Dealing with Procrastination as Anxiety

We have been talking about anxiety and how to deal with it.  While you may not think about it in terms of anxiety, procrastination may be linked to anxiety about some future unwanted outcome.

Many people have written about procrastination and the suggestions they offer are directed at starting the project or overcoming inertia.  Breaking a task down into smaller components, setting S.M.A.R.T  (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-bound), goals, and rewarding yourself for your accomplishments are very good techniques and can effectively help you to either get past the obstacles which seem to surround a new project or eliminate the distractions that lead you to focus on tasks that grab your immediate attention rather than go after the project you are avoiding.

Sometimes, however, inertia is not the issue underlying your procrastination. If the above techniques for overcoming procrastination do not get you back on track, the issue may involve the emotion of anxiety.

Anxiety can overwhelm you and prevent you from taking action.

As I discuss in my book  Emotions as Tools A Self Help Guide to Controlling Your Life not Your Feelings, anxiety is a future based emotion which alerts you to a possible undesirable future and leads you to avoid that future as if it is not only likely but also the only possible outcome.  Procrastination facilitates this avoidance.

Your anxiety will show up in the questions you ask yourself and the focus of the answers to those questions when you think about your project.

If  you find yourself asking questions such as: “What if (the project)  … Doesn’t turn out the way I want it to?,   Isn’t well received, or Is criticized by the team? and all of your answers focus on the worst possible outcomes, then you are experiencing anxiety as “distress” and you are acting as if the project will turn out bad, the team will not accept it, or the new client will reject you. You will rationalize and justify your procrastination in order to support and reinforce your view of the future and your anxiety.

There is a solution.

Three steps to utilize your anxiety as a strategic tool and move past procrastination.

Step 1: Accept and Validate  your Anxiety

These are the Validate and Examine steps, I mentioned in an earlier post.

The focus of this step is to both accept, rather than fight, and validate, or assess, your anxiety. The message of anxiety is that there MAY be a threat out there that MAY harm me. You strategically use your anxiety as a tool when you acknowledge the message of anxiety and assess it. So take a look at your concerns to see if maybe there is some real issue about the project that you need to address.

If there are issues, then address them. In many cases which involve procrastination, however, there probably is no real issue other than your unsubstantiated anxieties.

Step 2: Turn anxiety into anticipation and excitement.

Anxiety looks ahead to an undesirable future and acts “as if” the projected future is the only possibility.  The flip side of anxiety is anticipation which also looks forward to, but gets excited about, a possible desirable future.

You change your anxiety to anticipation by  asking a different “What if..” question.  Examples include: “What if the project works out successfully and everyone is pleased? or “What if I get the book done and it really helps (non-fiction) or entertains (fiction) the people who read it?  These “what-ifs” will elicit excitement.

Step 3: Let the excitement motivate you and move you past your procrastination.

This involves the Motivate and Act steps I noted in an earlier post.

While it may sound simple, it can work with practice and, once you do this, you can then set goals and complete the project.

If you find this post helpful, or you don’t, I welcome your comments.



Leave a Reply