SUMMARY: In this episode, we review how important it is to address procrastination, as it impacts so many people in so many ways. We also will review how procrastination is the same thing as avoidance and how people can work towards implementing time management skills to help them build a routine that helps them get the things they want to get done.
This episode of Your Anxiety Toolkit is brought to you by CBTschool.com. CBTschool.com is a psychoeducation platform that provides courses and other online resources for people with anxiety, OCD, and Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors. Go to cbtschool.com to learn more.
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This is Your Anxiety Toolkit - Episode 220.
Welcome back, everybody. How are you? Really, really, how are you? How is your heart? How is your mind? What’s showing up for you? How are you? I really want you to check in, in case you haven’t checked in for a while. How are you doing? It’s important. Let’s make sure we check in.
Today, we’re talking about procrastination. It’s one of the most common questions I get when I’m doing live calls on Instagram and Facebook, like how do I manage procrastination? A lot of you are also managing perfectionism and it’s getting in the way of you doing the things you want to do or doing the things you have to do.
Because I get asked this so much, I actually wanted to show people how I do it. So what I did is I created a whole mini-course, it’s called Time Management For Optimum Mental Health. You can get it if you go to CBTSchool.com/TimeManagement, or you can click the link in the show notes below. It’s a full course of showing you how I manage time and why I manage my time to help manage my mental health and my medical health. A lot of you know I have struggled with a chronic illness. Time management has been huge in me staying functioning and managing mental overwhelm and a lot of procrastination. In the course, it’s only $27, it’s a mini-course and it shows you exactly-- I have recorded the screen as I’m showing you exactly how I do it. If you’re interested, go over and check it out. I’d love to have you take the course and put it into practice.
Now, one of the things about this episode is this is actually me giving you a sneak peek into the course because it’s one of the bonuses of the course to talk about procrastination. So I wanted to share it with you here on the podcast as well. You will hear me refer to the other parts of the course as you listen. That doesn’t matter. You’ll still get everything you need to know about procrastination and how to manage it today. But yes, if you’ve already taken the course, you probably have already listened to this bonus. But for today, let’s talk about procrastination.
Before we head over into the episode, I wanted to do the review of the week. This is a review from Sadbing, and they’ve said:
“Desperately needed. I am an LICSW that has searched high & low for a podcast that delivers quality content. I felt relieved to finally find one! This podcast provides an honest depiction of how anxiety shows up in people’s lives & gives you effective feedback on how to live with it. Thank you!”
Thank you, Sadbing. Thank you so much for that amazing review. I do ask that anyone who’s listening, please, the one thing you can do, this is what I offer freely to you all. If you get a second, just click below, in whatever app you’re listening to, and leave a review. It helps me so much reach all the people. The more reviews we have, the more people will trust the podcast and continue listening to this free resource. So, yay.
All right. Let’s get over to this episode about managing procrastination. I hope you find it helpful. If you want to learn more about time management, head on over to CBTSchool.com/TimeManagement, and you can get a mini-course for 27 bucks. It’s amazing value for a short period of time and a short amount of money. So, yeah. All right. So happy to have you here with me today. Thank you for giving your time to me and trusting me with your precious time. I will see you after the show.
Welcome. You wouldn’t have a time management course without really addressing procrastination. Procrastination is, number one, the biggest question I get, which is another reason why I wanted to make this course, is because it’s so common. It’s such an easy trap to fall into. It’s such a human trap to fall into to procrastinate. But I wanted to take a deep dive into procrastination today and talk about some skills that you can practice to manage procrastination.
Let me really just dive into, first, what is procrastination? Now simply put, procrastination is an avoidant safety behavior. What does that mean? When human beings assume or see or assign things as a threat, our mind does that. So our mind will assign something as threatening, whether it be, “I have to write this email.” It could be as simple as writing an email. It could be, “I have to present something. I have to get a project done. I have to go and exercise.” Our brain will present that as some kind of danger or challenge or threat.
Now you might be thinking to yourself, there’s nothing dangerous about exercise or writing an email, but there may be for you because doing that means you have to have some uncomfortable feelings. Maybe shame, maybe anxiety, maybe irritability. Anger might show up. Guilt might show up. Because those emotions are uncomfortable and maybe if we haven’t developed skills on mastering those emotions, events like writing an email or exercising or doing a project may be experienced as dangerous or a threat.
When our brain interprets things as a threat, naturally, it is going to set off the alarm and try to either get you to run away from it, to fight it, or to freeze. That’s how fight, flight, and freeze response. And the most common as humans is avoidance. We avoid the thing that will create discomfort for us, and simply put, that is what procrastination is.
Now, why do we call it a safety behavior? We could call it a compulsion. But we call it a safety behavior because not everybody does it compulsively, but they may do it to create a false sense of security, a false sense of safety. As human beings, we want safety. It feels good to feel safe. It feels good to feel like, “Oh, I don’t have to face that hard thing.” So, yes, we consider it a safety behavior.
Now, does that mean that you’re bad and lazy or not good? Absolutely not. Everybody engages in safety behaviors. It’s a human part of life. But what we want to look at here is, is it creating trends in your life? Is it creating impact or consequences to your life that create more discomfort and more distress later? Most of the time people say, “Yeah, I avoid,” and it’s getting to be a problem. If that’s for you and that’s happening to you, you’re definitely not alone.
Now, how do we manage procrastination? The first thing is identify what it is you are avoiding specifically. Don’t just say, “I’m avoiding the email.” Don’t just say, “I’m avoiding exercise,” or “I procrastinate.” Don’t say those things. I mean, you can, but ideally, you will stop and go, “Okay, what is it about the email that I don’t want to tolerate? Ah, writing an email brings up social anxiety for me,” or “Ah, writing the email reminds me that I’m really behind on that project. Writing that email brings up shame because last time I spoke to them, I said something silly or something like that,” or “I don’t want to exercise because, ah, every time I exercise, it creates discomfort in my chest and it makes me feel like I’m panicking.”
So you’ll identify the specific thing that is causing you to avoid specific. You might even get a specific like I did. It’s the physical sensations I don’t want to feel. Or it’s the thought that this was my fault that I don’t want to think. You may get to the bottom of that. Now, of course, if you guys know anything about me, I’m always going to say, it’s a beautiful day to do hard things.
The only way we can overcome these strong emotions, particularly fear and guilt and shame, is to stare them in the face. Our job, and this is what I’m going to encourage you to think about, is to really look at, yes, avoiding. What is the pros of avoiding this? And then on the right-hand side, you could write this on a piece of paper, what are the cons? What are the consequences of me continuing to avoid this thing?
Now often when you write that down, that in and of itself is a motivator because you’re going, “Oh my goodness, writing the email is uncomfortable for the duration that I write the email, not writing it is uncomfortable, even when I’m not working on it, because I’m constantly nagged by the fact that I have to write it, or it’s constantly sitting on my list or I constantly see it in the schedule.” A lot of you in, and we’re in the Time Management course – a lot of you have avoided managing time because putting this in the calendar makes you face the fact that you’ve got something scary to do.
Now, you will see me, I’m holding my hand on my chest right now and I’m sending you much compassion because these are really difficult things. These may seem easy for other people, but they’re hard for you and me. And so we must be compassionate with the fact that they’re hard. Here is what I’m going to say: Being compassionate can actually take some of that pain away. It won’t take it all. You still have to do it. You have to ride the wave of discomfort. It will rise in full as you go. But you can also be gentle with yourself and reduce your suffering instead of criticizing yourself or how hard it is for you. Don’t compare how it is for you compared to your friend or your seatmate or your neighbor.
This is what you do. You practice compassion before you do the activity first. I’m sorry. You commit to doing the activity. You put it in your schedule. You write down when you’re going to do it and how long you think it’s going to take. And then you practice compassion. “Wow, I’m going to be really gentle with myself as I ride out the emotions and the experience of doing that thing.” You may want to get a partner, an accountability partner, who can help remind you and support you as you do the thing. A lot of my patients have an accountability partner. They’re like, “It’s three o’clock.” They’re texting, “It’s three o’clock. I know you’re about to do a scary thing. Good job. Keep going. Don’t stop. Don’t back out. I’ll be right here. You text me as soon as you’re done.” See if you can do that. If you don’t have someone to do that, be that for yourself. So it’s in your calendar. You’re going, you’re gentle. You’re going to do the thing.
What I personally like to do is keep a notepad down next to me as I’m writing an email or recording a podcast or doing something that creates anxiety for me. I jot down the thoughts and feelings I’m having. Not a lot, bullet points. Like, “Oh, I’m having the thought that this is not helpful. I’m having the thought that this is not good enough. I’m having the thought that this should be better. I’m having the thought that I made a mistake. I’m having the thought that this should be going fast or better.”
Like I said, and you may start to notice – and this is true, I’ve seen a lot of patients say – as you write it down, it’s the same five thoughts over and over and over. When you’re not aware of that, it feels like 55 thoughts or 55,000 thoughts. But once you have it on paper, you will see, often our brain is just repeating the same thing. When you can see that, you can go, “Oh, brain, I’m sorry that you’re sending those messages. Thank you for showing up. Thank you for trying to alert me to the possible dangers, but I have avoided this for so long, and it avoiding it and it procrastinating only delays and continues my suffering.” And you feel your emotions. You ride them out. You tender with yourself as you do the thing. And that’s how you get through it. Once you’re done, you must celebrate and say kind things and congratulate yourself. Don’t forget that stage because that’s so, so important.
But the main point to remember here is that avoidance keeps you stuck. Avoiding the thing you’re afraid of is actually what then creates some depressive thinking, some hopeless thinking, or helpless thinking. “I’ll never be able to... I won’t be able to... I can’t...” We really want to be careful of that type of thinking, because that is the thinking where depression lives. Again, the more you face the things that are uncomfortable, you will build a sense of mastery of that.
It won’t go well the first time, I promise you. Most of life is trial and error. I have found the only way to move forward is to practice failing. Here is what I’m going to ask of you. As you practice this activity or practice of not procrastinating, of facing the thing you’re afraid of, of doing the thing you’ve been avoiding, I want you to practice or remind yourself that you are really not growing if you’re not failing. I’m going to say that again. You’re really not growing if you’re not failing, because if you’re only doing things that go well, chances are, you’re avoiding a lot of things. If you’re only doing things that are going well, the chances are, you’re not building mastery with the hard things in life, and life is 50/50. We know this, that life comes with 50% good and 50% hard. We have to practice failing so we can learn how to be better.
This whole course is about that. You’re going to practice not procrastinating. You may or may not succeed. That’s not really the important part. The important part is that you look at the data, the data being, how did it go, like that reassess stage, which we have as one of the steps in the course. Look at the data, what worked, what didn’t and what do I need to change? This is not a perfect practice. It’s going to be changing as you change. And so having the ability to adapt and having the humility to say, “All right, it’s not working. What do I need to do?”
This has been probably my biggest struggle in my entire life, is I avoid looking at the data of what’s not going well. If someone tells me what’s not going well, I get offended instead of going, “Okay, this is not personal. It’s just data. How can I use this data to help me not make the same mistake over and over again?” Often what I’m doing, I’m churning out a lot of content and I’m not looking at the data when the data could help me to say, what is the most effective? What is the most helpful to other people? How can this be as jam-packed helpful as possible? I have to look at the data, and in order to do that, I have to be willing to fail. It’s okay to fail. This is a practice. It’s not perfection.
But when it comes to procrastination, you have to be willing to be uncomfortable. You have to be willing to do hard things. This is why we keep saying, it’s a beautiful day to do hard things. Now, of course, go back, follow the steps of the whole course. You’ve gotta get it in the schedule before you can really do that. But then I want you to even get very microscopic and look at when you’re scheduling. Let’s say there’s something you’re avoiding and procrastinating on. Schedule small activities so that you don’t procrastinate.
One of the best lessons I’ve learned when it came to me, recovering from my medical struggles, is I have to get a lot of exercise. Not running exercise, a lot of personal training, physical therapy type of exercises, and I hate them. They’re the most boring, annoying, monotonous things on the planet. However, I have found that if I schedule, “Kimberley, at this time, you’re going to put your shoes on. Kimberley, at this time, you’re going to fill up your drink bottle,” I am more likely to do it. I get very microscopic in my planning.
Now, again, you won’t want to do this with all the things in your life. Pick one thing if that’s what you want to work on, and work at creating a system that gets you to do the thing that you continue to procrastinate on. I would not probably do my physical therapy and my training, these annoying, repetitive activities, if I hadn’t created a system that makes it doable. I have a Bluetooth speaker, I put very loud music on. It’s usually reggae or something very hippy, so I feel like at least I’m chilling out as I do it. I marry the thing that’s uncomfortable with something that’s tolerable.
Now, you won’t always be able to do this, and that is fine. Sometimes you just got to ride the wave and face your fear. That’s okay. But that is an idea if it’s for things like daily activities and routines in your life. If it’s facing fears and exposure work, well, no, we don’t want to marry it with these things because that can work as a neutralizing compulsion. If you’re someone who is in treatment for an anxiety disorder and you’ve been given an exposure, well, no, you’re just going to have to practice riding the wave of discomfort, but do not forget that self-compassion piece. It is crucial. Do not forget using your mindfulness skills where you allow your discomfort. You’re non-judgmental about your discomfort. You’re willing to allow it to be there. These are all crucial practices.
I would even consider writing down all the things where you struggle with procrastination and work through them, practice them, just like you would be lifting a weight, just like you would practice if you were learning French or piano. Pick up the basic things and practice the basics first and go through all of them. Try to get yourself through as many as you can so that you build a sense of mastery like, “I can do that. Even if I don’t want to, I can. I could if I had to,” which I think is a really great way of thinking about things that are uncomfortable in your life. “I don’t want to do them, but I could if I had to.” It’s better than “I can’t” and “I don’t want to.”
All right. That is procrastination. I hope that has been helpful. I really want to stress to you that procrastination is a thing that everybody does. Again, it’s not personal, but I really, really encourage you to master doing the things that you avoid. Avoidance keeps anxiety strong. Avoidance keeps you in the cycle of anxiety, and we want to break that cycle.
I hope that is helpful. I am really excited to see you go out and do those things. If you want to, you can share them with me on social media or things that you’re doing. It’s a beautiful day to do hard things. I love when people tag me with that.
Have a wonderful day, everybody, and I will see you in the next module.