Most of us are aware of that voice in our heads that screams to us, “stop procrastinating!” And most of us know that the pressure and stress that this voice puts on us just makes us more intimidated and less likely to get anything done. Procrastination is a self-fueled cycle, and it is becoming an epidemic in our society. More than a quarter of people describe themselves as procrastinators. This becomes all the more concerning when we factor in the results of a 10-year study released in 2007, which showed that procrastination is not only on the rise, but “it makes people poorer, fatter and unhappier.” So how can we stop procrastinating once and for all? Believe it or not, there is a condition all procrastinators suffer from, and there is also a proactive solution any procrastinator can take. By learning about the inner critic or “critical inner voice” that leads to procrastination, we can take on this enemy, and start accomplishing our goals.
Why is it so hard to stop procrastinating?
We all possess what psychologist Robert Firestone describes as a “critical inner voice.” This “voice” is like a mean coach, critiquing our performance, questioning our abilities and encouraging us to stray from our goals. People who procrastinate tend to have a loud and active inner critic. They may hear self-hating thoughts like, “You won’t do it right, so why do it at all?” or “Don’t take a chance. You’ll never get what you want.” Conversely, they may hear seemingly self-soothing thoughts like, “That’s just too hard. You deserve a break. Just take a rest and work on that later.” That same voice will later cause people immense amounts of stress when it punishes them for not getting things done, “What is wrong with you? You’re so lazy. You never finish anything. You’re useless.” Whether the voice you hear is self-critical or self-soothing, it yields the same results. You are left with the same workload on your plate and a headful of cruel, self-deprecating thoughts that make it feel impossible to be productive.
Getting over procrastination means overcoming the inner critic that says you are going to fail. When you accomplish something, be it a small action-item from your to-do list or a giant goal you’ve had for years, you feel a natural high – a genuinely good feeling about yourself. Procrastinating denies you this positive experience, while flooding you with a negative self- attacks. When we think of procrastination as a form of self-denial, we can have compassion for ourselves and start to challenge the thought process that leads us to drag our feet.
Steps to stop procrastinating today:
Once you become aware of your critical inner voice and what it’s telling you, you can start to separate it from your own, true point of view. Challenging your inner critic means taking actions that go against its directives. To do this, you have to resist both parts of your critical inner voice: the seductive part that lures you away from finishing tasks and the critical part that stirs up your insecurities and punishes you when you fall short. Here are some ways to combat this inner critic and stop procrastinating right away:
- Write down your self-critical thoughts in the second-person (as “you” statements). For example, “You’re not smart enough to do this right. You’re going to make a fool of yourself.” This will help you to see your critical thoughts as alien statements coming from an internal enemy and to not just accept it as your actual point of view.
- Write a response to these thoughts that is more rational, realistic and self-compassionate i.e. I am not stupid. I’m competent, and when I put my mind to something, I believe I can do a good job.” The idea is not to overcompensate with elevated or self-aggrandizing statements. Instead, you’re responding with a real sense of yourself and your positive qualities.
- You can offer yourself appropriate self-rewards for actual achievements. Creating smaller targets as stepping stones to greater goals is always a good idea. Along the way, you can reward yourself in well-suited ways. This doesn’t mean scarfing down a pizza as a reward for a week of exercising consistently. In fact, this is just the sort of self-indulgent act your critical inner voice will try to lure you into. Instead, try to determine what would be a healthy reward that won’t break your bank account or leave you feeling uneasy. When it comes to your accomplishments, treat yourself with kindness and respect and have fun with your free time and “rewards.”
- You can take small breaks to enable yourself to take a fresh approach to tasks. Procrastinating can be tricky, as we often fool ourselves that we just need one more day, one more hour or one more cup of coffee before we get to work. The truth is there are negative breaks and positive breaks. If we set certain milestones or goals, we can give ourselves the time we need to rejuvenate. We should be careful not to let this time slip away. We can do this by planning out how much time we will take and when we will take it. As long as it’s part of our plan, we can allot ourselves the time we need to get a fresh perspective or the new energy we need to keep on going.
What will happen once I stop procrastinating?
As you stand up to your inner critic and notice that you’ve stopped procrastinating as often or at all, don’t expect to feel complete relief or joy. In fact, challenging your longstanding “voices” will likely leave you feeling anxious at first. You may even start to hear more critical thoughts, warning you that “it won’t last” or that what you’ve done “isn’t good enough.” Once again, this is your inner critic at work, making one last ditch effort to hold you back from getting what you want. Be persistent in your actions. Stay aware of where reality ends and your critical inner voice begins. If you give in to the anxiety, it will only increase; the voices will get louder, and you may fall back into old, bad habits. If you keep resisting, the voice will get quieter and quieter, slowly fading into the background and no longer controlling your life. While it may seem hard to differentiate your real point of view from that of your inner critic, it is an essential step in becoming who you really are. Once you have accomplished this, you are free of imagined limitations and can stop procrastinating once and for all.