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Overcome Procrastination Through Emotional Management Skills

How to stop procrastinating
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In the fields of psychology and personal development, more research and evidence surrounding how to overcome procrastination has surfaced. Specifically, here at Blue Lotus Living, we are exploring how creative individuals can overcome procrastination.

The nature of creative work often involves a deep emotional investment and vulnerability.  Thus, because creative work involves vulnerability, creators and artists can be susceptible to self-doubt, perfectionism, and the fear of judgment. 

Add to this, the combination of external distractions and internal pressures, it creates a perfect storm for procrastination. Meanwhile, this can creative individuals feeling overwhelmed, paralyzed, and unable to tap into their full creative potential.

Accordingly, it’s no wonder so many creative people have expressed how challenging it is to navigate the myriad of distractions. With an influx of information, social media notifications, and the pressure to produce and compete, focus and prioritization is daunting. 

To cope, many of us delay, put things off, and avoid important tasks–yes, we procrastinate.

What is Procrastination?

But exactly what is procrastination? Procrastination is the act of unnecessarily and voluntarily delaying or postponing something despite knowing that there will be negative consequences for doing so. Everyone puts things off sometimes, but procrastinators chronically avoid difficult tasks and may deliberately look for distractions. 

As such, procrastination tends to reflect a person’s struggles with self-control. For habitual procrastinators, who represent approximately 20 percent of the population, “I don’t feel like it” comes to take precedence over their goals or responsibilities, and can set them on a downward spiral of negative emotions that further deter future effort.

Subsequently, there are various drivers of procrastination, from low self-confidence to anxiety, a lack of structure, and simply an inability to motivate oneself to complete unpleasant tasks. Research has also shown that procrastination is closely linked to rumination, or becoming fixated on negative thoughts.

Based on these factors, it has become evident to researchers such as Tim Pychyl, an associate professor of psychology at Carleton University and blogger at Psychology Today that “procrastination is not a time-management problem, it’s an emotion-management problem.” 

Julia Baum, a licensed mental health counselor (LMHC) in private practice in Brooklyn, New York, agrees. “Poor time management is a symptom of the emotional problem. It’s not the problem itself,” she says.

Baum emphasizes that procrastination is an “emotion-focused coping strategy to deal with negative emotions.”

Negative emotions that make it difficult to overcome procrastination

And yet, how do negative emotions trigger procrastination?  When we sit down to do a task related to our creative work, we project into the future what the task will feel like:

  • How difficult will it be to complete this work?
  • How long will it take?
  • Do I have everything I need? Money? Resources?
  • What will others say about it?
  • Will it sell?
  • Am I a fraud?
  • Does this meet the standard of ____________?

But not only do we project into the future (worry), but we also ruminate about our past work:

  • Will this work be as great as my last?
  • I took a loss with my last project, will this do the same?
  • I’ve never experienced the success I’ve wanted, should I just quit?

And procrastination is a way to deal with negative emotions. Hence,  to overcome procrastination, it is important to reframe how we engage with our work and learn to regulate our emotions.

Hence, let’s look deeper into what negative emotions can trigger procrastination and how these emotions make it difficult to overcome procrastination.

Fear and anxiety 

Fear and anxiety are formidable adversaries that can fuel the flames of procrastination, holding us back from exploring and completing our creative projects. 

In such a state of being, a fear of failure, judgment, or falling short of high standards can loom in our minds exhausting us emotionally and thus, draining our creative and mental bandwidth.

Moreover, the effects can be so paralyzing that they can prevent us from starting or completing tasks. These emotions are not only overwhelming but these emotions make it difficult to muster the courage and confidence needed to move forward.

Perfectionism and its nonsensically high standards make it difficult to overcome procrastination

The pursuit of perfection can contribute to procrastination. When we hold ourselves to nonsensically high standards, the fear of not meeting those standards can lead us to delay or avoid tasks and projects altogether. 

Perfectionism is by all means a significant barrier to productivity and can lead to procrastination, especially for creative individuals. As a “recovering perfectionist” I understand the pursuit of perfection. 

You see, the pursuit of perfection sets impossibly high standards and expectations.  As a result, perfectionists set standards so high, it creates a fear of not being able to meet them. 

Creative souls, driven by their passion for their craft, often strive for flawless execution and worry about the quality and reception of their work.

The fear of not reaching their outrageous standards or the fear of being judged by others can paralyze creative minds, causing us to postpone starting or completing our projects. The desire for perfection becomes a double-edged sword—it amplifies the ambition to create exceptional work but instills self-doubt and anxiety simultaneously. 

Subsequently, this self-imposed pressure can lead to a cycle of procrastination as the fear of not meeting our standards becomes overwhelming. Rather than focusing on creating achievable goals and standards and choosing progress over perfection, we find ourselves stuck in a loop of constant revisions, endless tweaks, or even avoiding starting altogether.

The tendency to delay tasks stems from the belief that the work will never be good enough, which perpetuates the cycle of procrastination. 

Lack of motivation can make it difficult to overcome procrastination

Procrastination can stem from a lack of motivation. But because we’ve been told that a lack of motivation is “laziness,”  we can easily miss how a lack of motivation could be related to an inability to manage our emotions. 

And yet, when look through a lens of compassion, we discover motivation can be intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. 

On the one hand, intrinsic motivation stems from an internal drive for personal satisfaction, enjoyment, and benefit. It is the inherent desire to engage in activities that align with one’s values and bring a sense of fulfillment. When individuals undertake tasks that resonate with their core beliefs and principles, they often experience a surge of intrinsic motivation. This internal drive fuels their passion, creativity, and commitment to achieving their goals.

On the other hand, extrinsic motivation arises from external factors and rewards. It is driven by the desire to obtain benefits or meet external expectations. Extrinsic motivation can be triggered by various factors, such as the pursuit of material possessions or the aspiration for a promotion or position. 

When individuals are motivated by extrinsic factors, they are more likely to engage in tasks that align with their goals and offer tangible rewards or recognition.

Therefore, understanding the source of motivation is crucial because it directly influences our level of engagement and commitment to a task. If as a creative you do not perceive how you will benefit from the task at hand, you may struggle to find motivation. 

Whether it’s the absence of personal satisfaction or the lack of clear external rewards, the perceived lack of benefits can lead to a sense of demotivation and prohibit the desire to progress. Consequently, it is essential to identify and create both intrinsic and extrinsic sources of motivation to maintain a sense of purpose and drive in pursuing our goals or completing a task

And yes, it’s personal for each creative, artist, writer, and maker.  Not everyone will be motivated by a sense of accomplishment, just as not everyone will be motivated by money or clout.

Emotional Regulation to Overcome Procrastination 

We are not born with an internal manual with instructions on how to regulate our emotions.  Procrastination can be a form of unproductive emotional regulation, where we avoid or delay tasks to escape negative emotions such as boredom, stress, or overwhelm. Engaging in more enjoyable or distracting activities provides temporary relief from these emotions.  And because it’s only a temporary relief, yes, it’s unproductive.

Of course, some have shared how delaying overwhelming tasks and coming back to them later can be beneficial, but that’s not necessarily procrastination.  We call that, “a break.” 

Procrastination is not a break, it’s an unproductive way to delay or avoid.

Ultimately, procrastination, in simple terms, can be seen as an unproductive way of dealing with our emotions. As creative minds, we often face a rollercoaster of emotions that can sometimes feel overwhelming. 

Instead of facing these emotions head-on and finding healthy ways to regulate them, a habitual procrastinator resorts to procrastination as a means of avoiding or escaping them. It’s like putting off important tasks and responsibilities in favor of temporary relief from uncomfortable feelings.

When we procrastinate, we’re essentially using it as a coping mechanism to temporarily escape from negative emotions like fear, anxiety, frustration, or self-doubt. We put off tasks, we create a temporary sense of relief from these emotions. 

However, the problem with procrastination is that it only provides short-term relief and adds to our long-term stress and anxiety.

It keeps us stuck in a cycle of avoidance, preventing us from making progress and reaching our full potential. To break free from this unproductive pattern, it’s important for us as creative individuals to learn healthier ways of managing our emotions and finding effective strategies to overcome procrastination.

Addressing low self-worth is necessary to overcome procrastination

Negative self-beliefs and low self-confidence have a significant impact on our tendency to procrastinate. Many creatives battle with doubts about their abilities and question whether they truly deserve success. 

These self-limiting beliefs can unconsciously sabotage our efforts, leading us to procrastinate. In a state of self-doubt, it becomes easier to convince ourselves that we’re not capable which gives us an excuse to delay or avoid it altogether.

Procrastination becomes a way for us to protect ourselves from potential failure or disappointment. By putting off tasks, we can temporarily avoid confronting our insecurities and shield ourselves from the possibility of confirming our negative self-beliefs. 

Still, this avoidance strategy only perpetuates a cycle of self-doubt and undermines our progress. 

Lack of Clarity and Direction affects our ability to overcome procrastination

 When we find ourselves lacking clarity in our goals or feeling unsure about how to approach a task, it can be quite overwhelming. 

As creative minds, we thrive on inspiration and a clear sense of direction. However, when that clarity is missing, it can trigger feelings of confusion and uncertainty. 

These emotions can be paralyzing and make it incredibly challenging to make progress. In such instances, procrastination often sneaks in, offering temporary relief from the discomfort of not knowing what steps to take. 

We may find ourselves avoiding the task altogether, hoping that clarity will magically appear. But the truth is, without a clear vision and a plan of action, procrastination becomes a default response. We need to confront this lack of clarity, seek guidance if needed, and break down our goals into smaller, manageable steps. By doing so, we can overcome the uncertainty, regain our focus, and move forward with purpose and determination.

By understanding and addressing these emotional factors, we can develop effective strategies to manage our emotions, overcome procrastination, and improve our productivity. While time management techniques are valuable for optimizing efficiency, they are often insufficient if the underlying emotional challenges associated with procrastination are not addressed.

Therefore, shifting the focus to emotional management empowers us as creatives to explore our fears, perfectionism, motivation, and self-beliefs.  Thus, we can develop strategies that target the root causes of procrastination.

By addressing these emotional barriers, we can practice gentle productivity that honors our well-being and achieve tremendous success in our endeavors.

Skills to Improve, Life Strategies to Implement, and Self-Empowerment Tips to Execute as You Overcome Procrastination

To this effect, if you’re struggling with procrastination, there are self-empowerment and personal development strategies you can implement. 

Here are  skills, strategies, and tips that can help overcome each emotional management issue:

Fear and Anxiety

Skill to Improve: Develop resilience and courage to face fears.

Life Strategy: Practice mindfulness and self-reflection to identify and challenge fear-based thoughts. Use visualization techniques to imagine successful outcomes and reframe fear as an opportunity for growth.

Self-empowerment Tip: When fear and anxiety grip us, it’s important to acknowledge it and understand it’s normal. However, it is equally crucial to recognize that succumbing to these emotions only perpetuates the cycle of procrastination. To overcome this emotional barrier, we must confront our fears head-on and challenge the negative narratives that accompany them.

Perfectionism

Skill to Improve: Cultivate self-compassion and embrace imperfection.

Life Strategy: Set realistic goals and learn to appreciate progress over perfection. Practice self-acceptance and celebrate small achievements. Challenge self-critical thoughts and focus on the learning process rather than solely the result.

Self-Empowerment Tip: Write down your thoughts as you work on your creative projects. How are you feeling as you work and complete tasks? 

This form of journaling through your workflow is called interstitial journaling (a type of journaling developed by Coach Tony Stubblebine currently the CEO of Medium.com). By becoming more aware of your patterns, you’re in a better position to alter them.

Furthermore, stop comparing yourself to others. To accomplish this, start a gratitude journal. Take a few moments at the beginning of the day to write down all the things you’re thankful for. Be sure to write down your strengths and accomplishments as well. 

Highlight the personal and life skills you have and how these skills have helped you achieve your goals and aspirations. This can help shift your focus from what others have to what you have and appreciate in your own life.

Lack of Motivation

Skill to Improve: Enhance intrinsic motivation. 

Life Strategy: Connect tasks to personal values and purpose. Utilize visualization and affirmation techniques to reinforce motivation and maintain focus.

Self-Empowerment Tip: Know you’re “why.” When you feel demotivated or experience emotional burnout, you may need something to return to and remind yourself “why.” 

Look to understand how your job or tasks fit into the bigger picture. When you’re working on a creative project or a task, it’s typically part of a larger goal.  

Perhaps, that goal is reaching an audience, getting your work out there, or making money in your profession.  Either way, you can lose sight of the bigger picture when you’re not motivated and want to avoid it all.

This is the time to ask questions like:

  • What is my overall goal? 
  • What is the purpose of my goal?
  • How does this task or project help me complete that goal?
  • What am I trying to avoid and will this avoidance deter me from my goal?
  • What will things look and feel like if I don’t achieve this goal?

Emotional regulation

Skill to Improve: Develop emotional regulation and coping mechanisms.

Life Strategy: Identify alternative, healthy ways to cope with negative emotions. Practice stress management techniques like deep breathing, meditation, or physical exercise. Implement strategies for time management and breaks to prevent feeling overwhelmed.

Self-Empowerment Tip: If you learn to tolerate and modify aversive emotions, you will procrastinate less. Three emotion regulation strategies to manage your negative and positive emotions, which trigger procrastination, include cognitive reappraisal, mindfulness, and acceptance.

Low self-worth

Skill to Improve: Enhance self-confidence, increase self-efficacy, and improve intrapersonal communication

Life Strategy: Challenge negative self-talk and replace it with positive affirmations. Engage in self-care activities that promote self-worth. Seek support from mentors or peers who can provide encouragement and validation.

Self-Empowerment Tip: By affirming your worth and capabilities, you can develop a more positive self-image and greater self-confidence. You can make these specific or more general, like “I am capable” or “I am worthy of love and respect.” This can help you manage your emotions better, increase self-confidence, and improve self-discipline.

Lack of clarity and direction

Skill to Improve: Improve goal-setting and decision-making skills.

Life Strategy: Clarify long-term and short-term goals, breaking them down into actionable steps. Enhance organizational skills and utilize tools like to-do lists or project management systems. Seek guidance or mentorship to gain clarity and direction.

Self-Empowerment Tip: Writing down your goals will help you see and understand what you want to accomplish. Here I would like to share with you the G.O.A.L. Method I use to help me break down goals into achievable action steps and track my progress. This system along with interstitial journaling helps me stay on task and prevent procrastination.

Choose Progress Over Stagnancy and Overcome Procrastination

Thus far, we have explored a range of strategies and insights to understand the emotional aspects of procrastination. We have also explored the underlying fears and doubts that fuel it.

With consistency and a growth mindset, we can develop skills to overcome emotional barriers, increase productivity, and achieve our goals.

And certainly, as we grow and develop as creators, writers, artists, and makers, let’s remember to choose progress over stagnation. Guided by clear goals and emotional intelligence, we connect with our visions and get closer to manifesting dreams.

Consequently, the power to overcome procrastination lies within each one of us. Embrace these strategies, commit to your personal development,  prioritize your well-being, and unleash the creative force within. 

The world awaits your gifts and talents.