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Career Dream Killer Series Part 3: Procrastination

Oh, the irony of wasting time reading about how to not waste time. Is that what you’re doing now? Just kidding. My kids would definitely call that a classic “mom joke”.

Procrastination is something that comes up regularly in my discussions with clients. I think of procrastination as a battle to the death between 2 different parts of your brain. The planning part that wants to achieve something versus the pleasure part that wants to have a good time now. Instant gratification versus long term gain. I wonder which one will win?

Often it depends on how much you enjoy the task at hand or how optimistic you feel about your ability to do it well. Obviously, the more you enjoy the task and believe you are capable of completing it, the more you’re inclined to do it. Those things have you believing that sticking to the task is actually worthwhile.

The silly thing about procrastination is that it’s fake pleasure at best. It tends to feel okay in the moment, but at a cost that can feel terrible. Procrastination tends to come with a side order of something else—guilt? self-loathing? disappointment? stress? Something else that doesn’t feel good? Hardly a helpful mindset for career development. Whether your goal is a promotion, finding a new job, or pivoting to an entirely new career, you've got to have at least some belief that it could be possible for you. This doesn't just happen to you, you need to create it.

At the core, procrastination is a basic impulse. If we don’t consciously push against it, it can easily take us all down. But how do we win over it?

Well, because everything we ever do or don’t do is in an effort to either feel some way or avoid feeling some way, start here. Pay attention to what you’re thinking while you are doing or have an urge to do something other than the task at hand. Perhaps you’re thinking something like “I don’t want to do X” or “I suck at doing X”. Hardly, thoughts that inspire you to complete X. You already think something about the task will cause you discomfort so it makes sense that you avoid it. If you've been prone to procrastinate in the past, you might already easily identify as someone who doesn’t stay on task or as someone who isn’t actually capable of doing the particular task well or to some sort of "perfect standard". Looking at it this way, it makes sense that you’re inclined to avoid it.

The truth is, you can just as easily think of yourself as someone who, at the very least, has the potential to stay on task or has the potential to do the task well. You can think something else that's more helpful. Even "I'll am capable of giving this a try for 15 minutes to see what happens" is better. Shifting the way you’re thinking about it in this way can be very helpful.

Next, you can try to add this:

Something else my clients report as helpful when trying to win over procrastination, is to also set a boundary. Like this:

Commit to the task for a finite period of time. Short bursts can be helpful, say 15 minutes. Tell yourself:

1. If you get an urge to stop working on the task before the 15 minutes is up, that’s ok but…

2. You can’t do anything else during this 15 minutes

Allow yourself to discontinue the task but assign a consequence. The consequence is sitting or standing doing nothing for the same period of time. No scrolling, no reading, no working on something else. This will prevent you from experiencing an additional reward from procrastinating. The reward is dopamine, the shot of happy hormone you receive when you do something more fun than the task you're dreading. Makes sense, write your resume or play candy crush? Hmm, I wonder what wins? Start breaking that cycle.

It’s weird, but it works.

Try it and let me know how it went! If you want to talk about it more, set up a time to chat!

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