There are certain things I procrastinate on. When I finally get around to doing the work I realize the reason I put it off in the first place. The task frustrates me. It's triggering. It's difficult (for me, it might not be for others, but that's another story). And after a few minutes or so of trying I want to give up because getting it done feels extremely daunting, if not downright impossible.
This happened to me the other day. I finally started working on a project I had been putting off and quickly became flustered. My mode changed. As my frustration grew, my inner critic jumped at the chance to knock me down.
I felt like I was seven years old again. Struggling to learn how to read. When, after a few botched attempts at sounding words out, my anger would boil over and I wanted to throw the book across the room and scream.
Although we all experience struggle, there's something humiliating about it in the heat of the moment. Even if there's no one around to witness our difficulty, the embarrassment may trigger a patterned threat response - fight, flight, freeze or appease.
When that happens we lose our abilities to think rationally. Fear gets in the drivers seat and stories of inadequacy, don't bother and negativity flood our thoughts. We might convince ourselves it's not important or doesn't matter - not all inner critics are mean like mine.
Whenever I find myself entertaining the belief, "It's not possible," I know my monkey brain is talking. The sooner I stop listening to it the better.
As a business owner, leader and parent, giving up is not an option (and in some instances neither is delegating). So instead, I have to find a way to persevere. What I need in such moments of struggle is to shift gears from wallowing to problem solving.
Before I can move into a higher level of functioning, I need to acknowledge when I'm entering an unhealthy pattern and use the tools available to me to redirect my energy.
When this happened to me recently, I witnessed my reaction as though I was an observer of my life. That gave me a valuable vantage point. I was able to see my circumstances in a broader context so I could acknowledge to myself I was triggered. That first step gave me a sense of control I had previously lost.
From there I brought my attention to my breath. Centering in my body helped me shift out of panic mode. It also gave me a chance to readjust my expectations. Usually when I get mad about a task I'm working on it's because the way I envisioned it should go doesn't match the reality I'm faced with. I can't change the problem I'm encountering but I can adjust my approach.
To aide me in shifting gears, I ponder questions like - What do I really need right now? What's the one thing I have control over in this moment? What if I shifted how I showed up so I experienced less resistance right now?
In some instances, I see I need to slow down and tackle a smaller task to begin with. In other instances, I recognize I'm too hungry or too tired to push on and I need to give myself a break. Other times I will decide to call on a friend or colleague for their perspective.
There isn't one universal solution in these circumstances because each problem is unique. And while there are some known patterns I tend to enter, I also experience curve balls when I am unexpectedly triggered by something.
This work doesn't end. It's a continual process. While one task, say accounting, might not trigger me anymore others will. So I need to be watchful for the patterns that are not serving me. And with each experience, I learn something new while reinforcing healthy habits.
Now I know that I need to prime myself when I'm tackling a task I tend to procrastinate on. Similar to the way an athlete stretches before competing, I need to acknowledge the feelings associated with putting off doing the thing in the first place. It might be fear, anxiety, uncertainty, perfectionism, confusion, overwhelm, etc. etc. etc. Once I name it, I can change my attitude about it so I'm setup to succeed.
I find shifting into a beginners mindset helps, and approach my work as an experimenter - I'm open to learning by doing. It's also advantageous to show myself compassion and understanding rather than criticism and judgment. To do that, I set the expectation I will do my best, rather than striving for perfection. Lastly, I mindfully navigate each step with intention, pausing to check-in with myself rather than following my own knee-jerk reactions. It is from this place, I am able to make meaningful progress and get things done on those easy to procrastinate, triggering to dos! And those are some of the most satisfying items on my to do list to complete.
What task or project have you been procrastinating on? How might you prime yourself to start tackling it today?