An Overlooked Method For Overcoming Procrastination
We hear it said time and time again. “We learn from our mistakes.” While in many cases this may be true, for someone who has struggled with procrastination for years, the negative effects of my repeated procrastination never seemed to correct my behavior. I had zero self-compassion, and guilt just added more time to my procrastination.
Logically speaking, it would make sense that procrastinating on an upcoming project for work, and being forced to work throughout the night to reach the deadline, would discourage me from repeat procrastination. You would think that the exhaustion and stress would motivate me not to procrastinate next time. Or if it turned out that I didn’t finish in time and ended up being reprimanded by my manager for a sloppy presentation, that this would discourage me from repeat procrastination like a shock collar, a painful warning so I would not be tempted again. However, for me, this was not the case.
Even though I wanted to change this unhealthy habit, I realized that I was stuck in a pattern of chronic procrastination. When I started paying attention to the outcome of my repeat procrastination, I realized that I would beat myself up when I produced inadequate work, or let someone down. I would even let my negative thoughts and guilt build up so much that I was subconsciously avoiding similar tasks. I spent so much time thinking about the disappointment and negative aspect of my procrastinating, that I didn’t look at my upcoming projects as an opportunity to correct my behavior, or makeup for my mistakes—and I had little to no self-compassion.
Breaking the Destructive Cycle
Fortunately, I came across a quote from Albert Einstein that helped me with my problem. He said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” This was the mistake I was making. Each time I procrastinated, I punished myself with guilt and self-rejection. I thought that this would teach me not to procrastinate the next time. Since my current strategy wasn’t working, I decided to take the advice of Einstein and try something different.
I remembered another quote by a hero of mine, C.S. Lewis, who wrote “The Chronicles of Narnia” and other classics. He said, “I think that if God forgives us, we must forgive ourselves. Otherwise, it is almost like setting ourselves as a higher tribunal than Him.” I knew that God, in His love and compassion forgave me, so I started forgiving myself and practicing self-compassion. To my surprise, my new strategy actually helped me overcome my longstanding procrastination habit.
The Evidence From Science
Several years later, I read about a study done at Carleton University that took a group of students who received a bad grade on an exam due to procrastination. The study focused on how the students felt about the results of their exam, and which of them forgave themselves for the procrastination that led to their bad grade. The fascinating results proved that those students, who were able to forgive themselves for procrastinating, were significantly less likely to procrastinate for their upcoming exams.
The results of the Carleton University study were certainly in line with my own experience of overcoming procrastination. While it wasn’t as simple as flipping a switch, the more I focused on the potential of a positive outcome the next time around, as opposed to my guilt, the less I began to procrastinate. Now don’t get me wrong, this process is not easy, and my procrastinating did not disappear overnight. However, once I was able to be honest with myself, own my role in my procrastination, forgive myself and exercise self-compassion—the easier it was to move forward.
Four Simple Steps
To help make the process easier I looked at each failure, or inadequate effort, and created these four steps to help me eliminate my repeat procrastination and improve my self-compassion.
- Accept the outcome. It’s already said and done, and there’s nothing that I can do to change it at this point.
- Identify exactly how I could have improved my performance—such as starting a week early, instead of the night prior.
What can I learn from my mistake?
- Acknowledge that I made a mistake, yet the mistake does not have to define my future actions.
- Stop beating myself up, stop the guilt and forgive myself.
By forgiving myself for my repeat procrastination and increasing my level of self-compassion, I began to procrastinate with less frequency. This made me feel more confident and secure in myself—both personally and professionally.