Adjust your expectations and stop labeling yourself as lazy.
Have you ever just laid back and engaged in mindless scrolling–either through the countless shows on Netflix or through Instagram posts–even after you’ve made a to-do list for the week? Somehow, the act of gathering up the mental energy to ‘just do it’ feels impossible, and so time goes by, and nothing you had planned gets done. Does this stressful situation sound familiar?
And as you watch your list of tasks pile up, you start sending self-shaming messages to your brain, such as “why am I like this?”, even when self-blame only leads you to feel defeated… Nobody has ever been inspired to get to action by bringing themselves down.
So then, how do we lift our spirits up to be in the mood for doing; for getting things done? The answer lies in managing the intense anxiety we feel from not meeting our secretly high expectations– such anxiety also comes from not knowing if we will ever get it done because… we’re not in the mood!
Without a doubt, it is through understanding why we procrastinate– why we delay what we have to do– that we can help ourselves stop procrastinating and finally get ahead, because time is ticking.
Why we procrastinate
Notice the language here: with procrastination, we feel we have to do it whether or not we want to do it. Indeed, there is a lot of self-imposed expectation in the minds of procrastinators, who are likely to be perfectionists.
Sounds conflicting, but the idea is that those of us who procrastinate actually expect the best, so we can only accept doing our tasks if we can do it perfectly– and doing things perfectly takes a whole lot of energy, and even so, some things are outside of our control, which means no matter how perfectly we do something, we might fail. So why try? This, ladies and gentlemen, is the essence of the mind of the perfectionist procrastinator: We have to do it and we have to do it perfectly.
“I have to do it”
First of all, we have to do it implies that your well-being doesn’t matter to you. It’s like you’re saying to yourself “who cares if you have zero energy to do it? You have to do it regardless, push on!” (which ironically tends to backfire very often). Even when stressed, exhausted, and overwhelmed by unprocessed worries, the perfectionist who procrastinates insists that the list of tasks they have planned have a say, whereas their mental health doesn’t.
To put it simply, it can be a good thing when we’re procrastinating because it’s essentially a sign that we may need to take some time for self-care, in which self-care is likely to help us regain that mental energy necessary for quitting procrastination and getting things done.
To challenge this pressuring self-expectation:
- We can say to ourselves:
“I trust that I will do it when I’m ready– maybe it’s okay if I want to take some time to do nothing. I matter. When I’m ready, I will ask myself: what is it that if I do for myself– a need of mine that if I meet– will make me feel more in the mood for doing this?”
When we give ourselves the space to be human and allow ourselves the time to find our source of inspiration, intrinsic motivation will follow (Chu & Choi, 2005). Indeed, giving ourselves time and distance before getting to action can work wonders (HBR, 2019).
- We can create a checklist to outsource the work of ruminating about what we have to do. (HBR, 2019). Creating a checklist of all items we intend to complete also helps us prioritize what to do and celebrate what we’ve completed (Houghton University, 2023).
“I have to do it perfectly”
Secondly, we have to do it perfectly implies that there is only one right way to do things and if we don’t do it in that exact way, there’s no point in doing it at all- and so we procrastinate. Such thinking is faulty because as human beings, we learn to do better from our mistakes (Kelly, 2015).
Besides, there never is a one-size-fits-all solution to all the problems in the world, which means that permitting ourselves the freedom to explore multiple approaches is the only way never-before-thought-of innovations happen.
To challenge the rigid belief that we have to do something perfectly, we can ask ourselves:
“What does it mean about me and my life if I do not do something perfectly? Why might something still be worth doing even if it’s done imperfectly (not to my expectations)?”
More questions to ask yourself:
- What are we so afraid of in regards to not aspiring to perfection? *Fear and insecurity underlie perfectionistic tendencies (HBR, 2018)
- Is anything less-than perfect really disastrous?
- What’s the worst that could happen?
- Who’s going to judge you?
- Why does the prospect of ‘failing’ bring up so much anxiety for you? *One of the reasons for this might be that we’ve set in our minds that anything falling short of absolute perfection is a complete failure that cannot be tolerated (CBTLA, 2020)
- In the worst case scenario, is there really nothing you could do to make things better?
- Finally, try to see that the process of doing matters just as much as the outcome of doing.
To wrap things up, whenever you find it hard to bring yourself to do something (procrastinate), lean into the anxiety that’s there, telling you to slow down and approach life with more balance. Practicing mindfulness and emotional regulation can help you with procrastination anxiety. But if you feel like you’ve tried your best and it’s still going nowhere, consider speaking to a mental health professional to help yourself out of procrastination. We have a wonderful article here that can help you understand what talk therapy is about so that you can decide if it’s for you.
On another note, if you’re having trouble searching for professional mental health help, here’s a list to get you started on your search:
- Websites of organizations, contacting them directly
- Klinik Kesihatans can direct you to psychiatrists, psychologists, or counselors (some hospitals will have clinical psychologists & counselors)
- A mental health professional business service near you
- Searching on social media for companies and professionals
- NGOs such as MIASA, AWAM, & WAO
- Mentari by the Ministry of Health
Written by :
Lifelong Learner and Mental Health Counselor
Alumni of Boston University, USA, and University of Malaya, Malaysia
- Chu, A. H. C., & Choi, J. N. (2005). Rethinking procrastination: Positive effects of “active” procrastination behavior on attitudes and performance. The Journal of Social Psychology, 145, 245-264. https://digitalcommons.georgiasouthern.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1424&context=etd#:~:text=It%20was%20reasoned%20that%20procrastination,postpone%20or%20avoid%20that%20activity.
- Harvard Business Review (2019) https://hbr.org/2019/04/how-to-manage-your-perfectionism
- Houghton University (2023) https://www.houghton.edu/undergraduate/student-life/student-success/academic-support-and-accessibility/study-skills/time-management/anti-procrastination-plan/
- Kelly J. D., 4th (2015). Your Best Life: Perfectionism–The Bane of Happiness. Clinical orthopaedics and related research, 473(10), 3108–3111. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11999-015-4279-9 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4562912/
- Harvard Business Review (2018) https://hbr.org/2018/05/the-lie-that-perfectionists-tell-themselves
- CBT LA (2020) https://cogbtherapy.com/cbt-blog/cognitive-distortions-all-or-nothing-thinking
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