My cat is due today for her rabies shot and annual exam. And she really needs her claws trimmed- which they won’t do if the rabies shot is overdue! Those claws hurt (me, not her!). All I had to do to avoid the stress of this situation was make a phone call to the vet a couple of weeks ago.

I got lucky this time. While I was on the phone, they got a cancellation, and was able to bring her in. But why did I put the call off for so long?

I could ask myself the same question about the way I delay getting my taxes organized, or how I let my office get so disorganized before I get around to cleaning it up.

I hate all these tasks.That’s why!

Why Do We Procrastinate?

“Procrastination is an emotion regulation problem, not a time management problem,” according to Dr. Tim Pychyl, professor of psychology and member of the Procrastination Research Group at Carleton University in Ottawa.

We tend to procrastinate on tasks that cause us unpleasant feelings or a bad mood. Procrastination relieves the discomfort, at least for a while. 

But eventually procrastination causes even more unpleasantness. It creates stress and  self-blame. It contributes to mental and physical illness, lowers the quality of our work and leads to poorer decision making. So it’s worth it to figure out how to stop procrastinating. 

Using Self-Care to Stop Procrastination

Did you know that practicing self-care can help us overcome procrastination?

It makes a lot of sense. When we integrate self-care into our lives, we are calmer and healthier. We feel taken care of and supported. We’re more accepting of ourselves and others. We have more reserves for coping with stress and handling challenges.

Here are three self-care approaches that can help us stop procrastinating: self-forgiveness, self-compassion, and taking time to reflect.

 1. Self Forgiveness

Self-forgiveness is central to releasing anger and bitterness that is interfering with outlives and causing us to hang on to unforgiveness toward others.

It helps me to think about how I have forgiven my sons, or my husband or a close friend for procrastinating. I might be irritated with them at first, but I’d let it go – though I still hold them accountable. I can do the same for myself.

2. Self-Compassion

Showing ourselves self-compassion – kindness and acceptance – stops the voice of our inner critic. It encourages us to meet our challenges in a positive way, supporting a positive sense of self-worth, and strengthening emotions like optimism, wisdom, curiosity and personal initiative.  

To use this approach, instead of criticizing yourself, try inviting yourself to think of all the benefits of taking care of a task that you’re tempted to put off. 

3. Take Time to Reflect

In the hectic rush of our days, we often don’t stop to reflect on what we’re feeling and doing. What if we stopped to ask ourselves some questions about our procrastination, like

  • What am I feeling right now?
  • Where do I feel my emotions in my body?
  • What do they remind me of?
  • What happens to the thought of procrastination as I observe it?
  • Does it increase? Decrease? 
  • Do other feelings come up?
  • How do the sensations in my body shift as I focus attention on them?

An Example

I asked myself these questions about the way I procrastinate on preparing my taxes, something I‘d really like to change. 

The feelings that come up are tension and anxiety, along with dread and fear. Yuck! No wonder I procrastinate on this chore! Who wants to feel that way?

My body feels those things as a tightness and weight on my chest. I can feel a headache starting, and I feel fatigued.

These feelings are not so different from when I’ve been afraid of failing to complete an important project in school or at work. 

As I observe the thoughts they start to change. I notice this thought: “It would be far kinder for you to do as much of the tax organizing now as you can. Maybe spend a few hours a month on it until March, and then turn everything in to my accountant early!”

This brings some comfort, and a sense of relief. Paying attention to my body, I notice the tension in my head and chest has decreased a lot. I sense that I have the energy to do this!

I’m smiling. This does indeed feel like self-care.

References and Credits

Why We Procrastinate 

Why You Procrastinate (It Has Nothing to Do With Self-Control)

Photo: NL Seibel, 2019

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