This Unusual Approach Helps Me Beat Procrastination 99% Of The Time · Primer

One of the biggest lessons I learned from spending eight days in total darkness.

This sounds paradoxical, but…

…I learned one of my biggest lessons about stopping procrastination by doing nothing for eight days.

Last year, I spent over a week in a darkness retreat, where I sat in pitch-black without anything to do. Okay, that’s not 100% correct – I actually did a lot. A lot of feeling.

Because there’s nothing to distract yourself, you have to sit with whatever emotion comes up. It’s an incredibly tough, yet very healing experience. But what does that have to do with procrastination?

A lot.

Procrastination can be super frustrating because you:

  • Don’t move forward
  • Feel stuck and get mad at yourself
  •  Don’t reach your goals, which frustrates you even more and starts the whole cycle anew

“Procrastination is an emotion regulation problem, not a time management problem.” – Dr. Tim Pychyl, professor of psychology and member of the Procrastination Research Group at Carleton University in Ottawa

This means the reasons behind your procrastination aren’t what you thought they were.

The True Reasons Why You Procrastinate Aren’t What You Think

Forget everything you think you know about procrastination for a minute.

Let go of all the beliefs you have about it – that you’re lazy, not disciplined, can’t focus, are bad with schedules, or whatever story you’ve been telling yourself.

Instead, look at procrastination from a different angle. If you want to know why you aren’t doing something, look at what doing it brings up in you:

  • Discomfort because it’s hard or you don’t enjoy it (e.g. going to the gym)
  • Fear of failure because you might not be good at it (e.g. learning a new skill)
  • Fear of success because it would add more responsibility (e.g. having to deliver value to the clients of your side hustle)

To evade these uncomfortable emotions, your subconscious presents you with a simple solution.

“I’ll just watch one YouTube video, scroll a little bit, do this other thing…”

“Procrastination makes easy things hard and hard things harder.” – Mason Cooley

This means that instead of managing your time better, you need to regulate your emotions better.

You need to learn to deal with the fear, discomfort, stress, and everything that comes with doing what you need to do.

This will allow you to dive head-first into it rather than finding cheap excuses and easy ways out.

Here’s how.

How To Stop Procrastinating – By Doing Nothing

When I was in the darkness retreat, I did not have an easy way out.

There was no YouTube, no Instagram, and no other things I could do – all I could do was sit with the feeling.

To beat procrastination, you can do the same.

Instead of grabbing whatever distraction is within reach, take a deep breath and stay where you are.

All you need are five minutes in which you don’t allow yourself to do anything but the thingor feel what comes up.

This will cause either of two things to happen:

  • You feel through the discomfort, fear, and other emotions until you release them and get to work
  • The discomfort of doing nothing becomes so big that you start working on the thing instead

This requires a heightened awareness so you can stop yourself before the distraction.

It’s okay if you don’t make it on the first try. When I started doing this, I sometimes only noticed after half an hour of scrolling through my phone what I was doing. Then, I pulled myself out of it and sat still.

If you struggle with this, here are a few tips that will help:

  • Work on your awareness
    A few times during the day, stop what you’re doing, take a deep breath, and check in with yourself. This will help you recognize how you feel and when you’re trying to escape.
  • Feel into your body
    Emotions are connected to physical sensations, usually in the chest and stomach. If you have a hard time exploring your feelings, simply observe the bodily sensation until it dissolves.
  • Learn your patterns
    Most people have a specific pattern they engage in when faced with an overwhelming task. Mine is resistance, frustration, overwhelm, and then losing my train of thought because my brain gets foggy. Once you understand yours, you’ll have an easier time catching yourself.

Remember, you don’t have to do anything – you just have to sit still until you don’t want to anymore.

Wrap-Up To Help You Stop Procrastination Once And For All

If you procrastinate, you don’t have a time management problem – you just struggle to regulate your emotions.

Doing nothing to beat it might seem silly, but it’s exactly what will help.

The fear, discomfort, and overwhelm are much tougher to deal with than to reach for a quick distraction. But if you want to stop procrastinating, there’s no way around them. You can only go through.

Don’t allow yourself to do anything but the thing – or go through the emotions it causes.

Paradoxically, doing nothing like that will make you a lot more productive.

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