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8 Secret Messages Behind Your Procrastination

A few more notes on the procrastination themes from our April newsletter.



If AisleTalk has been in existence for 6 years, I have been thinking about writing a newsletter for at least 7. Finally finding the time, motivation, and honestly, courage, to follow through has been a long process for me. And getting here has me thinking about what motivators and accelerators are needed to start new things. And maybe more significantly, understanding the brakes that work against them.


The beginning of 2024 has been a flurry of new things for me both personally and professionally. 


In my personal world...


My baby turned 1 and is no longer a baby anymore; a reality I find both grief and joy in... grieving the infant stages and cuddles and general agreeableness. Joy in the better sleep for both of us, more time in my schedule without around-the-clock feeding, and increasing moments of play and interaction shared between my two kiddos.


With this shift, I allowed myself more time to prioritize my own health and I finally got clarity on a medical condition I had wondered about my whole life, which felt incredibly validating. A reminder to us all, especially women, who are so conditioned to prioritize the needs of others and not challenge anyone in a position of power, that if you feel something in your gut, keep asking questions. Keep seeking answers.


Professionally...


AisleTalk has had a burst of beautiful growth through new beginnings as well! We hired our first intern, Emily. Who is thriving and already surpassing our very high expectations. And witnessing the incredible training provided by her Clinical Supervisor, Farzana. We are continuing to interview for the next semester as we build our internship program. 


We enlisted the help of a professional marketing team, FZK, to help us breathe new life into our brand and how we show up to our community, ensuring that everything we share with you looks, feels, and sounds like the values that underpin our work with our clients. Lots of stuff to share with you on this front in the coming months!


Finally, we have taken the initial steps for some other new projects we are keeping secret until they are more fully baked (!) But they have officially entered the oven and will hopefully be ready to share by the time we are writing our next love letter to you. 


If you’re anything like me...


New beginnings don’t just happen overnight. Much like the process for starting the newsletter, sometimes those new beginnings come after literal years of what some might call the dreaded… procrastination. 


In my message to you today (and maybe a bit to myself), I’d like to reframe procrastination. Much like the other tough concepts we talk about in therapy, I believe procrastination – whether hours or years of delaying something – has a message to send us, and that we can honor ourselves by listening to, and maybe learning something from, that message. So with that, here are:


The 8 Secret Messages your Procrastination is Trying to Tell You

(and how you can respond)


1. The timing isn't right.

A lot of times, you've said yes to something you really want to do, but truly don't have the time for. That is what this last year has been for me. A lesson in patience that the timing will come; and I do not have to say yes to everything and more specifically, I don't have to say yes to everything right now. As Michelle Obama says, "You can have it all, but not at the same time!"


Your response:

  • Acknowledge: I want to do this. But I can't right now. And that's okay.

  • Ask: When do I foresee a time when I might have the bandwidth to take this on?

  • Plan: Make an appointment with yourself in your calendar to check in about this endeavor and see if you're ready to prioritize it; adjust the course if you need to.



2. You don't want to do it.

This one is all about SAYING NO. Maybe you should have said no to this task. Maybe you feel like you can't say no, but you'd like to. Maybe this is an opportunity to learn to say no better.


Your response:

  • Acknowledge that, quite simply, this is not something I want to do. And it's okay to not want to do things.

  • Ask: Is this something I actually need to do. Emphasis on actually. Sometimes we feel obligated to do things because they are "the right thing to do" or we feel guilted or pressured to do them. Try to really challenge if this is a necessary task.

  • Plan: (1) If it is necessary and you can't take it off your to do list, make a plan to get it done. Whether that's modifying the task, breaking it down into pieces, doing the "good enough" version and moving on, or implementing a reward system to help incentivize yourself to complete it; give yourself the support you need to get the hard thing done. (2) If you determine it's not a necessary task, make a plan to remove it from your task list. We have enough things to do in a given day without adding unnecessary complications. Think about what is holding you back from saying, "You know what, I actually changed my mind and I won't be able to take this on." Do you need to make. a plan to potentially disappoint someone? Do you need to make a plan to be okay with disappointing yourself? Do you need time to process that this just wasn't the thing you needed to be doing right now and that's okay?


3. The task feels overwhelming.

Sometimes the whole task feels so daunting and makes you want to run in the other direction or burry yourself underground. These are physical acts of avoidance. Your procrastination is the emotional act of avoidance.


Your response:

  • Acknowledge: it's not that I can't do this, I just can't do it all at once (Thanks again, Madam Obama).

  • Ask: how can I break this task down into smaller steps?

  • Plan: make a list of every single step it will take you to complete the task; even the small ones you don't think need to be written down! Take the items on that list and plug them into the blank spaces on your calendar. If you have a deadline, work backwards from the deadline to ensure all steps have the time they need. Go back and identify the hardest steps and after each one, carve out time to reward yourself for your hard work. Cross off the steps once you are done and relish in the small wins!



4. This new thing evokes my imposter syndrome.

Everyone faces feeling like an imposter when doing a new thing. That’s the nature of doing a new thing. It doesn’t mean it’s the wrong thing. Taking a new step means not knowing everything about it. If you knew everything about it, you’d want to take the step after that


Your response:

  • Acknowledge: it’s natural to feel scared when doing something new. That doesn’t mean I’m an imposter. Acknowledge that when you take on something new, you are supposed to make mistakes. It comes with the territory. Accept it!

  • Ask: Have I done everything to prepare myself? Ask yourself if there’s something else you’re really afraid of? Perhaps, deep down, you are afraid of the responsibility that will come with the new thing and I worry that you can’t handle it.

  • Plan: to take the leap of faith. Make the plan to do it and follow through. Make a plan to establish the supports you have in place when you have questions or encounter challenges along the way. 


5. I worry I will invest resources and I will lose my investment. 

Doing big or challenging things requires resources; usually those resources are time, energy, and/or money. When we don’t know the outcome of something, we are taking a risk. The same kind of risk that comes with any kind of investment we make. Ultimately, what our procrastination may be telling us is: What if I invest resources and this fails? What if I lose my investment. 


Your response:

  • Acknowledge: None of us have a crystal ball. All big choices involve an inherent risk and leap of faith. Things not going to plan, or even failing, does not necessarily mean an investment loss.

  • Ask: Can you reframe a failure as a learning opportunity? Most successful people learned the most from their failures. Can you reframe things not going to plan as part of the overall plan?

  • Plan: Talk to someone you admire who has a story of “failure” and ask what they learned from it, how they made sense of it, and how it eventually led them down the winding path of success. 


6. I am afraid of failure.

On the heals of message #5, not only are we concerned about losing resources or investments with failed attempts; we are also afraid of the failure itself. 


Your response:

  • Acknowledge: no one is exempt from fearing failure. It is a natural feeling that comes with doing something new. 

  • Ask: What specifically am I afraid of here? How I will look to others? How I will look to one specific person? How this will impact my ability to achieve larger goals?

  • Plan: Write out the specific fears. Write out the worst case scenario. Challenge whether these outcomes are (a) realistic, (b) survivable, and (c) solvable.


7. I am afraid of success.

So most of us know about the common fear of failure, but were you aware that a lot of people avoid doing something new because they’re actually afraid of success!? It seems counterintuitive, but if you look closely, it makes a lot of sense. Some reasons for a fear of success might be rooted in: fear of people perceiving us differently if we succeed in something, fear of leaving others behind, fear of outperforming someone close to you, fear of increased responsibilities, fear of letting go of current responsibilities in order to make room for the new ones. This is hardly an exhaustive list. So, what do we do?


Your response:

  • Acknowledge: a fear of success is real, normal, and worth exploring

  • Ask: are these fears ones that I want to have dictate my decision? Are they scenarios I would be able to cope with if I do succeed. 

  • Plan: if the answers to the above questions steer you in the direction of doing-the-thing, make a plan for coping with any fears that are still lingering. 


8. Doing this thing will make me different from who I used to be. 

In other words: “In doing this new thing, I am afraid I will lose a part of my old self.” This is what Judith Viorst would call “a necessary loss.” In life, in order to grow, we need to shed or lose former versions of ourselves. Think of the graduate who is losing her identity as a student to step into her new role joining the workforce. Think of the empty nesters losing their identity as active parents of young children to grow into their new role as guides, confidants, and increased ability to focus on partnership. Think of the bride and groom who shed their identity as singles in favor of beginning their new family. The road of healthy life is paved with necessary losses. We are challenged to honor the loss in order to make space for growth. 


Your response:

  • Acknowledge: Necessary losses are necessary for a reason. They are impossible to avoid if we want to continue to grow throughout this life.

  • Ask: what am I potentially “losing” in embracing this change, growth, or challenge?

  • Plan: to make space to grieve that loss and engage in practices that remind you that you are worthy of change and growth. After you have made space to grieve, refocus your energy on the rationale for pursuing this change or growth as it applies to your values. 


So how have I been able to finally push the start button in 2024? 



For me, it came down to three necessary factors colliding at once:


Resources: Time and Energy


Ending year one of parenthood has opened up more hours in the day and energy to put into the hours I have. For the last year, I have focused all my work-designated energy and time on clients and staff, pausing on new endeavors. Now that I have more resources, I can green light new projects that have been waiting in the wings. 


Grief


I am a highly sensitive person and I feel big feelings very deeply. Leaving one stage of life, parenthood, or career is never something I have taken lightly. I am deeply sad when things end. New opportunities help me make sense of what I am leaving behind; help me anchor myself in growth, while allowing myself to meaningfully grieve the things I am growing out of or away from. 


Genuine Interest (and excitement!)


I am genuinely excited about the projects I am saying yes to in 2024! I can be a bit of a yes-woman because I do get excited about many things; but I am learning to only really say yes to the things I feel both excited about and ready for now. Having a list that is focused and intentional allows me to say yes and move forward


In the end...


Whether you’ve been trying to start something new, beating yourself up for not starting something new, or wondering why your new thing hasn’t quite caught on. I hope some bits of my story were helpful in gaining some wisdom or clarity to take the next step.


Bonus resource: Curious to learn more about procrastination? Our dear friend and coach, Amanda Crowell, PhD, is an expert on the subject. She has books and talks on her website devoted to the topic. They will blow your mind!


Still stewing in your procrastination and need direct support? Book a consultation call with an AisleTalk therapist today for individualized support and exploration of your stuck points.

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