Procrastination, my old friend, we meet again

March 18th, 2020

By Melisa Hightower

This post is originally from We Write Psych and can be found here.

You stagger out of bed in a dream hangover that’s as warm and fuzzy as the bunny slippers on your feet. You’ve cleared your day with every intention of writing like a fiend. After a cup of coffee, of course. Oh, and do the dishes, eat an apple, check out some cute puppy memes which somehow leads to watching battlebot matches on YouTube for four hours, check every form of social media known to mankind, and call to check on Aunt Gerd’s ingrown toenails. When you call your mom to update her on Aunt Gerd’s aggrieved toenails, you say, “I just don’t have time to write”. Go ahead. Fly that procrastination flag. We all do it. 

Procrastination- Picture of woman procrastinating holding cell phone

Woman procrastinating on phone

Except for the fact that I don’t have an Aunt Gerd, I just described my day. What do I do when this happens? I pay attention. I dig deep for signs of fear, fatigue, anxiety, and perfectionism. 

According to Jaffe (2013), “True procrastination is a complicated breakdown of self-regulation,” and “…the inability to manage emotions seems to be its very foundation”. Lombardo (2017) states that, “…research suggests procrastination is linked to difficulty managing distress” and that “…viewing a task in an unpleasant manner is to blame”. 

The result is a tendency for self-sabotage and the creation of excuses to lessen feelings of guilt, shame and anxiety. I know, ripping the Band-Aid off hurts. However, procrastination is linked to “high levels of stress and a lower sense of well-being” (Jaffe, 2013). Therefore, it must be done. This article isn’t long enough to delve into all the causes of procrastination. So, let’s look at three common triggers for writers; fear, perfectionism, and fatigue.

I fear, therefore I procrastinate

Fear can be paralyzing, or highly motivating, depending on the circumstance. Let’s examine one common source: fear of failure. This particular kind of fear taps into our insecurities. As a result, it is typically counterproductive. The biggest clue that fear of failure is in play, is worry. Anxiety over disappointing others, what others think of you or your abilities, feelings of inadequacy or lack of intelligence are worth paying attention to. Everyone experiences these feelings on some level, but if fear consistently prevents you from reaching your goals, something must be done. Winch (2013) suggests owning your fear and focusing on the things you can control. In the scenario above, For example, I can’t control the fact that I had to get my oil changed, or how long it takes. What I can control is the amount of time spent on social media. 

Since fear of failure is rooted in feelings of inadequacy, negative self-talk is often present. Try practicing positive self-talk and visualizing yourself being successful at your goal. Join a writing group. Many writers experience the same fears and there is power in not feeling alone. Most importantly, don’t be afraid to talk with a counselor or someone you trust.

Errors to the left of me, plot holes to the right

That brings us to perfectionism. It’s one thing to be dedicated, strive for excellence, and aim for success. What we’re talking about here is the darker side of the coin, severe avoidance of failure. If you approach your writing/ life with an all or nothing mindset, beat yourself up over mistakes, find errors in your work others don’t see, spend an eternity obsessively perfecting that one line/ chapter/ project only to find that success is never enough, take note. Perfectionism can lead to depression, anxiety, and burnout. 

Try approaching your writing/life, as a learner. Learners aren’t expected to know everything, and mistakes are part of the process. As a result, this mindset can ease some of the pressure. Remind yourself that errors are opportunities for growth, not a psychological butt whipping. Mistakes are critical feedback we need to succeed, reinvent ourselves (and our writing) and keeps us from stagnating. Make a list of what you love about writing and keep it close. And again, don’t be afraid to seek help. The real goal is satisfaction with yourself and your effort, not just the end product. 

I’m tired, not procrastinating

Woman sleeping on the stairs

A woman sleeping on the stairs

Now, let’s talk fatigue. Life pulls us in a million directions as we struggle to fulfill multiple roles- spouse/partner, parent, sibling, daughter, son, employee, friend, teammate, and the list goes on. Add writing into the mix and you have the perfect formula for mental and physical fatigue. If you begin feeling sluggish, worn out, become indifferent to activities, lack enthusiasm, have difficulty concentrating, or have chronic headaches, it’s time to take action. But what do I do? you ask. The answer is simple: self-care. 

Take a break. I know, I’m supposed to be telling you how to get your butt in the chair not out. However, the intention isn’t avoidance, it’s restoration. Set a limit, a day or two, maybe a week, or longer, if the fatigue is severe. During that time rest, spend quality time with family and friends, eat right, try taking a walk. Try watching a movie, reading a book, taking a bubble bath, practice some deep breathing or guided imagery. In short, do whatever recharges you. Then, get back at it. Your writing will be better for it. And continue practicing self-care. If fatigue persists or worsens, talk to your doctor as certain medical conditions can underlie persistent fatigue.

Final thoughts

Since there’s no one cause of procrastination, no one thing will ever get me, or you, in the chair every time. We’re too complex for that, or a one size fits all solution. Self-awareness, an ever-expanding toolbox of coping skills, self-care, willingness to seek help and a routine are the things that get me in my chair. They are also all that stands between me and an unfinished novel.

      Okay, your turn. What’s keeping you from reaching your goals?

Did you find this post helpful? Please leave a comment. 

Jaffe, E. (2013, April). Why wait? the science behind procrastination. Retrieved from 

http://www.psychologicalscience.org/observer/why-wait-the-science-behind-procrastination.

Lombardo, E. (2017, March 7). 11 ways to overcome procrastination [Blog post]. Retrieved from 

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/better-perfect/201703/11-ways-overcome-procrastination.

Wench, G. (2013, June 18). 10 signs you might have fear of failure [Blog post]. Retrieved from 

http://www.psychologytoday.the-squeeky-wheel/201306/10-signs-you-might-have-fear-of-failure.

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