Face Procrastination in the Mirror

by Melissa Karnaze

bathroom mirrorProcrastination is the bane of productivity.

When you live in a production-driven society, that’s a real problem. It can get in you in trouble at work, in your relationships, and with yourself.

So maybe you’re looking for ten ways to beat procrastination to a pulp. Or five sure-fire ways to stop it with your stun gun. Or even just the two top ways to strangle it.

Many have already written on how to “overcome” procrastination, so I’m going to explain why procrastination is not the enemy. It’s you.

Procrastination comes from you

And it’s not even your emotions — that are driving the procrastination — that’s the problem. It’s that you aren’t dealing with, or working with them… all of them.

The act of procrastination is the act of running. From this thing to that. From over there to over here. And then back over there to do that thing instead of this thing.

Procrastination is running from your emotions

The act of procrastination is running from yourself, distracting yourself from your true feelings. It may be fear, anger, or jealousy. It may be something you can’t even name. But it’s there. And it’s prodding you to keep running, because subconsciously, you don’t think you can face the feeling, just yet.

Procrastination is the manifestation of all the emotions you are currently avoiding. You think it’s about the writing deadline, or the proposal, or the homework assignment, or the RSVP date, or that dreaded phone call you have to make. You think those are the things you don’t want to deal with. To an extent, yes.

Procrastination runs deep

But it’s really what those things represent that you dread. Like facing the writer’s block that’s haunted you for the past year, or deciding to go freelance before you get cold feet, or actually taking time from your day for solitude and enriching your mind, or asking yourself if you really want to go that friend’s wedding, or why you even need to explain yourself over the phone when you had many opportunities to communicate clearly.

Procrastination keeps you from doing what needs to be done. But it does much more than that. It keeps you from facing the issues that directly relate to doing what needs to be done.

When you actually sit down to draft a proposal or write an essay or make a phone call — and do it mindfully, with presence — you can’t really hide from your true feelings about the task and what it represents. It’s much harder for you to deny the uncomfort and the squirm and maybe even the unanswered questions. Yeah, that’s scary.

Why deal with all of that? All of that “stuff,” when you don’t have to? When you can just delay facing it instead?

Procrastination will win, unless you face it

Right, delaying it until Saturday instead of getting it done Wednesday. All the stuff will still be waiting for you, until you decide to face it, whether it’s Wednesday, Saturday, or next month. That stuff might gather dust and it might get piled over with other stuff. But it will still be there. (Unless that is, you procrastinate a task past its deadline, which may or may not have negative consequences. But you’re still not off the hook — because you didn’t resolved the emotional squirm!)

So instead of waging war against procrastination, admit defeat. You didn’t face whatever was really bothering you with stride. You didn’t take the time to sit down and feel. You didn’t figure out what was wrong and fix it. And so you were running around like a chicken with its head cut off because goodness forbid you let yourself feel those raging emotions — they’ll eat you alive!

Okay, enough with the drama.

Really overcoming procrastination is about admitting defeat, and then looking at yourself in the mirror — with no judgment, guilt, or shame.

Face procrastination the right way

Yes, an actual mirror.

Yes, looking at yourself. Because remember, procrastination is not the enemy; it’s you. Or rather, how you chose to avoid your emotions, up until now at least.

So pull out that mirror, and sit your butt down and lock into stare.

Look, if you have five minutes to keep procrastinating, you have five minutes to admire yourself in the mirror.

Yes, admire, adore, preferably with long gazes. Because it doesn’t matter that you made a mistake, that you procrastinated. That you ignored your emotions when you needed to listen to them.

Find yourself

What matters is that when you pull out that mirror, you find yourself amidst the frenzy of not feeling your emotions. Not feeling your emotions doesn’t really work, because even if you don’t feel them (consciously, at least), they’re still taking effect in your life, via procrastination, among other lovely vices.

What matters is that you aren’t going to continue fighting. That you are going to find peace, by accepting who you are right now and how you feel. It doesn’t matter if it sounds crazy, irrational, politically incorrect, or cursed. What matters is that it’s signaling something to you. Something important about your life and your place in it. Something that needs to be addressed, maybe even fixed.

Stop running

Procrastination is the nervous energy that comes from running from yourself.

If you want to be more productive, stop running, and take a look in the mirror. Is that who you want to run from?

If you want to be more productive at anything, you have to work with all of your emotions. Because if you don’t, for the rest of your life, they will run all over you, and run your life when you’re not looking. It’s called the subconscious. And it’s a force to be reckoned with.

Start now

But seriously, spend five minutes today gazing at your beautiful self in the mirror.

Don’t do for procrastination’s sake.

Do it because you’re worth it.

And if it works for you, or if you have a better way of facing your procrastination, share in the comments below.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

WN November 17, 2009 at 12:33 pm

It never occurred to me that procrastination had anything to do with avoidance of feeling something, but you are damn right! Whether it’s washing my car or paying a bill or beating myself up over not calling my old college roommate, it’s totally “running” from that emotion.

It just struck me that avoidance of emotion may be the motivation of the better share of our behavior.

Holy crap!

Melissa Karnaze November 17, 2009 at 1:00 pm

lol WN, this one gets me big time every now and then. And I’ll be the first to admit I can be pretty darn good at running from myself.

It just struck me that avoidance of emotion may be the motivation of the better share of our behavior.

Oh boy, you said it. SO much of our behavior is subconsciously driven. And I think a Big part of the driving is actually “running from.” When you really let that sink in, it’s astounding. But you’ve got to start somewhere, right? :)

Cordes Simpson November 17, 2009 at 5:51 pm

Very interesting! I am definitely going to try this because I am a great or rather bad procrastinator. I’ll pass this on to my other friendly procrastinators. Thanks

Melissa Karnaze November 17, 2009 at 6:07 pm

Cool Cordes, feel free to let us know how it works for you and the network of friendly procrastinators! :P

Jay December 2, 2009 at 4:58 am

This article is great for those who haven’t yet recognized that procrastination is one’s attempt to avoid (facing and experiencing) whatever unpleasant emotions that the object of procrastination evokes in oneself, but what about those procrastinators like me who are already fully aware that we procrastinate to avoid experiencing unpleasant feelings, and yet continue to procrastinate because simply knowing that we’re avoiding our own unpleasant emotions doesn’t make those emotions any less unpleasant or even downright excruciating to experience?

Essentially: I still procrastinate despite being fully aware of the causes, and when I procrastinate on something I do so because I’m not willing to endure the emotional torture that results from doing said thing, at least not until the emotional torture produced by the consequences of not doing outweigh the emotional torture produced by doing. Yes, I’m basically admitting that I’m my own tormentor, but that’s what you get with a brain hardwired to be hypersensitive to unpleasant emotions.

P.S. Just found this blog; truly fascinated by it because I’ve been trying out the mindfulness thing as part of CBT to manage my anxiety/neuroticism (in the Big Five Factor Personality sense). Expect more comments from me in the near future, though I might be responding to rather old posts.

Melissa Karnaze December 2, 2009 at 10:42 am

Jay, I’m usually the same way. It’s hard for me to procrastinate for long before I remember why I’m doing it. When “the emotional torture produced by the consequences of not doing outweigh the emotional torture produced by doing” I work on facing myself, and I try to do so before it gets to that point too.

Do you ever find that when you sit down to face the feelings, that it isn’t as bad as you thought it would be? Or is it usually the case where hypersensitivity makes it very unpleasant?

Hey, I’m so glad you found it here! I would love to read more of your comments. You have a unique perspective as you are actively working on mindfulness and Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy. I’m fascinated to see the efforts in mental health to integrate these modalities. Mindfulness seems to be hitting mainstream, and it definitely has much to offer.

Feel free to comment an *any* of the articles, and I look forward to seeing you around!

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