By: Lisa Philippart

If you struggle with chronic procrastination, there’s a good chance you’ve tried all the tips, tricks, and productivity solutions without much success. This means you may need to take a deeper (and possibly more uncomfortable) look at the psychological undertones of your procrastination habit. Here are some ideas that might help you get to the root of your procrastinating problem.

Our culture tends to frame procrastination as a bad thing that we should avoid or try to overcome. However, it may be your mind’s way of sending you an important message: You don’t really want the things you say you want. Obviously, there are some things we just have to do (take a shower, submit taxes, etc.). But most people who struggle with chronic procrastination procrastinate on things they tell themselves they want…starting a new hobby, exercising, or socializing. In other words, you want to want that thing but you don’t really want it. For example, you love the idea of doing CrossFit at the local gym. All your friends are doing it, so you tell yourself you want to do it too. But maybe deep down, you don’t actually want to do CrossFit. In this case, procrastination is your mind trying to help. It’s saying, “Stop lying to yourself! Yes, it’s the cool, trendy thing to do right now, but there’s probably a form of exercise that’s much more conducive to your personality…which would make it easier to stick with it long term.”

Or your mind may be telling you that you do want the thing, but you aren’t clear enough about why. Consequently, procrastination is a values problem not a productivity problem. Values help motivate us to stick with and follow through on difficult tasks…but only if they’re really clear and specific. For example, maybe you value creativity, but in the abstract that will not motivate you to write that book you keep thinking about. If you could clarify your value of creativity, it might be more motivating. Saying to yourself, “Creativity matters to me because I feel most alive when I’m creating. I love the excitement and the rush or flow of being so caught up in the moment, I totally lose track of time.” Working harder is rarely the solution to chronic procrastination because it begs the question of why you can’t work harder. The uncomfortable but obvious solution is often that we can only work hard for longer periods of time if we truly value the thing we are working on. The question to ask is this, “Do I procrastinate because I’m lazy or do I procrastinate because I’m not totally honest or clear with myself about how much I value my work?”

Many people grow up with a deep-seated belief that you have to be hard on yourself if you want to be successful. And it seems to work! However, correlation is not causation. Just because you beat yourself up with self-criticism anytime you had a tough challenge ahead, and then succeeded, that doesn’t mean you succeeded because of your self-criticism. In my opinion, most people are successful despite their self-criticism, not because of it. So rather than being critical ahead of a big challenge, try being supportive, like you would for a friend. Remind yourself that it’s normal to feel resistance to doing meaningful, hard work. Give yourself a few examples from the past where you felt really unmotivated but still got the job done. It’s simply giving yourself permission to not be a jerk to yourself. You are the only one who can substitute a self-criticism habit for a self-compassion habit.

By: Lisa Philippart

Licensed Professional Counselor