Where Does Procrastination Come From? [Ep.02]
I’ve never heard anyone explore procrastination in this way before. We’re diving deep and empowering you with what it REALLY means if you’ve got the point of procrastination and what it takes to move past it.
In this episode, you’ll learn:
- Why you might not be following through on the things you say you’re going to do (it’s not what you think it is)
- Exploring the idea of an emotional immune system and how it keeps you safe
- Two suggestions for how you can start to move past procrastination without forcing yourself to “just do it”
Show Notes Episode 2
Today we’re talking about procrastination and I’ve personally never heard people talk about procrastination in this way before. The first half of this episode is going to be breaking down a new way of looking at procrastination. Because once you understand this you’ll see the power of procrastination and what it REALLY means.
Procrastination as a Problem
If you’re procrastinating on something, I just want you to know that you’re not alone and in fact you are part of a giant club of amazing women.
I see and hear a lot of women who bring challenges, and one of them is that they are procrastinating, they’re not using their time the way they want and they’re not doing the things that they say are important to them.
As an example, you’re not working towards an end that you want, maybe you’re not seeing growth in your business or that your home is in chaos. Or it might be that you’re not following your creative expression.
What is Procrastination Not
Procrastination has nothing to do with being lazy or not having the ability to do something. Likewise, procrastination has nothing to do with this being the wrong way or this not being the right step to take.
If anything, the fact that you have reached a place of procrastination, the means that this action is now rubbing against something that makes you feel uncomfortable. This action is pushing you across a line where you have been kept safe in the past. This action is challenging what has been, while you strive to create something new and move toward a future that you’ve never created.
Nearly everyone I speak to sees procrastination as a problem to be solved. Sure, procrastination or not following through on the things that you say you’re going to do will not getting you the results that you want. And that is something that you want to change. Procrastination will impact you in that you won’t be creating in your life what you want. Here is the new perspective I want you to consider:
Procrastination is a Solution
However, procrastination is a solution that your brain has come up with. So what do I mean by that?
Your brain’s number one objective is to keep you safe. And it has default, hardwired mechanisms for your survival. This is critical, because if you’re not safe and alive the organism ceases to exist. These default survival mechanisms are automated, that is much of these responses happen in your subconscious, that is below your consciousness – subconscious means you are not consciously thinking, assessing, determining, or deciding instead there are systems that have been set-up for these to happen without your awareness. That’s really important for your survival – when you’re under threat your body doesn’t want you wasting precious seconds and resources weighing the pros and cons, so it does that for you.
Procrastination is a way your subconscious has decided to keep you safe and comfortable, which is more important that taking the action that you desire.
Not doing the thing that you say you want to do, not spending your time on what you’ve put in your schedule is safer. Something about taking action or the results of doing so is outside your comfort zone and feels unsafe. Your subconscious has assessed either the action or the outcome may be somehow uncomfortable, outside your comfort zone or painful. And that could be painful in a number of different ways.
It doesn’t have to be WAY outside your comfort zone. Anything that is new or different, or a change. Anything that threatens how you’ve been or who you’ve been can bring up procrastination. Whether that be fear, worry, anxiety, it could be putting at risk an important relationship, in your home or at work. You might worry about what people will think or what they’ll say if you do this action, whatever you’re procrastinating on.
But in some way, either contemplating planning or taking action on this project or on this idea is causing you some kind of emotional discomfort.
Yep, something about making that phone call feels like a threat to your safety or wellbeing. It might not make logical sense because your subconscious isn’t logical.
An Emotional Immune System
I like to think about it like an emotional immune system that we have. Just like your bodily immune system is absolutely critical to keeping your body healthy and safe. This system, too is focused on your survival. Awesome! It picks up on foreign invaders, like bacteria and viruses that will make you stick and uncomfortable. It deals with them without your awareness. And the more it comes into contact with the more antibodies it builds up, expanding the amount that it can handle.
Your brain’s emotional immune system picks up on discomfort, anxiety and fear and does it’s absolute best at keeping those at bay without you even knowing. One of the solutions it has at it’s disposal is procrastination.
All the experiences and things that you’ve done have created an army of emotional immunity – you have all these memories of the things that you’ve been able to overcome and these no longer pose a threat.
Given what has happened in the past, your brain knows certain things work. On a cellular level you know that if you’ve done something before and survived it’s safe. But, it doesn’t know if other things are safe.
And the opportunity for you to be in emotional discomfort is enough for your brain to say, “we’re not doing this. This could be a risk to your identity, it could be a risk to your relationship, it could be a risk to your health and well being.”
Anything that is outside of your space of knowing anything that you don’t know about, is now a concern for your brain, it’s a risk. Because if you’ve never done it and survived, your brain doesn’t know if this is going to be safe for you. And, and I don’t mean bodily safety, but safe in terms of who you are, who you think you are, who you think other people think you are.
Your brain’s number one objective is to keep all the pieces of you safe. And that means staying in what has worked in the past, it means not changing. Because that can be a threat. So, procrastination is your brains survival mechanism. And procrastination is your brains solution to a threat of discomfort.
Levels of Awareness
Now I think many people might say, no, no, no, no, no, there is nothing painful about this action. I’m just procrastinating. I have people that will say, “This is something I want to do. And I still can’t make myself do it. What’s wrong with me?” And that it can be both. You have different levels of awareness.
You can be aware of your desire to want something different, to be able to do something new, to be able to take the action that you’ve put on your calendar. At the same time there are hidden things in your brain, things you are unaware of that is creating discomfort, unease and therefore creating the procrastination that you’re experiencing. Let me give you an example.
You can absolutely want to call the landscaper to fix the hole in your fence. In fact, you can put it on your calendar and have the number ready. And yet the time comes and goes and months later you still haven’t called. It turns out that you’re actually worried about how much it’s going to cost to fix the fence, plus you’re going to have to have an uncomfortable conversation with your neighbour who you don’t know very well, because the fence impacts them too. Part of your brain believes that once you know more then you’ll actually have to do something about it. Knowing that you’ll have another person on and off the property is one more thing to manage that just feels like too much. Gee… I wonder why you haven’t phoned the landscaper.
It’s not a surprise at all why this task hasn’t been completed.
All Actions are Rooted in Emotion
Your brain has all sorts of ways to enable you to take certain actions and not others.
All of the actions that you take, ALL of them, including procrastination are rooted in emotion. Procrastinating is an action, by the way, you’re doing something when you’re not doing what you say you want to do. There is still an action. Instead of calling that client, you might be planning your social media posts. Instead of having that hard conversation with your partner, you might be go shopping. There is action that you’re taking instead. It’s just ends up not being an action that will get you the result you want. So any action that you’re taking has a root emotion that is supporting it.
Your brain believes that the action you’re taking when you’re procrastinating is more beneficial to you then taking this action you really want to do. There’s something that’s painful or more uncomfortable about taking action then not.
Here’s how I know this is true.
There are many things that you want to do and you do them without procrastinating. There are many things that will come up in your day and in your week that you don’t think twice about, you just do them. Some of those things you might debate or urge yourself to do, but then you go ahead and do them. And yet still others, there’s nothing that could keep you from doing it.
For me, if there was an emergency in my family, wild horses couldn’t keep me from being there doing whatever I could. There is nothing that could make me delay, let alone procrastinate. And I bet there are things in your life that nothing would keep you from procrastinating on it.
Here’s why: because the consequences of not doing it are more painful then the consequences of procrastinating.
A lot of people won’t move past their procrastination, there will always be things that they want to do that they don’t do. And for that, my heart breaks, I can’t stand deep soul-fired dreams that don’t become reality because of fear, or discomfort, or uncomfortable emotions. And I would be remiss if I didn’t help women with big dreams help uncover the hidden uncomfortable emotions that are keeping them from taking action. Because I know that you are powerful, and resourceful and incredible. And whatever it is that this action is bringing up whatever kind of uncomfortable emotions this is, this is creating for you, you have moved past these before. And you can’t move through these as well.
Moving Past Procrastination
I know there are probably those out there who will tell you feel the fear and do it anyways.
Just Do It. That great old Nike slogan. In some cases you can identify that procrastinating is not serving you and simply pull up your socks, kick yourself in the ass and doing the thing that you said you’re going to do. Take a deep breath, count to five, tell yourself you only need to spend 3 minutes, whatever it takes to get you to take the action.
Often as an adult there are things that you’ve been able to buck up and get past in using that kind of advice. You have the resourcefulness and the autonomy, to be able to swiftly and expediently work through many minor fears.
For those other times, when your strategies haven’t worked, when you have continued to put things off, things that you know will benefit you, your family, your future, then it’s time for new strategies. What has worked, isn’t anymore.
Uncover Your Emotional Response
Since procrastination has a foundation of emotions part of moving past procrastination is becoming aware of and owning the the pain and discomfort that you’re avoiding through the procrastination. You need to be able to identify those emotion aspect of taking action and uncover what is creating the uncomfortable emotions. What is it about the action or the potential outcome that’s threatening you? When I think about this action what kind of emotion am I experiencing?
Once you know that procrastination is an emotional immune system response and you’ve been able to identify what your brain has identified as a threat you can now go in and adjust your immune response. Just like your body’s immunity, sometimes, it identifies threats that aren’t actually there and it ends up doing more harm than good. In this case we need to suppress that immune response.
I’m NOT suggesting that you suppress your emotions, no no. This is actually more like retraining your response to not identify this action as a threat. There are several ways you can do this.
Today I’m going to share 2 with you.
One is to brainstorm any action that you’ve taken in another context that you’ve survived and in some way can be related to this action.
For example, if I’ve been procrastinating on recording a podcast episode and I’ve identified that sharing some new ideas feels like a threat. I can identify one of the places I’ve shared ideas before is in my writing and one of the results of that has been people are keen to hear new ways of looking at things. That can turn down the concern and some of the fear dissipates and I can start to see how sharing my ideas in one context has not produced a horrible result. So, I can apply this same idea to this context.
The other way is to do a mini-experiment. If there is an action like taking a multi-day over-night backpacking excursion and that feels like it could be a big threat one of the mini-experiments you can build on is to try out your tent in the backyard to test out one aspect of the excursion. Once you know that is okayed and you’ve built your immunity to that level, now maybe you want to take your car and solo-camp right beside your car for the night. Once you’ve built that level of immunity, safety and security by knowing you can do this, maybe the next is to hike away from your car, camp for the night and hike back the following day. Building up the immune response and ability to know what is safe rather than taking a huge bite on something brand new.
These are two ways you can retrain your response to what has been perceived as a threat in the past.
Something you have to know is until you’re prepared to do something different, until the pain of procrastinating outweighs the the discomfort of taking action, it is very likely that you will continue procrastinating.
There needs to be something that changes the scale, so that the desire to act outweighs the need to avoid the discomfort. The pressure of not taking action has to get so tight so that the only way to expand is to move through that discomfort.
Today, I hope that I’ve shed light on where procrastination really comes from. I hope that it has illuminated the fact that procrastination, while it might not be giving you the results you want, it is a solution that your brain has offered you to a problem, and the problem is there is emotional threat. And I hope that you’re open to what is now needed to be able to effectively move past procrastination and towards the future and the results that you want.
Hey! I’m Amanda Jane, host of More Ways.
As an alternative productivity enthusiast, I love helping people spend their time on what matters.
It’s my passion for coaching and connecting that brought me to start a podcast, and I founded More Ways to help more creative, ambitious women like you, focus on progress and purpose.