April 2, 2019

How Our Emotions Can Lead To Procrastination

Anxiety & Depression
Mental Health & Wellbeing

In a previous post, I described the problems of procrastination and suggested several tips on how to  get things done. For some, procrastination can be solved with developing skills like time-management and effective scheduling. However, sometimes a better schedule doesn’t help in completing tasks that elicit strong emotions. Procrastination isn’t simply a willpower or laziness problem, it’s also an emotional regulation problem. Let’s look at how we can approach procrastination by addressing the emotional reactions that arise when facing tasks.

Familiar Sensations

How do you deal with overwhelming emotions? When you suddenly feel intense anxiety, what do you do? When you feel sad, how do you begin to respond? Reflect on how you manage uncomfortable emotions. Do you see a parallel between these reactions and how you react to completing certain tasks?  Nail down a few typical emotional reactions you get when you’re trying to complete something: anger, frustration, fear, sadness, or insecure. When we procrastinate, it’s easy to cover up the initial negative feeling that arises. We then forget why we pushed it off, other than that it makes us feel uncomfortable. If you’re not too sure what you’re feeling other than wanting to push off the current task at hand, take a conscious break before you do what you usually do to procrastinate. Within this break, do a check-in with yourself and notice what you feel. Is the reason you push it off simply because you genuinely want to do another activity, or because you are running away from the negative feelings this task raises?  

Coping with the Emotions

For chronic procrastinators, the solution to coping with these difficult emotions is to escape from them and try to avoid it as long as possible. One solution is to complete the task incrementally to prevent the negative emotions from rising too high, but in the end this solution does not face the emotions head on. To tackle procrastination means to tackle the emotions we want to avoid. Now, take a moment to reflect on the emotions that tend to come up for you and try to hear what these emotions are communicating. If it’s fear, is the message that you’re afraid you will fail? Is the fear telling you that you’re not ready for this task? These messages are implicitly (and can be explicitly) telling us what we need in the moment. If it’s insecurity, how can we find security? What can we do to find stable ground to set our emotions straight, rather than escape them by procrastinating? For the practice of self-soothing to occur, we have to understand what we need first. If our thoughts are spiraling out of control with what-ifs and all the bad things that can happen, we need to bring in a conscious voice of peace and grounding. Do we need to ask for help or find guidance? Is there something we can do to prepare ourselves for the task so that we can feel adequate? Take a moment to sit and identify what you need to cope with the emotions that are arising. It is easy to run away, but if we can find what we need to soothe the uncomfortable feelings, we can make the task seem less daunting.

Finding What’s Right For You

If creating schedules or working on time-management hasn’t been quite helpful in dealing with procrastination, try tackling it from this perspective and see if facing difficult tasks is somewhat easier. If you’re finding yourself still stuck, take a step back and see what you can do differently in meeting your needs. Creating a safe space for people to engage with their uncomfortable emotions is something I work to do everyday. Sitting with our negative emotions can be scary and unpleasant, so processing through our inner world is much easier in the context of connection. If you want to find a place to walk through your emotions, I would be glad to help! Reach out to our office today.

Written by therapist Daniel Pak

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