Why can’t I stop procrastinating?

stop procrastinating and self sabotage

To stop procrastinating can be the hardest thing in the world – or the easiest.

Isn’t it funny how sometimes we can just get on and do the things that matter, and other times we seem to self-sabotage our own attempts to do the right thing? Whether it is from low self esteem or something else – why can’t you do the things you should?

‘Should’ according to whom?

Sometimes the reason we procrastinate is because we don’t really own the activity in the first place.

If there is a ‘should’ or an ‘ought to’ running through your mind, you are allowing outside pressures to control your outcomes. That can often lead to a feeling of anxiety, which limits your ability to act even further.

If you are doing something because your sister says so, or the government, or your religion, or the book you are reading, you may unconsciously resist doing it.

One simple approach that may work is to change the thought from ‘I should x’ to ‘I want to x’.

Try it now with something you have been putting off.

How does that feel to you? Does it feel genuine and sincere? If it does, you may find it easier to move forward just because of that. If it doesn’t really connect with you then look again at the task or the project and decide whether to do it at all in that case.

When can’t stop procrastinating about something you ‘should’ do

Sometimes we find that although we want to do the right thing, or that important project, we end up passing the time less productively or focussing on something irrelevant. Social media is the classic modern example, but it can also be more subtle things, like reading an ‘important’ report first, or going for a walk, or a host of other disruptive habits.

One thing to ask yourself in that case is – what value does this distraction fulfill for me. What is important about it that makes it more important to do in this moment?

Social media? Important? What possible value does that give me?

Maybe it’s a need to feel connected to others? Or a need to relax? Or it could simply be a habit that needs to be fulfilled.

Watch out for negative values too, such as fear of failure, fear of success or avoiding boredom or attention.

Use values to stop procrastinating.

Once you have an idea of the value that the distraction is fulfilling for you, you have several choices.

  1. Find ways of fulfilling that same value in the project or task you want to do.
    Let’s say the value is connection with others. Can you get others involved in your project or task? Can you do it in a cafe or a bar where there are other people? Can you put on a talk radio station or a podcast to listen to? Can you blog about it or email friends with updates? Can you post the finished project on social media?
  2. Set a time limit that will allow you to fulfil the value before you move on to the next task.
    This is a simple one. Browse Facebook for 10 minutes, skim-read 7 pages of the report, walk to the shops or the somewhere specific and not too far.
  3. Make the fulfilling of the value a reward for achieving the outcome.
    Delay the gratification you feel in the distraction – promise youself 20 minutes of uninterrupted internet surfing when you have completed a defined part of the task. Go for a nice walk after you finish the project.
  4. Find the bigger ‘yes’ in the outcome itself.
    Whatever the project itself is, you are doing it for a reason. You are doing it to fulfil a value. What is the value? Are you seeking success? Are you hoping for the value that a clean house or a tidy garden would fulfil for you – such as peace, harmony, relaxation? Once you have an idea of what doing that project will achieve for you, compare the value to the one you fulfill with the distraction. Which is most important to you? Ask yourself ‘if I could fulfill x, but not have y’ would that be okay?
    Hopefully the value will be more important and you will find it easier to move forward. If the value is less important then you may need to re-think the project altogether, or get some help with shifting your values so that they work better for you.

There is a good chance you are reading this article because you are struggling to stop procrastinating and aren’t getting on with something right now that you want to do. If that’s the case, before you try doing any of the suggestions above…I wonder if you can bookmark this article, close the window and take the next step in what you need to do, right now!

You can learn more about self-sabotage in my article on the ‘Personal Growth’ website – “Six steps to help avoid self sabotage”

This article is based on a piece I wrote for Happiful Magazine How to Procrastinate with Purpose’

Robert Sanders is a therapist and life coach, supporting people in their present and helping them create their future.