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Procrastination as Information

When clients admit to procrastinating on an action in session, they are usually shrouded in shame and embarrassment. As if somehow they are a failure, because they’ve been procrastinating.

Does this sound familiar:

procrastination, resistance, action

I DON’T WANNA!

It feels like there’s a part of you that knows you “should” be doing this action and that part even wants to be doing it.  But there’s another part of you that’s like a whiny 3 year old, stomping your foot, saying, “I don’t WANNA!”  You beg and plead with that 3 year old inside of you, but you just can’t get into action.  And the more you push against it, the stronger the resistance.

Some of my clients think that, as their coach, I can fix them, force them, make them take action.  But here’s the thing – they’re not broken and neither are you. And the more you push against resistance the stronger and more powerful it becomes.

Procrastination is a symptom of something.  It’s not evidence that you’re broken.  It’s evidence that your unconscious is staging a rebellion.  And in order to bring your unconscious back into alignment with your conscious mind – you have to understand what is causing the rebellion.

Why shaming doesn’t work

Imagine if you went to a doctor and told him you have a sore throat.  And instead of the doctor examining you and running tests and prescribing treatment, instead, he told you that you were bad and wrong for having a sore throat.

Would that fix your sore throat?

Wouldn’t you just feel bad about yourself and still have a sore throat?  And yet, that’s exactly what you’re doing every time you beat up on yourself for procrastinating.  It doesn’t work.  Cut it out!

Procrastination is a symptom

Procrastination is the key to finding out what your unconscious is trying to tell you.  So instead of shaming yourself – start investigating. Become Dr. House and investigate what is causing your procrastination.  Get curious.

What is the root cause of your procrastination?

What Causes Procrastination?

There are many different reasons for procrastination.  And if you tend to procrastinate on a lot of different things – you may have different reasons for each thing.  Here is a list of common causes and some suggestions to counter them:

  • Your goals are unclear – you’re not sure why you should be doing this thing

Get clear on your goals – what specific goal does this action serve?

  • There is a learning curve for this action and you don’t know how to do it

Find someone who can show you how.  Take a class to learn how.  Google it!  Take the action and be willing to do it badly while you’re learning.

  • The action is too big, too vague or too general (overwhelming)

Break it down and get specific.

  • You have a lot of different actions you need to take and they all seem of equal priority or importance

Make a list and knock them out one at a time – if they are truly of equal priority, just pick ANY one.  Learn how to manage conflicting priorities.

  • No matter what you do, it’s never enough.  And you’re not allowed to play until you finish your homework!

Celebrate each accomplishment, each baby step.  Make sure you take breaks to play, exercise, just breathe. Not allowing yourself to celebrate is a recipe for burnout. This is critical!

  • The action feels like a big risk and you’re afraid to take that risk

First ask yourself, “Is this true?” In other words, is it really the risk you think it is? You may find that your fear of the risk is making it seem bigger. Get support or coaching around overcoming your fear.

  • When you imagine taking the action, you anticipate that it will be difficult or frustrating or even just boring

Just do it for 15 minutes – you can stop after 15 minutes.  Put on some really great music. Reward yourself for having done it by doing something really fun next.

  • When this action is complete, the next obvious action is either invisible (if I do this, then what?) or really scary (if I do this, then I’ll have to do THAT!)

Very often the next step will become clear when this step is done.  And you don’t have to do it alone.  Work with a coach to help you through the scary stuff and figure out what’s next. And remember – just focus on the action in front of you – the next action will be dealt with when it’s time to deal with it!

Diagnosing Your Procrastination

Do some of the above suggestions ring true for you? Here are a few more questions that might help you uncover the underlying cause of your hesitation and/or resistance.  First, don’t ask “why”!  “Why” just gives you reasons to procrastinate more!

  • When I think about taking this action, I feel ______________ (fill in the emotion word – anxious, sad, angry, etc.).  What am I thinking/believing that has me feeling ______________?
  • When I imagine taking this action, I think it is going to be _______________ (easy, hard, frustrating, boring, overwhelming, etc.)
  • How long will this action take me?
  • What are the specific steps to accomplishing this action?
  • What fear, concern or consideration is stopping me from taking this action?
  • What will taking this action do for me?  What outcome do I desire from taking this step?
  • What outcome am I afraid of, if I take this action?  What’s the worse case scenario? What if I do nothing?  Is that worse?
  • If I break this action down into its smallest component steps and just contemplate the first of those steps – how does that feel?  Can I take that baby step now?
  • Am I celebrating each baby step or am I only allowed to celebrate when I have the big goal and I’ve done it perfectly?

Sometimes simply asking some of these questions can actually clear you enough to get into action.

Procrastination can fundamentally undermine all of your time management systems.  So figuring out what is causing you to procrastinate is a critical first step in managing your time well.

What are you procrastinating? Share what you discover about your own procrastination in the comments, or ask for help figuring it out!

 

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Fear of Success or Fear of Failure?

What’s stopping you?  Do you know?

What blocks you from pursuing your dreams with all that you have, all that you are, all of your might?

Often when asked this question, the answer is either:

Fear of Success

or

Fear of Failure

 

And often it’s even expressed as both – “Maybe it’s fear of success or failure.  I don’t know….”  Really, the truth is, it doesn’t matter which.  Because it’s not logical.  And you’re not going to be able to logic yourself past it.  Although understanding the underlying belief that’s driving your fear can be an important step in moving past it.

But Debra, how can you say it doesn’t matter?!?

In our society we’ve done ourselves a major disservice when it comes to Emotional Intelligence.  We’ve confused, disguised, conflated or combined thoughts with emotions.  The statement, “Fear of Success,” is emotion + thought/belief.  A better way to look at it is “I have beliefs about Success, and those beliefs cause me to feel fear!”

Remember the Cognitive Behavorial Cycle:

Belief, emotional intelligence, Fear

By saying Fear of Success, you are combining two different steps in the cycle!  But what you’re really experiencing clearly is the Feelings State.  And most likely the beliefs that are causing that feeling state are unconscious!  Which is why you might be unsure – is it success or failure or both that you fear?

As you can see from the cycle, what’s stopping you is the emotion, which is fueled by the beliefs.  Clearing or shifting those beliefs is the best, most long term solution to the problem of being stopped by fear.  But that’s a longer term project.  What if you just need to get into action now?

Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Remember that fear is just an emotion, like happiness, sadness, anger.  But fear has been hardwired into our neurology because reacting strongly to fear was an evolutionary advantage.  But unless your fear is a lion about to eat you – just breath and move forward.
  2. Notice what you’re telling yourself about the action you’re afraid to take.  Could you reframe it so that it’s not quite so life and death?  If you take a risk and it doesn’t work out – could that just be an interesting experiment, instead of the end of life as you know it?
  3. If it’s a big project, break it down into bite size pieces and then promise yourself you only have to take one action today.  Just a nibble.  You don’t have to eat the whole elephant today.  Just one nibble…

In last month’s ArtistsMBA class, How to Move Past Your Fear of Success or Failure, I explained several specific and concrete methods for managing your fears around success and/or failure.  The most important first step is to acknowledge that this is what’s going on.  Because often, we miscategorize what’s going on.

You might name it procrastination or avoidance.  Perhaps you just feel pulled to take any action EXCEPT the one you know you need to take, even allowing other people’s needs to distract you from moving forward.

Haven’t you noticed that when you operate from fear, you end up manifesting the very thing you’re afraid of?

I’m not going to tell you that facing the fear, feeling the fear and moving through the fear will be easy and light.  In order to move through it, you must own it.

What I will tell you is that moving in the direction of the fear, rather than at the behest of the fear will create amazing results in your life and your career.  Fear can be a wonderful guide.  If you’re willing to let yourself feel it.

And let me leave you with this inspiring TED talk by Brene Brown:

In order to embrace your path to success in the Arts & Entertainment Industry – you must allow yourself to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart.

How can you use this to overcome your fear?  Please share with me what you discover!

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The Devil on Your Shoulder

In my life, I’ve done a lot of work with the critic’s voice, learning techniques and getting quite good at transforming my inner critic to support and inform my forward progress (rather than criticize and impede it). I’ve gotten to the point where, these days, I rarely hear a critical voice in my head.

inner critic, devil on your shoulderAnd in that silence I’ve become aware of a different voice – I call him “the devil on my shoulder” or “rebel without a cause.” I grew up watching the old 1940’s Bugs Bunny cartoons on Saturday mornings. So, the image of the angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other has stayed with me. But this is not the devil telling me to hurt someone or retaliate for some slight, real or imagined. No, my devil tells me to do things that are bad FOR ME. Does this sound familiar to you, or am I the only one?

My devil tells me not to exercise. Or go ahead and have that ice cream (even though in 2 hours I’ll be doubled over in pain from it.) He tells me it’s OK not to do my finances or deliver on my promises (like writing this newsletter, for example). And sometimes he just says, “Come on! Let’s be bad.” (Hence the “rebel without a cause” moniker – think James Dean.)

I’ve spent the last few months, first becoming painfully aware of how much this devil gets in my way of having the life I want, the body I want, the income I want. This devil actively advises me counter to my own best and highest interest. And about a month ago, I decided, I’ve had enough. It’s time for this devil to get the hell off my shoulder!

But how?

One thing I know, when dealing with procrastination, there is always an underlying issue.  And the only way to stop procrastinating is to deal with that!  So, I started working with the devil and I thought you might be interested in the techniques I used and the discoveries I made – in case you’ve got one on your shoulder!

The first technique I used was to talk to a dear friend who also has a background in NLP and ask for some support. We came up with a question for exploration:

What is the underlying belief that drives the devil?  What master does he serve?

And then I re-instituted writing morning pages. If you’re not familiar with morning pages, it’s an exercise from The Artist’s Way. I faithfully wrote morning pages for most of the 10 years I was ill, but have dropped the habit over the last few years.

So, every morning, I wrote. I didn’t right about the question, necessarily, because morning pages are 3 pages of whatever. You write for three pages – and you just write – whatever comes out of the pen. But I did remind myself of the question before I started writing. Just threw it out there. And then I wrote. I did this every morning for several weeks.

I discovered a few things along the way. I was reminded of what a tremendous stress reliever the morning pages are. I was reminded of how they cleared the space for me to have a more productive day. I started having and remembering more of my dreams and writing about them in the morning pages. Very little of this directly addressed the question or issue at hand. But I was clear I was working through something – because those dreams were wild!

And then one morning, while in the shower, I saw it. There were really two beliefs driving the devil. One was “I don’t want to become my Mother.” This surprised me, because my mother and I are quite close now. But, growing up I definitely had issues with Mom. We fought like cats and dogs. Mom was the super Mom of the 1970’s. She worked full time, she cooked dinner every night, and she did our laundry. All my friends loved her because she truly cared.

But what I saw was a woman overworked, always busy and tired, doing things for everyone else but never playing and very rarely getting anything for herself. And I didn’t want to be that way! In my tweens and teens especially, I very avidly did NOT want to be my Mother. As an adult, I’ve gotten over it, of course. I have tremendous respect for her strength and resiliency. In fact, I moved in with my parents, largely to support Mom as she cares for my father through his illness. And yet, that motivation, “I don’t want to turn into my Mother!” was driving the devil on my shoulder to give me all kinds of bad advice.

The other belief is even older. My family is a very high achieving family. Both of my brothers are genius smart. And I could never quite do as well in school as they did, no matter how hard I studied. I’m no slouch academically, but I just wasn’t on their level. And no matter how well I did, there was always another level to get to, another area to work on to excel at more. And so when I worked hard, I was always expected to work even harder.

So the second belief I uncovered is, “No matter how hard I work, I’ll never get to play and have fun.”  So, why work hard at all – what’s the point? And that’s what the devil is telling me – it doesn’t matter how hard you work, it will never be enough – so why not play now. Except that “play” in his mind equals doing things that are bad for me – eating candy, playing video games, being a “bad girl.”

And in a way, he’s right. Because no matter how much I accomplish today, there is always another project, more work, more stuff to do, right? So there’s never really a time when I’ve done all my homework and now I can go out and play.

How do I kick this devil to the curb?

Here’s what I decided – I need to play regularly – not when I’m done with my work or when I’ve been a good girl – but as part of my every day and every week life. And not play the way He says, but find ways every day to do things that feel good. For no other reason than that they feel good. And I need to take breaks intentionally and on purpose – even when there’s more work to be done. I need to find things that both are “good for me” and are fun and feel good.  So, I’ve begun to look for ways to do that.

How do you take good care of yourself? How do you make time to play and feel good? I’d love your ideas!

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Procrastination is Keeping Me Waiting

Artists MBA, Professional ProgramOne of the most frequently asked question in my Ask Coach Debra calls is how to deal with procrastination. Very often we know what we need to do.  And yet somehow, we can’t get ourselves to sit down and do it!

All of the Time Management structures and systems you’ve learned to create in the Time Management and Project Management Classes will be impossible to implement if you don’t figure out how to overcome procrastination.

Procrastination is opportunity’s assassin.  ~Victor Kiam

In this class you’ll discover:

  • What is procrastination, really, and what causes it?
  • Three techniques to get yourself moving when you’re stuck
  • An NLP process that you can use over and over to create momentum with ease

At the ArtistsMBA, you are learning a lot about how to create a successful, sustainable and profitable business doing what you love.  But until you put this knowledge into action your dreams are fantasies.  This class will help you move past your internal blocks and into action.

Additional Resources for this Class:

Prerequisite Class:

Listen to the Class:

Thank you for your interest. This content is visible to ArtistsMBA Professional, Mastery Program members only. Click here to access.

Enroll in the Artists Marketing & Business Academy Foundation Program
to access the following classes today ($5 for first 10 days/$27 per month Tuition):

Read the Class Transcript

(Transcript coming soon.)
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Enroll in the Artists Marketing & Business Academy Mastery Lab to access the transcript of this class today


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Next Class:

Time Management Bookends – A Framework for Success

Artists MBA, Professional ProgramTime Management is the Number One System that will enable you to achieve sustainable success in your business and your life.

If your Time Management isn’t working – nothing else will.

I have worked with literally hundreds of clients on the issues that a poor time management system creates

They include:

  • Procrastination
  • Difficulties with prioritization
  • Boundary issues with family and friends
  • Feelings of overwhelm and fear
  • Burnout

And what I’ve found is that when you start the day well and end the day well, very often the middle works so much better!

In this class you’ll learn:

  • What are Time Management Bookends and why do we use them
  • How to design your unique morning and evening Bookends?
  • The three most important components of successful Bookends
  • How to install your bookends into your daily life

Additional Resources for this Class:

Prerequisite Class:

Listen to the Class:

Thank you for your interest. This content is visible to ArtistsMBA Professional, Mastery Program members only. Click here to access.

Enroll in the Artists Marketing & Business Academy Foundation Program
to access the following classes today ($5 for first 10 days/$27 per month Tuition):

Read the Class Transcript

(Transcript coming soon.)
Thank you for your interest. This content is visible to ArtistsMBA Mastery Program members only. Click here to access.

Enroll in the Artists Marketing & Business Academy Mastery Lab to access the transcript of this class today


Thank you for your interest. This content is visible to ArtistsMBA foundation, professional Program members only. Click here to access.

Next Class:

How to Do What you Fear

Last week, in the Artist’s EDGE Membership Q&A call, I fielded an interesting question about procrastination.

How do you get yourself to do the things you’re afraid to do?

It’s one thing to take the BIG SCARY steps.  You can work yourself up to take those actions, holding your breath and leaping.  But what about the day-to-day things, the small scary steps?  How do you motivate yourself each and every day to take those small steps which feel so hard?

It’s been said, “Do what you fear, until you fear it no more.”  And it’s true that repetition of a feared action will lessen your fear of it.  But how do you get started?  How do you get yourself to do it, over and over, while it still feels scary and hard?  This requires a different kind of courage.  This brand of courage requires perseverance and tenacity and a certain kind of stubbornness.

Here are a few tricks that work for me:

  1. Focus on the bigger picture. If I’m making marketing calls and I focus on the result of this one call – it can look really scary.  What if this person says “no” to me!?!  But if I focus on my vision or goal – then this one person will not make or break my career.  It helps to put things into perspective.
  2. Set a specific time and a time limit for the actions. I will make marketing calls from 1:00PM until 2:00PM.  I can get through one hour of this, right?  If I’m going to a networking event (and I get shy in large groups of people), I’ll say to myself, I only have to stay for a half-hour.  Having a time limit really helps!
  3. Remember – your fears are rarely the truth (false expectations appearing real). Remind yourself of the last time you did that thing and how it wasn’t nearly as hard or scary to actually take the action as your imagination made it out to be.  The reality is almost never as bad as we fear.  Reminding yourself of reality definitely helps.

Just like writing this blog post – not so hard, right?  Phew!

Procrastination vs. Keeping My Word to Myself

How do I get myself to do what I’m “supposed” do? So often, that’s what procrastination looks like. I’m supposed to be doing “A”, but instead I’m doing “B”. I’m supposed to get up and shower, but instead I’m cuddling with my kitty and drinking more coffee.

But perhaps the problem is in the way I think about it.

Who says I’m supposed to be doing A?

The problem when you’re a self-employed, small business owner, working for yourself, is that it’s you. It’s all you. And we are not trained to be responsible to ourselves. We are trained to be responsible to others – our parents, our teachers, our bosses. So, how do we learn to be responsible to ourselves?

And therein lies the real skill of time management: being responsible to yourself, keeping your word to yourself. Because I create my own schedule and so, keeping my schedule is keeping my word to myself.

And therein also lies the trap. If I don’t keep my word to myself, what do I make that mean? Does it mean:

“I’ll never be successful.”
“I’m not worthy.”
“I’m a hopeless lazy flake.”

There are so many ways I can torture myself about not keeping my word to myself. But this is just another method of procrastination. Do you see the trap?

The way out of the trap is to embrace the process. Each success or failure doesn’t mean anything in and of itself. It’s all part of the process of me learning to keep my word to myself. I will make mistakes; I will fall on my ass, probably many times. But if I recognize that this is the process of learning to be responsible to myself, no individual failure means more than that one failure.

And so I can learn from that failure and grow.

What did I learn from not keeping my schedule this morning? I learned that the day after I work out, I tend to need more sleep. So, in the future I can schedule accordingly. Going to take a shower now….

Procrastination – A Closer Look

In the August Newsletter, I wrote about procrastination and I promised to write more about it in the Artist’s EDGE Blog. And here it is 5 months later. The truth is, I’ve been procrastinating about blogging. Oh, the irony! In the Newsletter, my advice is to ask yourself, what’s really going on. So — let’s do that…

When I ask myself — “I’m procrastinating about blogging – what’s that about?” The surface answer is “Oh, I’m so busy. I have too much to do. Other things are more urgent.” And all of that is legitimately true. But it’s not the source of the procrastination. When I look closer and get really honest with myself — it’s fear.

I’m afraid that I don’t have anything important to say. Or that you, my faithful readers, won’t find it important or valuable.

So, this is what I do when I identify fear. I move toward it (as I told the Artists Marketing & Business Academy on our call “Overcoming Fear“).

I have made a few decisions around my writing and blogging. And I want you to know them, so that I am accountable. First, I’ve committed to two hours of writing twice a week on Tuesdays and Fridays. I have many things I need to write, such as the Artist’s EDGE Newsletter, classes for the Artists Marketing & Business Academy and new web pages. Plus, I am also starting my first book.

But here is my commitment to you. I will write a blog post at least once a week during these writing sessions. You heard me — once a week! So you have my permission to e-mail me and call me on it, if I miss a week.