I consider myself to be a driven person. I have many ambitions, along with clearly defined goals. And to be honest, I regularly check things off my to-do list, with little delay. Yet, every once in awhile, I find myself giving in to procrastination.
But here’s the thing. I know very well that I’m not a lazy person. After all, I don’t shy away from 10-hour workdays, 7-day workweeks, nor any project that I’m passionate about. In fact, I’d rather say that I’m someone who needs to remind themselves to take things easy, have some time off, and just chill (a lesson I wish I’d learned before driving myself to burnout, twice).
So how come that with all of this energy I’m happy to invest, I still manage to self-sabotage my work?
It’s something I’ve been wondering about for a while. So my solution was simple. Go to a career coach and get honest, raw, and open to learning about what it is I’m doing wrong.
And boy, did I get some answers.
Why we self-sabotage
The most critical step to overcoming procrastination is finding out what it stems from. Although most people are different, there are a few common reasons people tend to self-sabotage (whether on a personal or professional level).
Fear of change or failure
Perhaps the most common cause of procrastination is our unwillingness to leave our current state of comfort. Even when we’re aware of how much better we could do. Habits and comfort zones are difficult to break – not because we’re weak, but because our minds have been shaped by previous experiences.
Look at it this way: every bad habit once served us in the past. And in a way, it has become a safe zone. So anything outside that area of comfort comes with a host of “dangers” such as failure, uncertainty, or discomfort.
Fear of rejection
How many times have you put off asking your boss for a promotion or a raise?
I, personally, am extremely guilty of this type of self-sabotage. Even when I knew I was one of the most valuable employees in a company, I’d still avoid standing up for myself. And not because I didn’t think I deserved better. But because I was afraid of a possible rejection, or even worse, retaliation.
In the end, people can’t give you what they don’t know you want. So, you end up being dissatisfied, angry, or ready to throw in the towel.
Procrastination doesn’t always have to be rooted in a deeply buried fear. Sometimes, the answer to why you’re putting off a certain task is that, simply, deep down, you don’t want to do it. And that’s all right. Perhaps it’s something like having to send a disappointing email to an important client. Or knowing that the reward for successfully completing a task is so far in the future that you don’t feel motivated enough to get down to work right now.
As humans, we have a tendency to focus on the end result. And without extreme self-discipline, this can lead to procrastination, especially when our goals are too big to handle. Because the imagined reality seems so far off, we feel intimidated and prefer to stay where we are.
Physical or mental unpreparedness
Of course, procrastination can stem from physical issues as well. Poor nutrition, insufficient exercise, or not getting enough sleep for your requirements could make you less sharp, hinder your decision-making skills, and mess with your motivation. Furthermore, depression and anxiety can make it difficult to concentrate on work. So, if you recognize yourself in this section, make sure you find a professional or a trusted friend to talk things over with.
What I did to finally get myself over procrastination
As you can see, there are numerous reasons behind self-sabotage. Some, we may be aware of. Others are so well-hidden in our psyche that it takes a professional to bring them to light. But the fact that procrastination can be difficult to overcome does not mean that it’s impossible.
Here’s what my coping plan looked like:
- I uncovered what led me to postpone my tasks. I did a lot of soul searching, both on my own and with my career coach, and figured out the main reasons why I delayed. I must say, looking back, some of my reasons for putting things off were absolutely ludicrous.
- I took a look at my goals and prioritized them. I thought about what made me excited, what was something I was expected to do (but didn’t feel like putting in the effort), and things that I wanted not because I was passionate about them, but because I knew that future me would be grateful for taking the time for getting started (*cough* retirement savings *cough*).
- I created a plan, breaking big goals into small to-dos, along with rewards for each completed task. These rewards included things like crossing something off of my to-do list, giving myself extra leisure time if I finished a task before it was due, and just learning how to acknowledge a job well done.
- I set objective deadlines that would motivate me to push on, without causing uncomfortable pressure. This meant that I wasn’t driving myself too hard, but wasn’t giving myself too much time either, as that would allow me to lose focus and momentum.
- I tried out a few visualization techniques that would help me with self-motivation. The one that resonated the most was this short guide to creative visualization by Mindvalley founder Vishen Lakhiani.
- I made sure to let friends, family, or my career coach know about my goals so that I would always be accountable for doing what I was supposed to do.
- I started taking better care of myself in terms of sleep and nutrition, keeping a journal to identify patterns that were making me more susceptible to low motivation levels. I found that I tended to be more prone to procrastinate when I skipped exercise, had junk food a few days in a row, or had a bad night’s sleep.
- As I started procrastinating less and doing things more, I realized that I was creating new self-regulating habits that allowed me to get things done, even when I wasn’t in the mood. (This was particularly important during stressful times, or periods when I felt like I’d rather spend the day in bed watching Netflix.)
My plan going forward
Here’s the thing. I know I’ve done a huge job in getting to the cause of my procrastination, but at the same time, I’m aware that I might find myself falling into the same pattern in the future. Remember how I mentioned those habits setting us back? Yeah, well, they have a way of sneaking up on us.
So I promised myself to keep practicing mindfulness, both personally and professionally, and to make sure I’m always attuned to my needs, wants, and motivation. This way, even when I do find myself avoiding a bit too much, I’ll be prepared to nip the problem in the bud and allow myself to reach my full potential.