regret that I didn’t save it) that somehow linked being afraid of the idea of wasting things and Procrastination.  Essentially, those who are afraid to waste things are more inclined to Procrastinate.  At least that’s how I remembered the content of the article.

And that seems to make total sense to me.  If you are finely attuned to not causing waste, you are generally more inclined to hang on to things.  And you guessed it ladies and gentlemen, Procrastinators tend to hang on to things way too long.

A central part of my own recovery from chronic Procrastination was understanding that when I hung on to things, I was wasting the asset I should have been protecting most carefully — time.

Gradually, I started re-evaluating all of my movements.  Were they in line with my needs? Were they time-efficient?  Over time, I began to feel much more comfortable with USING time well.  I wasn’t saddled with an amorphous feeling of time waste any more.  I was able to develop goals that seemed bigger to me than “Don’t be wasteful.”  I now am happy to say, I use my time pretty well.

Here’s a list of items you might have thought were wastes of your time and energy that are actually essential to healthy living:

  1. Exercise
  2. Taking time out or having down time
  3. Spending time with others
  4. Cleaning and tidying
  5. Being thoughtful about your goals and intentions

The list above contains items that on first thought, might make us feel fearful of taking all of our time up.  But on second thought, each item on the list leads to us feeling lighter. Let’s feel lighter.

There’s always going to be a little bit of a time waste factor.  We’re human, not finely-tuned robots.  And time speeds by really quickly.  Enjoy those bits of waste as you learn to use the time that is yours with all the spirit you have.  You won’t be wasting your time.

News to share:

I invite you to join The Procrastination Coach Facebook Group if you are interested in recovering from your Procrastination and if you interested in being part of a thoughtful, supportive community.  Please go here if you would like to start.

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Are You Worried about Fitting In?

Maya Angelou Amazing QuoteRecently I’ve come to think Procrastinators may be overly conscious about fitting in.  For example, we may be more likely to think…

Is it good enough?

rather than

Does it stand out?

We may be more likely to worry…

Does it sound right?

instead of asking

Have I said what I meant to?

The desire to fit in or to conform may be a natural, instinctual need we work to fulfill. Marketing, ads, and anyone in the business of convincing you to do something (even your parents, ahem), play to your “pain points” (this is an actual term in marketing circles). They remind you you ache to conform and then you feel the pressing need to buy or to do something to feel like those you’re seeking to be like.  This is relevant for Procrastinators who are often caught in a limbo, in-between state of functioning, caught in a cycle questioning the worthiness of their work or of what they are producing.

Will I fit in once I let go of my work or WILL I BE REJECTED?

We may not be aware of our fear of interpersonal rejection.  We just thought the grammar wasn’t checked closely enough, right??

I invite you to take a closer look at your motivations for staying stuck.  What is really happening when you Procrastinate?

Are you having trouble with your actual work or your fear?

Are there people you may be worried about satisfying or impressing?  Is impressing others more important to you than doing your best work?

Are you changing your work in ways you don’t like in order to minimize your fears?

Try to shift your mindset to one where you occupy a truly open workspace where your work is received for what it is, without critique or comparison to others’ work.  It might feel like mental contortion for a while, but trust me, you’ll get there.  When you do, evaluate — How do I feel about releasing my work now?

Join me as I try to be a bit weird on Facebook.  One of my ideas for 2015 was to explore what the Facebook Universe has to offer a blog like Procrastination Coach.  I’d be very pleased if you decided to “Like” my Facebook page and follow along.

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Some of the Best Advice I’ve Ever Received

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Happy New Year Everyone.  As you may have guessed by the image above, I’ve fallen a bit behind on my own self-imposed blogging schedule, just to prove to you I know what I’m talking about when it comes to Procrastination.

Though it may be a bit late to send you a gift, I didn’t want you to miss out on the messages contained in this post, as they are some of the best gifts I have ever received.

Great Piece of Advice #1:

When you can help someone, help someone.  

Whatever roles we play, whether they be in our families, schools, jobs, or communities, we may unwittingly play by the unspoken rules of those roles.  In my training to be a psychologist, I was trained to maintain a level of neutrality with regard to my patients, meaning I should do my best to not let my personal, subjective feelings interfere with my interactions with my patients.

In trying my best to maintain proper neutrality with regard to my patients, I may have missed some good opportunities to be of direct help to them.  I think my “role” prevented me from being fully thoughtful and creative when working with patients.  Fortunately for me, a very wise supervisor advised me, “When you can be helpful, do that.”  It was simple, beautiful advice, and just the right advice for the patient that supervisor was advising me on.

That one piece of advice has since been a core part of how I look at my interactions with others both at work and outside of work.  In many ways, it underlies my blogging efforts as well.

Great Piece of Advice #2:

You should be able to feel all of your feelings.

Fortunately for me, it was one of my very first supervisors who shared this advice with me. Hearing and learning this advice was like having a whole world open up, as I had come to the psychology profession without much of a direct clue as to how my own feelings operated.  To be granted permission, in a way, to play with all of the feelings I possessed at that time, was transformative.

I have since learned when you are open to the full range of your personal experience, you are inevitably better equipped to handle your own experiences.  Without awareness of our feelings and without a sense of being permitted to experience and to communicate our feelings, we are relegated to acting and feeling in a more limited, constricted way.

Evaluate what feelings you might be unable to process in your own life.  What makes you clam up?  What makes you nervous?  What can’t you find the words to say?  If you’re curious about ways in which to expand your own emotional repetoire, please consider finding a therapist or coach to assist you in your journey.

Great Piece of Advice #3:

Don’t wait for others to show their love for you before showing your love for them.

This piece of advice which came from a beloved mentor, seems to me now, like a neat combination of the first two Great Pieces of Advice.  We needn’t stop the natural flow and engagement of our feelings in order to prove something, whether it be our status, our position, our coolness or our calmness.  Let your love flow.

What does this advice session have to do with Procrastination?

Nothing directly, I would say.  I just know I didn’t want to wait any longer to share it with you.  I wish you the best of luck in grabbing what this New Year has to offer you and in enjoying its many riches.

Any advice gifts you’d like to share with me?  I’d love to hear them.  

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Communication Needs to be Transactional {to be Good}

temp_collage_1411618365.173272Since I spend my days working as a psychologist, I spend a lot of time thinking about, participating in, and looking at communication and communication dynamics.  I think about:

  • what people are saying
  • what they are not saying
  • what they want to say
  • what I want and don’t want to say
  • the meaning of periods of silence

Of course, that’s not an exhaustive list, because communication is such a fascinatingly broad field of play.

Here’s a list of some of the lessons about successful communication I’ve learned over the years:

  1. What we communicate is not conveyed just in words, but how we add our intention, motivation, and feeling into the words we use.  Inject your words with your curiosity, your wisdom, your humor, your drive, and/or your personality when you speak.  When you do, your words will really resonate with those listening.
  2. The energy of communication between two or more people is live, and not fixed.  Though we may try mightily to predict what others might say, we have slim chances of doing so because communication is a veritable dance of human energy and creativity.  Enjoy the playing involved in communicating, and avoid trying to control what’s being said.
  3. Listen well to be a good communication partner.  Let others know you are interested in what they say by listening closely (to what is and is not being said) when they are talking.  Good communication often involves patience, as there may be misunderstandings to work through before communication becomes clear.
  4. What people say to us does not bind us.  We decide to be bound or not bound to those words and to people.  Do not be afraid of what’s being said.  But do be very aware and mindful of how you react to what’s being said.
  5. Fulfill your own responsibility in making sure the communication is clear.  If there are discrepancies in times or dates, for example, play it safe and reconfirm details ahead of time to avoid finding yourself in a last-minute rush or panic.  I’m including this lesson here because I recently screwed up a lunch date because I assumed everything will work out just as I think it will.
  6. Communication is an incredibly powerful method to combat anxiety.  That’s the whole premise behind psychotherapy, after all.  When you put words to your problems, you begin to develop a sense of mastery over your fears.  Talk it out.  You can do it.
  7. What you are most afraid of saying aloud is likely the issue you need to address most.  What you are trying to say matters so much more than how you say it, also.
  8. When you feel free to communicate openly and when you need to, you are likely in a healthy environment or relationship.  The inverse of this is also true.
  9. Communication needs to be transactional.  We need not fuss and worry over what we say or feel our words will “make” or “break” things.  We are not the only ones responsible for making communication successful; those we are speaking to share that responsibility and should participate as such.

When Procrastinators begin to rely heavily on avoidance and denial, good communication tends to go out the window.  When Procrastinators feel backed into a corner because of disorganization, lack of preparation, anxiety, or workblock, they may lie to others or isolate themselves in order to feel better.  Unfortunately, when we lie or isolate ourselves from others, our stress tends to escalate quickly, because communication is no longer meaningful or effective at getting our point across.

It’s never too late to change how you communicate.  But good communication only happens with good practice and trust that your words will see you through.

News to Share:

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Registration Going on Now for the October Workout Group

If you are interested in learning more about communication or feel you could use some coaching in that area, sign up for the Procrastination Coach October Workshop Group. The first lesson will be on communication.  The weeks following will include lessons on time management, control and perfectionism, and tools to maintain progress post-Procrastination.  Membership for the month is $10.  I think you’ll dig it.

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Making Our Differences More Apparent

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from being a psychologist and working with patients it’s that we are all of different speeds and intensities.  No two of us are really alike in the ways I’m wanting to talk about here.  Though we may be the same age, look like each other, or be assigned to the same work group, we each have different ways of receiving information, processing our reactions, and generating new ideas.

I’ve noticed we tend to get ourselves into trouble when we start to insist that we fit into others’ ways of behaving or vice versa.  For instance…

  • “I have to get everyone to agree with how I’m seeing this.”
  • “I should have chosen A even though I like B more.”
  • “I need to make this decision because everyone thinks I should go in this direction.”
  • “I’m incompetent because I work so much more slowly than my friends do.”
  • “I’m really not in the mood for this, but I will pretend I am because I feel I’ll let people down if I don’t put on my happy face.”
  • “I can’t move forward with this project because it is not perfect.  I cannot let people know I’m in this state right now.”

As you can see, the self-statements are varied, but they are all similar in that they each keep the self in a less-than-good state.  When we try to bend ourselves in ways that don’t suit us, we cramp our own style.  And we need our own style to make:

  • creative work
  • interesting conversation
  • new ways of interacting
  • effective decisions
  • future plans

Without adding our own style and individual pace and rhythm to what we do, we end up not feeling comfortable with what we make.  And then we add to that mistake by believing we are without talent in the first place.  What a very sad way of looking at your very talented self.

Please take a look at how you might be restricting yourself from being your full self right now.  Look for ways your might relax your own constraints.  Find a new way to experiment and to make interesting mistakes and fumbles.  Try a different technique for asking for someone’s help or attention.  Dare I say it?  Make yourself stand out a bit more, particularly in the ways that only you can do.

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If You Feel Irresponsible

I was sorting through the day’s snail mail, when I had the thought about how very responsible I was being, sorting out the day’s mail.  It was a minor thought, but really the idea of being responsible is a pretty significant one for me.

I grew up feeling I was irresponsible.  It wasn’t just a feeling.  I was convinced I was irresponsible.  Like it was an indisputable fact.

I think the idea of my being irresponsible was not wholly untrue.  Indeed, I was called “flaky” and “space cadet” by humorous and accurate peers growing up.  During the college years and somewhat after that, I had a penchant for cancelling on people at the last minute or because I felt overwhelmed by some matter or another.  Oh, and need I mention that I was late all of the time.  Sometimes so late no explanation could possibly cover the gap of time that needed to be explained.

The funny thing is, I am not irresponsible.  I may actually have a case of real hyper-responsibility that is masked as a mess-of-a-life sometimes.  Perhaps my lack of awareness of how to behave in certain situations and of how to be organized enough to avoid undue problems made me seem uncaring to others and even sometimes to myself.  That emotional confusion which was both internal for me and interpersonal with my family, friends, and colleagues remained as a block to my thinking clearly about decisions, obligations, how to have fun, and how best to be responsible.

Good news is, I am a problem-solver.  And with the good fortune that I also possess, I was able to recover from this emotional confusion as an adult.  In many ways, my life is more mundane now, as I am no longer submerged by drama all of the time, or feelings of crisis.  It’s not that stuff doesn’t happen to me or to people I care about, it’s just that I can see what I need to see now.  I am far less confused.

I’m sharing this to help you to understand your own negative feelings about yourself are just that – feelings.  Very little is totally unchangeable about how you are and how you behave.

The next time you think about labelling someone irresponsible (or the next time you think of yourself as irresponsible), pause and reflect on how complex a field and person you may be commenting on.

What epiphanies have you had today while sorting mail?  Please share or else you’ll have to feel irresponsible.  Kidding.

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Validation is Nice, but Not Necessary

Quote #1 - Anna Freud (1)When we look outside of ourselves for confirmation of what we feel and do, we complicate matters a lot.  We turn from knowing what we feel and do, to looking in other directions, away from ourselves.  At times, we can look everywhere and anywhere else for any sign that things are all okay.  We can even start to wrack our minds about how the future will or will not pan out for us.  And in the moments we turn to the presumed future for answers, we turn away from the entirety of what reality and the present moment have to give us.

There are many, myriad situations which may cause us to lose our bearing:

  • unexpected stress
  • sudden changes
  • when there are no clear right answers
  • when it appears there are no favorable outcomes possible
  • when someone disrespects us
  • when we feel passionately about our cause
  • when we imagine dangers
  • when we feel unsure
  • when we care about other’s opinions a bit too much

Truthfully, it is not that difficult for us to get out of touch with what we think and feel.  I would guess it happens multiple times a day to most of us.  And many of those times happen outside of our awareness, like a mild breeze passing by.  Others cause us to shake and to shiver in our boots, making us feel completely ungrounded, useless, and spent.

If you cannot imagine ever trusting your own sense about your actions and feelings, think again.  You are actually a smooth running operator, tripped up only by your own sense of vulnerability.  You move throughout the day actually trusting your gut about so much.  If you have gotten out of practice in connecting to what your gut is telling you, I want you to know this is fixable.  Start practicing active listening to yourself, your instincts, and your inclinations.  It will be broadly useful to you if you do.

Although we may enjoy and rely on others’ commenting and validating what we do, it is not an essential part of our capacity to act on our own behalf.

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We All Have So Much To Live Up To

We all start innocently enough.  In childhood, I mean.

Then life gets increasingly complicated.  Very fast.

My understanding of Procrastination includes a recurrent theme I see in my Procrastinating clients.  Adult Procrastinators are so often just the adult form of the super-intellectually-bright young children they once were.  They are also often the adult version of the super-entertainingly-gifted children they once were.  For example, they used to breeze through acting jobs on the side when they were little.

When I meet these people as adults, it is difficult for them to comprehend how their childhood experience (no matter how dramatic) might influence their tendency for delay and Procrastination now.

It makes a lot of sense, however.  You are a whipper-snapper of a second-grader and thus, you make an early splash in your town and within your family.  Even if everyone else is pretty cool about it, your own ego starts to build and to strengthen.  This ego building happens at the same time as the excellent performances you give in school or on stage.  You, being the bright child you are, begin to associate feeling good with doing well in your performances.  Actually, you associate feeling well with doing extremely well and noticeably better than others in your work.  This will go on for a few years, but then the trouble starts:

  • you find that your school work is getting harder and you can’t just wing it anymore to get good grades
  • you delay your work because you think your work will not be good enough
  • you become perfectionistic
  • you start to feel increasingly bad about yourself as your own method of improving your self-esteem (i.e. performing well) is now on hold because of Procrastination
  • you begin to stand still developmentally as you wait for your pizzazz to come back
  • you feel stuck in a time warp
  • you wonder how your peers are becoming so accomplished as you were the original wonder kid
  • you start to hide your Procrastination from others
  • you reach a point where you cannot work at all because it would expose you to potential judgment and criticism

Procrastinators wonder how will it be possible for them to change this bond between performance and self-esteem?  Well, most people try to break this bond by not doing their work.  Not a good or useful method.  It gets you stressed and very certainly does not undo the link between performance and self-esteem.  Here’s what I do indicate:

  • Mindfulness of the link between performance and self-esteem is weapon #1 against it.  Move away from the idea that what you do is who you are.
  • Begin to work with pleasure about the work again.  Reduce all of the pressure you tend to apply to your work, your work process, and the meaning of your work.  It’s just work.  Plain work.  It’s not that interesting.
  • Avoid projecting into the future to try to predict how your finished work will affect others.  That is too much to think about when you are trying to write good work.  It is also a true form of distracting yourself from the present, which is rarely good for getting work done.
  • Be patient.  You will need to adjust to getting real feedback from people.  You will learn step-by-step that you can withstand any criticism that may come your way.
  • Accept that you are imperfect and very much like everyone else in that way.
  • Your efforts to move away from Procrastination will be worth it.  You will find yourself thinking more broadly and fully.  You will spend less time managing floating anxious thoughts that clutter your mind.  You will become a better performer all around when you unshackle yourself from the performance-and-self-esteem bind.

When it comes down to it, even if you follow the steps I’ve just suggested, you will still struggle when you work.  It is human to do so.  It is inevitable to do so.  Effort is part of work.  But you will be open to your work, and the frustrations you feel when you work will therefore be much less than when you were hiding behind your former glory.  In reality, we all have so much to live up to.  In some ways, it is a constant pressure.  We will never fully reach our potential, so please don’t let your enormous potential keep you down.

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Consider Yourself an Equal

Many times in my life, I have been nervous or afraid.  Many times, these moments have been when I have been unsure of where I stand in a relationship.  For instance:

  • I have been afraid to call a psychiatrist, because well, that would mean I would need to say something important
  • I have been worried about expressing a dissenting opinion, because well, that would just cause bad feelings
  • I have been ambivalent about complaining to others, because well, that would make me look like I was lazy or didn’t care
  • I have been reluctant to put a request in, because well, that would mean someone else would have to do something on my behalf
  • I have gone along with something I didn’t really need or want, because well, there was a part of me that said I owed the other person my cooperation

Writing this list makes me realize just how often I go through this bad feeling cycle about connecting with other people.  And I’m hoping when you read the list, you’ll realize how much of a time waster worrying about our interactions with people is.  Every time we steer ourselves in the wrong direction, we’ve set ourselves behind time-wise too.

The good news is, I have figured out a way to make mincemeat out of this list: Consider yourself an equal.

This technique is can be a bit of a mind-bender.  That is because most of us are so used to feeling less than other people, whether in the “hierarchy” of life or through our own perceptions of where we stand.  When you assume your opinion matters just because it is your opinion and because you are a reasonable person, the way you express that feeling will be stronger than if you assumed otherwise.  Imagine yourself on a par with the person you are about to call.  Just that envisioning will make the call go that much easier.

There have been times when I have called people and I have considered myself an equal, but they (clearly) did not.  What I have learned from that small subset of experiences is that other people may have trouble considering me an equal.  And – you guessed it – that is their problem.  After the initial sting of being treated as someone who wasn’t smart or knowledgeable wears off, I work to find balance again about how I feel about myself.  Almost 100% of the time, after some time, I get confirming evidence that the nasty, uncomfortable feeling I got in the interaction was part of their problem.  I think that makes sense, as I was treating them as an equal when I called and therefore was very careful not to be nasty.

So, the next time you find yourself saying, “I’ll figure this out myself,” or “I’ll figure it out later,” please remember you can choose another option.  You can choose to move forward with your call or request or statement and consider yourself an equal.  And then the great payoff is you will also consider yourself done with your task.  No change that — the great payoff is you will be giving yourself the right feedback about how good you are.

I’m really curious to hear your stories about struggling to feel like an equal with others.  Please feel free to share your thoughts and stories here.

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Write Your Own Equations

So often making a change involves changing our old equations.  By equations I mean the stories we tell ourselves about how we are supposed to do things.  For instance, if I am going to feel important, I must be involved in as many activities as I can possibly get involved in.  That is an equation.  If I want x, then I must do y.

The problem with the equation method of doing things or of making ourselves feel better is that over time, we get overly attached to our original equations.  As you can imagine, spending twenty years trying to feel important by being involved in as many activities as one can possibly get involved in, ends up landing the well-meaning person in a very complicated, hyper-busy lifestyle.  And the equation method itself is limiting.  Change cannot happen fluidly if we are constantly referring back to and relying on these types of “if x, then y”-type rules.

Here are some more examples of how rule-bound thinking may be affecting you:

  • if you feel you cannot function well socially unless you are dressed to a “T”
  • if you believe you have to be open and available if others need you
  • if you feel you won’t be valued by others if you don’t perform well
  • if you prevent yourself from interacting with others when you think they hold an opinion about you
  • if you are Procrastinating because you are unable to get around your particular “if x, then y” problem, e.g. “I can only begin this if I am in the right frame of mind, and since I am not in the right frame of mind, this can’t get done.” Ouch.

The really cool thing about equations is that you can change them.  That is essentially one of the basic premises of psychotherapy.  You learn in therapy your old patterns of doing things, as good and reliable as they used to be, don’t need to be the only songs in your repertoire.  But getting into therapy is just one way of accessing change.  You could also begin analyzing your own patterns:

  • Where do you tend to get stymied?
  • What holds you back every time?
  • What qualities in other people make you lose confidence in yourself?
  • What ideas about yourself always leave you feeling less than good?

Being aware of these sticking points is the first step in broadening your awareness of what is keeping you stuck and unhappy.  Awareness is a key factor in enabling change and in fighting Procrastination.  Try not to get overwhelmed by what you unearth when you try to figure out what your own equations are.  We all have multiple equations running at the same time.  We need them to function at the most basic level.  Use what you discover to ease your mind and to understand that change is within your reach, your capacity, and your design.

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