As someone who procrastinates, can you relate to this statement:
“I perform well under pressure.”?
If this phrase rings true for you, if you work great under pressure, it’s likely that procrastination is a learned behavoir — part of your childhood programming.
Before we dive in further, I want to make a point to say that we don’t always need to know WHY we do something in order to shift the behavior, but our curious minds, and our egos like to make sense of things. So, let’s make sense of procrastination as it relates to our child programming, so that we can reprogram or recondition ourselves into more empowered, proactive living, instead of the current reactive living state that procrastination has us trapped in.
If you currently struggle with procrastination, I encourage you to consider your childhood experiences...
As a kid, do you have any memories of hurrying up to clean your room or do the dishes or finish your homework, because your parent or caregiver or teacher was really angry with or disappointed in you?
Do you have any memories of knowing or sensing that something bad will happen, like I’m going to get in deep trouble, if I don’t get this done NOW?
Many adults that struggle with procrastination do so because of this childhood programming. It was the fear of someone’s disappointment or anger directed at you, that created that sense of urgency: it became the motivator for you to Get Things Done.
Fear of negative emotions got you moving.
This also meant that UNLESS you sensed that impending doom — of experiencing someone’s negative emotions, or of being punished or getting in trouble, you really weren’t motivated to clean your room, or do your homework, or change the cat’s litter box.
No immediate threat, no immediate action required.
Now I want you to take a moment and notice how that unconscious rule, programmed into your subconscious when you were a kid, is playing out in your current adult reality.
Where in your personal or work life do you unconsciously live by the rule of “no immediate threat, no immediate action required”?
Obviously the threat can look a little different as an adult, but the root trigger is the same.
You lack motivation unless there is a perceived threat of having to deal with negative emotions.
You don’t want to be that guy on the team that can’t get his shit together causing the project to be late.
You don’t want to piss off your boss with a rushed proposal, or your wife because you still haven’t fixed the leaky tap.
And so, at the thought of another’s anger or disappointment directed at you, you spring into action, miraculously completing in 2 hours what you’ve been procrastinating on all week. All because you are afraid of dealing with negative emotions.
On the surface those negative emotions that you’re afraid of are your team members judgment towards you, or your partners hurt, or your boss’s frustration. But on a deeper, truer level, it’s really about your own emotional experience.
Let me explain what I mean by this by asking you some questions.
When someone is angry or disappointed in you — how do you feel in your body?
What emotion are you avoiding experiencing by jumping to action at the first sign of someone being angry/disappointed?
This emotion that you are avoiding — perhaps it’s shame or sadness, what is trying to tell you?
What happens when you feel these negative emotions?
As you reflect on these questions, you might begin to notice that you don’t necessarily know how to be okay with those feelings when they come up. And so naturally, you’ve programmed yourself to avoid dealing with them, by springing into last minute action.
I recognize that we’ve gone kinda meta, from “I’m great under pressure” to “I don’t know how to hold myself through shame”, but the reality is that if you describe yourself as a procrastinator who thrives under pressure, you’ve programmed yourself into believing that you don’t need to, and perhaps dont even know how to, take action without this particular trigger existing.
You procrastinate until you experience the motivation of fear.
Can you notice that when that trigger is not present, as in, if there’s no fear of having to deal with uncomfortable feelings, you have a really tough time getting things done?
Without the threat of uncomfortable feelings on the horizon, without the chance of disappointment or anger or shame — there is no need to take action. And so, you end up wasting your day on unimportant things.
But this isn’t how you want to live, is it?
In the extremes of comfort and reactivity, being controlled by fear and external motivators?
Because you know, deep down, this is not how we grow. This is not how to be sustainably productive or live with less stress. This is certainly not how we live in joyful alignment So as someone who struggles with procrastination, and with this new understanding of why you work great under pressure, what can you do to shift out of this pattern?
There are two things that you can do.
Be Good At Feeling
The first is you need to get to a place of acceptance of those uncomfortable feelings — so that you aren’t controlled by the fear of experiencing them. The part of you that procrastinates UNTIL there is reason to take action is afraid of uncomfortable feelings. Spirituality is being good at feeling. And this takes practice. It helps to meditate. But the most powerful way to get good at feeling, is to start allowing the negative emotions space to be felt. So the next time you notice yourself going into reactivity mode out of fear of disappointing someone or making them angry, try just pausing instead and allowing yourself to sit with that fear, to experience that potential disappointment or anger. For more guidance and a deep dive into this work, I highly recommend The Presence Process by Michael Brown.
2. Rewire Your Brain The second thing you need to do is rewire your brain. You need to create new neural pathways that reward you for taking inspired action without a sense of urgency. So action that is intrinsically motivated, as opposed to reactivity dependent on the fear of uncomfortable feelings.
Because up until now your brain is wired to believe that action ONLY happens from a place of fear.
You need to start practicing taking action without that perceived threat existing: when everything feels calm and pleasant. And you can do this by using dopamine to your advantage.
Here’s how you’re going to do it:
Right now, in this moment, pause reading this article(Yes I mean it! I am all about action, and there is no better time than the present… so if you really desire to stop being a procrastinator, you’ll do this exercise) and go take care of a task that you have been procrastinating on, something that has been on your to-do list for maybe a couple weeks. Something that will take less than 20 minutes. Do it, and then once you’ve completed it, put on a feel good song and dance!
Only once you’ve completed your task and danced to a feel-good song, come back to reading this article.
So go ahead now, I’ll wait.
This article isn’t going anywhere.
Okay — so — you’ve done it? Great!
Your next action step is to share in the comments:
what you accomplished
what song you played (because I am always looking for new music) and
how you feel.
How does it feel accomplishing something you’ve been procrastinating on, without fear as your motivator?
This is the Empowered You, taking the first step to rewiring your brain.
You are moving away from being the procrastinator who works well under pressure — who can ONLY get things done when fear exists, when there is a sense of urgency, to someone who is capable of getting things done any time, even without a perceived threat of negative emotions looming over you. Someone who is proactive, in control, and productive in a way that feels aligned.
The reason I wanted you to dance to a feel good song, is because music and exercise release dopamine — so when you complete a task on your own accord, and then dance to music, you’re activating the reward center in your brain.
I recommend creating your own dopamine list — activities that you can reward yourself with having completed a task without being pushed by fear. Some healthy examples are:
listening to music
moving your body
pleasurable physical connection — like loving sex, a therapeutic massage, cuddling, petting your dog
social connection — a phone call with a loved one.
Keep your dopamine list handy, and decide what you’re going to do as a reward for completing your task or project, before you begin it. Dopamine is the motivation molecule, and you want to use it to your advantage as you rewire your brain. You want to reward yourself for positive inspired action, instead of being pushed into reactivity, fueled by fear and discomfort.
The thing about procrastination and being “great under pressure” is that when we live this way, we are outsourcing our motivation. We are not in control, we are reactive. We are not empowered, we are dependent.
And living this way — reactive, and unempowered, is not productive.
It’s not honoring our Highest, nor is it a satisfying way to live.
I mentioned earlier that it’s not always necessary to understand the Why behind our behavior, but, when we do connect with the deeper reason for our problem — in this case a behavior of procrastination that is no longer serving us, we experience clarity.
With clarity we can objectively see the Part of ourselves that procrastinates because of the direct link between fear and action.
And from this awareness we can compassionately hold this Part that procrastinates and only acts out of fear with respect, understanding, and love. The Part that is procrastinating — that is reactively living, deserves to be seen, acknowledged, and appreciated for how it has served us in the past.
And when we allow ourselves to do that — without judgment, or shame, or denial, we dissolve the need to live reactively, to procrastinate until there is a threat, and we give ourselves permission to move forward into empowered living, to make choices and behave proactively.
We begin to do the important things NOW, for ourselves, because it feels really good.