How many times have you put off a task, or avoided a deadline, even though you knew it would only make things worse by waiting? Increased stress, worry and self recrimination are not necessarily enough to actually change our behavior, even when there are direct, punitive consequences.
This is the cruel reality of procrastination, and unfortunately, it’s something most of us are familiar with at one time or another. Recent research may surprise you. It isn’t a moral failing, a lack of willpower, poor time management, or just plain laziness that keeps us in procrastination mode. It’s actually an issue of how we manage our mood when there is something we just don’t want to do; in other words, how do we regulate our grouchy or worried mood about doing something unpleasant, or something that we lack confidence in completing successfully. From washing a sink full of dirty pots and pans (unpleasant), or folding five loads of laundry (tedious), to doing things that leave us emotionally uncomfortable or insecure (difficult conversations, balancing our checkbooks or writing a report for work), there are many opportunities where our mood is impacted by tasks hanging over us. Typically, when we are procrastinating, the tendency is to self blame and believe there is something wrong with us, which contributes to our stress and unease, adding even more avoidance and mood disregulation. Instead, try the Nonviolent Communication approach of self-empathy and compassion. First, simply name the feeling you are having, which could include boredom, fatigue, worry, insecurity, resentment or overwhelm, and then offer yourself an expression of understanding that normalizes your feelings. It could sound like this: “Of course I’m tired and bored. This is the fifth basket of laundry I’ve folded this week!” or, “Of course I’m dreading writing this report, it’s tedious and I’m not sure I have all the information I need.” Often, when we can identify what is getting in our way, we can offer ourselves some understanding and compassion, which frees us up to find new and creative strategies to move forward with completing those difficult things we don’t want to do. This article originally appeared in Current Magazine.