Procrastination. We've all been there at some point in our lives. It's that feeling of putting off tasks or responsibilities, despite knowing the consequences. It gives us short-term relief at the expense of our longer-term goals. But have you ever wondered what lies beneath this common habit?
In this blog post, we'll explore the underlying factors that drive procrastination, share two inspiring client stories, and provide two compelling strategies strategies to overcome this challenge.
The Procrastination Puzzle
Procrastination is a complex puzzle with various pieces contributing to its persistence. Let's examine some of the key factors that can drive procrastination:
1. Lack of Motivation:
Sometimes, tasks can appear uninteresting, overwhelming, or lacking in clear rewards. Have you ever found yourself putting off something simply because it didn't excite or inspire you? The absence of motivation can make procrastination tempting and can be at the expense of higher-order goals.
2. Fear of Failure:
The fear of not meeting expectations or making mistakes can lead to procrastination as a means of avoiding potential disappointment or negative judgment. Have you ever delayed starting a project because you were afraid of not measuring up or being criticized?
The desire for perfection can create excessive pressure, leading to the avoidance of starting or completing tasks until conditions are "ideal." Have you ever found yourself endlessly refining and revising a task, seeking perfection before considering it finished?
My greatest trigger for procrastination is this one and I write about my personal perfectionist story here.
4. Conflicting Values or Needs:
Procrastination can arise when individuals have conflicting priorities or desires competing for their attention and resources. Balancing different aspects of life, such as work and personal relationships, can cause delays in important tasks.
What triggers your procrastination? Is it lack of motivation, fear, perfectionism or is it a complete mystery to you? I would love to hear from you in the comments section.
Note: The nature of procrastination is clear but researchers have approached its study from different angles. Some have focused on environmental triggers, others on the characteristics of the task, and still others on personality traits. I have attempted to blend these in the points above. For a comprehensive meta-analysis* review of procrastination and the factors contributing to self-regulatory failure, I recommend checking out the work of Steel, P. (2007) found below this Blog post.
Unveiling the Hidden Obstacles – Client Stories
To shed light on the complexities of procrastination and its underlying triggers, let's delve into the stories of two coaching clients: Sarah and John.
Story 1: Sarah's Leadership Transition
Sarah, a newly promoted leader within her organization, faced a common challenge: transitioning from being an accomplished communications expert to a leader of her team. Coming from competence in her previous role, Sarah struggled to let go of control and empower her team fully. She found herself getting overly involved in their work, hindering their growth and causing frustration among her colleagues. Sarah wanted to become an empowering leader and knew that she had to step back, but found herself putting off leadership tasks and instead, maintained focus on the quality of work coming from her team.
Seeking help to navigate this transition and overcome her procrastination tendencies, Sarah turned to coaching. Through our sessions, we uncovered underlying assumptions that poor work from her team would reflect poorly on her. Digging deeper, we discovered that Sarah held an unconscious belief that if she empowered her team to excel independently, she would no longer feel important.
By bringing these beliefs to light, Sarah began to challenge and reframe her perspective. We explored how empowering her team aligned with her desire to be a strong leader. Gradually, Sarah embraced her new role, stepping back and providing the support her team needed. With practice, she noticed a positive shift in herself and received feedback from her team, who felt more trusted and supported by their new leader.
Story 2: John's Expat Challenges
John, an expatriate who recently relocated with his family to a foreign country, faced a unique set of challenges. He carried the weight of guilt for uprooting his wife and child from their familiar support networks. Their struggle with the new language and culture added to the overwhelming nature of the situation. On top of that, John grappled with adjusting to different corporate norms and expectations in his new role.
Feeling torn between his family's needs and excelling in his job, John found himself procrastinating on important tasks, not moving forward in either area as he had hoped for. Through coaching, we delved into the underlying emotions driving his behaviour. We discovered that guilt and the overwhelming nature of his circumstances created a sense of paralysis, making it difficult for him to take decisive action.
Together, we worked on reframing John's perspective and finding a sense of balance. We explored the idea that by taking care of his own well-being and pursuing personal growth, he could better support his family. With strategies such as energy management techniques, realistic expectations, and seeking support from local networks, John gained a sense of control over his circumstances. He embraced the challenges as opportunities for growth and reframed his experiences as enriching for his family.
Completing the puzzle together
Procrastination is a multi-faceted challenge, but it is not insurmountable. By uncovering the hidden triggers and beliefs that drive our procrastination tendencies, we can rewrite our stories and take meaningful steps towards success. Through the power of coaching, clients like Sarah and John were able to overcome their procrastination patterns and embrace their true potential.
If you're not quite ready for coaching, there are two powerful techniques worth exploring to assist with unlocking procrastination: Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Implementation Intentions.
CBT helps us identify and challenge negative thought patterns that contribute to procrastination. By reframing our beliefs and developing healthier perspectives, we can overcome self-doubt and perfectionism that often hold us back. CBT explores the connections between thoughts and feelings, allowing us to change our attitudes about activities and increase motivation.
Implementation Intentions, on the other hand, involve creating a specific plan for when, where, and how we will tackle a task. By setting clear intentions, we increase the likelihood of follow-through and reduce the chances of getting side-tracked by distractions. This self-regulatory strategy, in the form of an "if-then plan," can lead to better goal attainment and help in habit and behaviour modification. It specifies the when, where, and how of goal-directed behaviour, empowering us to take action.
These techniques are a small glimpse into the strategies I use in coaching. If you are feeling stuck in the cycle of procrastination and need help pulling together the missing pieces, it's time to take that first step towards your goals. Book a free Discovery Session and let's work together to unlock your procrastination puzzle.
Note: The names used in the client stories are fictional to protect privacy, an important theme in coaching ;)
Reference: The nature of procrastination: A meta-analytic and theoretical review of quintessential self-regulatory failure, published in the Psychological Bulletin, 133(1), 65-94. *A meta-analysis is a research method that combines and analyses data from multiple studies to draw overall conclusions and uncover patterns or trends.