First of all, I’m using voice recognition on my phone to write this sitting in a parking lot while my youngest is in OT. I hope it works. And I hope it comes out legible and linear. Hooray technology! Hooray multitasking!
So I don’t believe in procrastination. I believe it is a label we put on a behavior that we don’t understand. Nobody gets up in the morning and says to themselves, I’ve got something really important to do and it’s going to negatively affect me if I don’t do it but, damn it, I’m just not going to do it anyway. It might look like that from the outside. But nobody makes that conscious choice to fail. Many wise people have said to me, people succeed when they can.
I’ve been talking about this not believing in procrastination with my clients for years. I do that because almost everyone I work with lists procrastination is one of the top three things they want to fix in coaching. But that’s like saying I want to fix my grades. Are you going to break into this school computer and fix your grades? Because grades are not a thing that exists in and of themselves in a vacuum. They’re the result of weeks and months worth of accumulated behaviors.
Coaching, at its core, is behavioral intervention. So it’s my job to figure out what’s the underlying situation when a client tells me they have a problem with procrastination. The reason I am writing this particular entry now after talking about procrastination for so many years with so many clients is that I think I finally have a good way to articulate what’s going on underneath the surface.
Imagine an old school balance scale like the one that the statue of Justice holds. Every potential behavior gets weighed out on our scale before we even do it… Or don’t do it. There are behavior motivators and there are behavior demotivators. You have to dig a Little deeper than just writing something off as procrastination to find out what they, are how many there are, and how powerful they are. But that’s the Crux of changing your outcomes. It’s changing your behaviors. Or at the very least starting by understanding them.
So if you’re a person who puts yourself in the procrastinator category, I suggest you ask yourself this when you feel like you’re putting something off: what are the forces pushing me to do the thing and what are the forces that are keeping me from doing the thing? No I’m not saying this is the easiest thing to do, especially on your own. That’s one reason I have a thriving coaching practice.
But if you look at our concept of procrastination through the lens of ADHD, what you’ll see is that there are hidden and very powerful demotivators. For example, it may be excruciatingly difficult for us to sit still and produce some expected piece of work because of attention, boredom, or executive function weakness. All that may add up to a pretty overwhelmingly powerful reason to not engage in working on said piece of work. Why we need to do the work and hand it in is pretty obvious. But if we don’t really understand our ADHD and how it shapes our daily life and our ability to execute tasks of all kinds, how can we really understand what’s on the other side of that scale, pushing so hard against our productivity.
And that’s just the adhd. For the many of us who deal with depression and anxiety as well, then it gets even more complicated. Because once we start not doing the thing, our anxiety increases. And that anxiety isn’t necessarily specific to doing the thing. It may be all encompassing about the thing. So now in order to engage on this piece of work we have to fight our attention and our anxiety.
So what happens then? Generally over time the need to hand the thing in whether it’s for school, work, life becomes so urgent with such high potential consequences that the motivating force to get it done exceeds the demotivating forces of how much it’s going to suck to do it.
Of course this means we need to really understand ourselves, our adhd, our comorbidities, and be interested enough, and brave enough to dive into what these demotivators are. But once we do that and figure out what they are. That gives us a pretty good path to what the next steps are to success. Is it about managing your add better? Is it about managing your anxiety better? Is it about behavioral intervention? Is there other stuff going on? Or is it a little bit of everything? I suggest you start asking yourself these questions and see where it takes you.
I wish you all the best on your journeys of introspection I hope it leads you to a place of clarity and eventually productivity.