The Delay-Dread-Repeat Cycle of Procrastination…

Ever feel dismay around starting a new task, assignment or goal? If you have, remember these truisms:

1. A task avoided grows, if not in size, in its ability to make us anxious. There’s nothing quite like a little trepidation mixed in with a dose of procrastination to cause paralysis. And that fuels a cycle of delay-dread-repeat until we make ourselves sick. 

2. Dread is out of proportion with the actual discomfort involved. In psychology, this phenomenon is known as immune neglect which means that people tend to overestimate the emotional impact of events, especially negative ones. In other words, we conjure up WORST CASE SCENARIOS about how rotten and miserable things are going to be if/when a certain negative event occurs. So guess what happens? Our belief that things will be horrific prompts up to look for things to reinforce our belief that things will be horrific!

Do you have some dread looming in front of you today? Perhaps think about something that you need to get started on, but you haven’t yet begun. Maybe you’re caught up in the delay-dread-repeat cycle, or you’ve started to exaggerate just how terrible and dreadful you’re going to feel once you start moving forward.

Some tasks or assignments have a definitive start and end point. Others require long-term lifestyle change. But both have a beginning, and both cause people to delay jumping in. Look at this list to prompt you to get any possible subconscious thoughts out in the open:

  • Starting a diet, cutting out sugar, drinking more water/less alcohol, beginning an exercise program, quitting smoking
  • Ending a relationship, changing your group of friends, making new friends, joining a social organization, starting to date after a bad break-up
  • Confronting an employee on a performance issue, asking your boss for help, asking your team for honest feedback about your effectiveness
  • Cleaning out the garage, scrubbing your toilets, shoveling your driveway, writing a report, calling your mother…

You get the point. What you dread might be personal or profession, serious or downright silly, but the tips to unblock you are the same:

1. Embrace the fact that outside of death, nothing can kill you. While it’s true that “You only live once”, don’t be okay with the dying a little bit each day by giving in to fret, worry, and obsession. The delay-dread-repeat cycle creates such stress and anxiety that it’s like amputating a limb an inch at a time! A task avoided is a task multiplied. Tasks aren’t fine wine or scotch that improve with age. Remind yourself that the longer a task sits, the more power it has over you.

2. Change your “Got to” into a “Get to.” Much of the dread you feel around starting a hard task happens because you tell yourself that you’ve “got to” do it instead of you “get to” do it. “Got to” is a command, a mandate; “get to” is a choice. It’s easier to feel good about something that you feel empowered to do instead of forced to do. If you can’t change your assignment, change what you tell yourself about it.

3. Picture the future. Self-talk is a powerful thing. When you tell yourself over and over again why you can or cannot do a certain thing, it changes how you  think about it and how you approach it. Instead of trotting out all of the same tired reasons why you can’t start a task, picture what you gain from completing the task: increased self-esteem for having accomplished something hard, reduced stress by removing the Sword of Damocles from over your head, etc. Remind yourself that once you’re done,  you’re going to have a lot more control over your life.

4. Start. It’s so so very simple, but it’s the hardest part of any assignment: get started. Not tomorrow, not next week, not after the holidays. If you can’t begin the actual work today, start your project plan, begin your list, collect your data. Ask yourself What can I do today to get me one step closer to finishing my task?

What would add?


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *