November 16, 2021

Episode 13: Stop procrastinating

Don’t you wish you could stop procrastinating? Do the things you’ve decided to do, when you’ve decided to do them – and not “inspired” by the panic of the last minute? Then this episode is for you.

What you will discover

  • What procrastination really is
  • What we all do to stop procrastinating; why it backfires
  • The real root cause of procrastination
  • The most powerful tool you’ll ever need against procrastination
  • The hidden benefit of procrastination
  • 4 most common cases of procrastination and how to tackle them


Mixed and produced by Adrien Grenier

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Episode Transcript

I don't know about you guys, but personally, I am very good at getting out of my bed, getting to the phone and the alarm clock, turning it off and then getting back to bed. I have no problem doing that if I have decided to procrastinate. All those tips and tricks, all they only do is they make me even more annoyed at myself.

Hi and welcome to the Excellent Rider podcast. I'm Mélanie, I'm a certified life coach and I specialize in helping people like you get things done, find ease and motivation again and get unstuck when it feels like you've lost your mojo.

Today I'm going to talk about one of my favorite topics, which is procrastination. So what is procrastination? Procrastination is basically when we delay or postpone something that we would actually like to have done as soon as possible. And instead usually, not always but usually, we do other things which we know are less important and less urgent.

So procrastination feels like agitation. We run in all sorts of directions and at the end of the day, we have not moved forward one inch. And when we are more apathetic and we don't do anything, it’s one step beyond procrastination and I will call that buffering. So, basically buffering is when we do things to sort of empty our head from anything.

So that we don't have to think, in particular about the task that we are not doing. So buffering is, for example, scrolling on Instagram, or watching Netflix, you know, this kind of thing. so that you don't have to think. So, I'll give you an example of procrastination. And the typical example for me is recording this podcast, right?

So I have, I have planned on my calendar that normally on Thursdays I will record the next episode. And all week, I start to think about how on Thursday I'm going to go into that little cupboard of mine. I'm recording from my hallway cupboard, which I turned into a sound studio.

So, I put some mattress in it and I put some blankets on top and so, it looks exactly like the kind of little house that I used to make when I was a little girl, you know, when you take some big cushions from the sofa and you put some blankets over them and suddenly you have a little house. So it looks exactly like that.

If you are claustrophobic, I don't think you should try this at home because it's about the size of, I don't know if you're old enough to remember the phone booth that we used to have on the streets before? Well it's exactly about that size and it's very, very warm. I get warm very quickly in there because there is absolutely no air coming in. So it's beautiful for the sound. Let's put it like this.

And so when I know that I'm going to record a podcast on a Thursday, I start thinking about it already on the Monday and I start imagining how it's going to be to sit in that little cabin and to speak and to look for my words and to not know how I'm going to say what I want to say. And I already start to build some dread in anticipation.

And then the Thursday comes, and sometimes what happens is that I push the recording of the podcast towards the end of the day. And so I do tons of other things. I get super busy. I get super effective on all the other tasks that I want to do and many of those tasks are not things that I should be doing on a Thursday.

There are things that I had planned to do on the Friday, on the Saturday, on the Sunday, maybe two weeks from now… And I get all of them done in a very, very efficient way, all of that so that I can continue to postpone the podcast recording. And then we come to a point where I don't have a choice anymore and then I do it.

But I really have to fight myself to do it and it becomes this entire wrestling episode where I don't enjoy doing it and so the recording ends up being of poor quality. And so I decide not to use it. Right? Or another thing that I procrastinate with is: I don't really enjoy ironing, but I love having an iron clothes and ironed house linen and right now I have not done the ironing for a couple of weeks.

So there's a big pile of clothes that is piling up in my guest bedroom and I am imagining all of the work that is going to take. And the more I wait with ironing, the more I wash things of course, and so the more things there are to iron in that guest bedroom. And so I dread doing the ironing and I dread it more and more and more, and that pile gets bigger and bigger and bigger.

And at some point I will have, I guess nothing more to wear. And so I will not have a choice and I will go and iron; and instead of having a few things to iron every week. I will do the ironing after I don’t know 5 or 6 six weeks. And it will be, yeah, four hours or five hours of ironing. So that my friends is typical procrastination.

And first of all, I want to highlight that procrastination in and of itself is not a problem. It's not a problem to not do something. And it's kind of interesting to remember that because we have a tendency to be super productive and to put this very, very high value on being productive in our society.

And I just want you to take a moment and remember why do you want to do the task that you are procrastinating about? And just make sure that this is something that you really want to do because it aligns with your life goals and it's something that really matters to you. So I'm not going to dwell into this and dig into this today. But this is the first question that you can ask yourself.

Is this really something that I want to do or is it something that I think I should do but don't really want to do. All right, so that's the first question you can ask yourself. But assuming that like me, you really want to record a podcast episode, for example and you're just procrastinating because you it seems that you can't control yourself or you don't really have control over yourself.

So what we do usually to try to solve procrastination is that we jump directly into a lot of tips and tricks in order to control the tendency to procrastinate.

So if you open any article or any book about procrastination, most of what you will find there are a lot of suggestions like, you know, if you're procrastinating about going to the gym, they're going to tell you to pack your clothes the night before, you know, prepare everything by the door, put the alarm clock away from your bed so you have to get up from your bed to go and turn off the alarm clock.

I don't know about you guys, but personally, I am very good at getting out of my bed, getting to the phone and the alarm clock, turning it off and then getting back to bed. I have no problem doing that if I have decided to procrastinate.

All those tips and tricks, all they only do is they make me even more annoyed at myself because it seems that whatever I do, whatever thing I try to make myself do the thing. I find a very efficient way to not do it and it just makes my disappointment in myself even bigger. So that is not a solution. It might boost your motivation temporarily.

Maybe you're going to think: oh wow, I found something, you know, if I put my clothes by the door the night before, it's going to work out. So if you boost your motivation a little bit like this, you might succeed using those tips and tricks for a couple of times. But usually, it doesn't work in the long run. And the reason for that is because it doesn't really solve the root cause of the problem.

So the really powerful tool against procrastination is to understand why you procrastinate and to address that, right? And before I explain to you how to do that I just want to explain briefly why we procrastinate. I mean what procrastination is all about? And it's very simple. It's because the human brain is programmed to avoid any sort of pain and any sort of effort.

You have to remember that our brain is built for the life that we had about a hundred thousand years ago and a hundred thousand years ago, it was much more intense life and much more difficult life than what we have today. At least that you probably have if you're listening to this podcast and any effort could potentially kill you.

Like any effort was a depletion in calories and you didn't know where your next meal was going to come from literally. So efforts was something that you should really use sparingly, and that you should use in order to acquire more calories, or in order to do something that was vital for the continuation of your of your well-being and of your life, right?

But so the brain is programmed to avoid any sort of pain and to avoid any sort of effort. And so if you are describing to yourself something in a way that assumes that there will be pain or they will be effort included in the package, your brain, like the very dutiful and loyal servant it is, will do its best to prevent you from entering that zone of danger.

And so if you're describing a task to you and you're telling yourself that it's going to be really difficult or it's going to be hard or you're going to fail or it's going to be a hassle or it's going to be such a bore or a chore or whatever. Your brain is doing everything it can to avoid you from going anywhere near that task.

And it's sending you a lot of very, very strong feelings associated to how strong you think the task is a problem or a chore or a bore and all of those feelings are making it impossible basically for you to get anywhere near the task. So typically if I'm considering recording the podcast, what I'm telling myself is that I'm going to sound ridiculous. I'm going to sound like a bore.

People are not going to like the episode. Nobody's going to listen to it. I'm going to be a total failure. I'm going to be ashamed of myself, etc. So you see that if my brains job is to prevent pain for me. Of course, it's going to prevent me from recording a podcast because I am telling it all day long that if I do record a podcast, I'm going to end up being rejected. Basically, that's what I'm telling myself.

Right? So my brain is being just very, very kind and very, very supportive and it's helping me stay away from the podcast. That's all. The ironing. I'm telling myself that it's such a drag. I don't even say, like this. When I talk to myself, I'm like, oh it's such a drag!! You know, you can just hear it in my voice. Like, my shoulders are sagging. I'm literally dragging my feet.

You know, I'm tilting my head backwards. My eyes are rolling to the sky, you know, like, I really don't want to do this. I hate it, you know, it's just going to be such a big thing and I make it sound like I'm going to the bottom of the mine and I'm going to, you know, be digging coal for the next 24 hours where in fact, it's just a couple of hours of very easily ironing.

But in my head, I’m making it sound like such a bore, such a chore, such an effort that of course my brain again, very dutifully is doing its best to prevent me from having such a hassle. So, the way to get rid of procrastination, the only way to get rid of procrastination, it's to change the feeling that you have associated to the task.

As long as you associate the task to an unpleasant feeling, you're going to procrastinate. There is no magic about this. So you need to associate it with a pleasant feeling, and the best way to do that is to use two tools that I have explained in episode 5 and episode 6. So the tool in episode 5 is a thought download and the tool in 6, it's Brooke Castillo’s model.

And basically what you do is that first you're going to do a thought download about the task. Yes, even if we're talking just about ironing. Like if you're serious about doing the ironing, you want to tackle your procrastination. So you need to understand what do you tell yourself about the ironing. And don't do this in your head, do this in writing and you can listen to episode 5 if you want to understand why.

So take a piece of paper and write down everything that you're telling yourself about the task that you're avoiding, like what is the task like; what is doing the task like; what do you think it's going to be like; what do you think the consequences are going to be? What do you think the result is going to be like; what do you think others might think; what kind of situation this might create?

I mean tell yourself everything and go where your brain is taking you in terms of what are the problems with this, right? You're going to be very tempted to justify and to intellectually interfere. And to tell yourself, no, but I know very well that ironing is not such a big deal and that it's not such a big task. But that's your intellectual brain interfering.

The reality is that somewhere you're telling yourself: no, but it's such a drag, right? So don't interrupt yourself with your intellectual brain. Just let the real thoughts, the real fears, the real concerns come out so that you understand. It doesn't matter; they don't need to be realistic. It’s just what you're telling yourself. Just understand what you're telling yourself about the situation.

And then, once you have listed all the problems with the task, all the things that you think are going to happen. All the reasons why it's such a chore, such a bore, such a problem, such a risk, such a threat, such a potential failure. You're going to read through those thoughts and you're going to take the one that you think encapsulates in the best way, what's unpleasant or what's risky about the task.

And you're going to plug it into a model and fill out the rest of the model. So for example, I'm reading out to you the model that I wrote about ironing. And if you go to the show notes, you can get the show notes from my website and you can see this written in a model form, if it's easier for you visually to see it like that. So the circumstance is that there are clothes in my guest bedroom.

Or I could be more specific and say there are clothes that have not been ironed in my guest bedroom. And then the thought I have about this is “ironing is such a drag”. And when I'm telling myself this, the feeling it creates for me is reluctance.

And reluctance is that feeling that makes my shoulder sag, make my head tilt backward, my voice drop down, my eyes roll up to the sky, dragging my feet, you know, that's the feeling of reluctance. I just don't want to go there. And when I feel reluctant, what do I do? Well, I envisioned in my mind's eye the pile of clothes to be ironed as a huge pile of clothes.

Like, literally in my mind it's several meters high. I don't own that many clothes. So it's definitely not that high. I imagine how many hours and I imagine like hours and hours and hours of this repetitive boring movement of ironing.

And I imagine also in my mind's eye, how much time it’s going to take to set up the ironing board, and to get the iron out and to boil some water and to get everything ready, so that I can start to iron. I avoid the guest bedroom, of course, altogether. I don't do the ironing. That's for sure. And I literally think about ironing all the time.

So I think about it when I get dressed and I see that there are less and less clothes in my drawers. I noticed the shelf in the bathroom, where I have the bathroom towels, and I notice that there are less and less bathroom towels available.

Of course, I pass by the guest bedroom 300 times a day and every single time I think about, you know, I have the pile of clothes popping up in my mind as an image. And as a result of all of those actions, my thoughts about the ironing are such a drag. So it's not the ironing itself that's a drag; it’s just my thoughts about it are such a drag, right?

So, I'm creating that result for myself because I decide to think I didn't consciously decide to think but I allow myself to think that “ironing in such a drag”. So first, you do a thought download. You identify all the thoughts that you have about the task. Then you pick a thought that you think encapsulates in the best way what the problem is with the task.

And then you do a model on that thought. And then the whole trick is going to find a better thought; a better thing to think about the task so that it creates a better feeling for you for that task. So that you entice your brain to want to engage with the task and to want to get started and to want to do it, instead of avoiding it.

And the way to find a better thought, there's many different ways. Maybe just to tell yourself: “oh right. Now, I understand the mechanism”. Sometimes, that's just enough and that will help you find a little bit of motivation.

But what I'm going to do is I'm going to give you some main directions that you can investigate depending on the type of direction that you are in right now or the type of thoughts that you have right now about the task. So the first thing, if you think the task is boring like ironing for me, you can find a way to make it enjoyable.

So I'm not talking about the action of making an enjoyable. I'm talking about finding a thought that makes this activity sound enjoyable to you. All right, so find a way to make it sound like an immediate pleasure. So for example, for myself, I always reward myself when I iron.

So I associate ironing with things that I don't normally do so often or that I do really like as a relaxing moment or something that I really enjoy doing. So for example, if there's a podcast I've been really looking forward to listen to; or if there's a series I really want to watch; then I will tell myself: okay, fine. I'm allowed to binge-watch. No problem.

I can binge-watch 5 episode of the series as long as I'm ironing at the same time. And then suddenly, ironing sounds like a lot of fun because I'm allowed to do this thing of binge-watching, which I don't normally allow myself to do. Or sometimes I tell myself…

I love karaoke and I decide that I'm going to practice my next karaoke songs while I'm ironing and it's a great way to pretend that I'm completely natural when the karaoke song pops up I’m like, oh no, really, I had no idea that this song was going to pop up. Should I? Oh, I'll do my best! And then I kill it because I've been practicing like crazy over five hours of ironing.

Anyway, that's the dark side of my personality. So the brain really loves when something sounds like pleasure. So make sure that the task that you were describing to yourself as boring, make sure that it sounds pleasurable to you.

If you think that the task that you're procrastinating about is something where you have a big risk of failure, you need to find a way - that's a little bit more tricky - you just need to find a way to normalize the discomfort of the risk that you're taking. So I'm going to give you an example so that it becomes very clear what I mean by that. What I mean is that you need to acknowledge that yes, there is a risk.

And yes, there is a risk of failure. And yes, it is uncomfortable. And that you accept that risk and that this is part of the steps you're going to take in order to get the potential reward of doing the task. So I'll give you the example of recording this podcast, my model about recording this podcast is so the circumstance are very simple. There is on my calendar it says “record the podcast”.

And then the thought I have is “I can't put out an episode that is not super interesting” and when I think that, I feel afraid because I'm telling myself, you know, probably the episode is going to be boring or something like that. And when I feel afraid, what do I do? Well, I think about it constantly. So I think about recording the episode.

So, if I'm on Monday, I already start to anticipate how it's going to be like to be in that little recording cabin. I move it on my calendar. So when we come to Thursday, normally, I try to record the podcast episode first thing in the day and then I start to move it. So it's scheduled at 6 a.m. And then I move it at 7 and then I move it at 8 and then I move it at 9 and then I move it at 11 and then I move it at 4 in the afternoon etc.

So I just push it and push it and push it. I do nothing. I don't record the podcast and because I don't record the podcast I don't practice and I don't get an opportunity to become better at it. And so, the result is that, of course, I have less chance of putting out an interesting episode because I have less practice, very simply.

So what I need to find is a way to normalize the fact that there is a risk that this episode will be very boring or that the way I say it is not so interesting. I mean, of course there is all these risks and it's part of the game.

My ambition is to put out a podcast episode regularly and as part of doing that thing that where I find all the benefits that this has for me, there is this risk, yes, that I will not be very good at podcasting, and that I might completely fail at putting out an interesting episode. But then what I choose to think is that “practice makes perfect”.

And when I think “practice makes perfect”, the feeling that it creates for me is determination. And when I feel determined what I do is acknowledge to myself that, yes, I might record an episode that's boring. And also that by recording the episode, I teach myself how to make it more interesting and how to speak in a more lively way, how to organize myself so that recording the episode is more interesting, all of that.

When I feel determine also, what happens is that I noticed that this moment of freaking out, of panicking because I think the episode will not be as good as I hope, is part of the process of me putting out a podcast of good quality; helping my listeners find tools that help them to really make the best out of their difficult situation. And on my checklist.

I have a checklist where I have written, for example, that I need to put my phone on airplane mode so I don't get a phone call when I'm recording. I need to put the cat out because otherwise, the cat will come and scratch at the door of the cupboard and meow. She doesn't like me to be locked in that little cabin apparently; she thinks it’s weird and I don't blame her.

And so I add a step on that list and that step is “freak out”. So just I know that, okay, I will freak out and that's just normal. And I will freak out and I will do it anyway. And then, as a result of that, what is the result of all these actions? Well, what do you know? I record a podcast. So I practice and so I get better. So this is exactly the kind of angle that you can take, when you're afraid of failing.

If you think the task that you're procrastinating about might mean that you're going to fail at something. It's to normalize the fact that you are feeling this discomfort of failure. You’re feeling this unpleasant feeling linked to the anticipation of failure. If you think that the task that you're procrastinating about is difficult and feels, for example, overwhelming.

So it could be a task where you feel very motivated. You think it's a great thing to do and you really want to do it, but maybe you have no idea where to start or you know exactly what you do, but it sounds like there's so many different things, so many different steps to take that it sounds like it's a lot. It's overwhelming. What you can do is you can either focus on the intention that you have.

Like what is your intention when you are about to do this task? Or you can focus on the process of doing the task. Instead of focusing on the task itself or on the result itself, so you can for example focus on the first step. You can focus on the fact that okay, what can I do in the first 20 minutes of the task? You can give yourself a time challenge.

For example, if I would take the podcast example, again, I can tell myself okay, I'm going to write the outline of the podcast in less than 10 minutes, and so 10 minutes sounds like a crazy short amount of time, but then my competition instinct kicks in.

And then I challenge myself and I try to see what I can achieve in 10 minutes and what do you know? In 10 minutes usually I can find a good outline for what I want to say. And then one aspect of procrastination that we all of us we often feel is that we wait until the last minute to do things.

So if you notice that your procrastination expresses itself as you feel that you have a lot of time and it's cool and there's no problem. And you have, you know, days before you have to hand in that report or record that podcast or whatever it is that you want to do. And then at the last minute, you enter in a total panic mode. Well, what you can tell yourself;

like several weeks before when you, when you still have the time. What you can notice is that probably you're having a lot of thoughts that creating the feeling of permissiveness. So it's that feeling that yeah, that comes from the thought of, you know, there's no rush. I have plenty of time. I can do it later. Like, all of these kind of thoughts.

They create this feeling of permissiveness, from which, of course, you're not doing the task. So in those cases, you need to change your thoughts and remind yourself of the price you're going to pay when you enter the panic mode and how unpleasant it is. And then what I recommend is that you separate yourself into two. And you imagine that there is this other person.

In my case it's Mélanie from the future. That's her name and Mélanie from the future is this complete other person from me. And I imagine that I am serving her. She's my best friend and I have an opportunity to help her out or to make her life hell. And when I start to think of her as a different person, suddenly, I am much more inclined to do things for her.

I am like many people: doing things for myself, usually I don't or I don't find it enticing or I don't think it's a priority or whatever, but doing things for others, that's always very motivating. And so, as soon as I imagine this Mélanie from the future girl, of course, I want to help her out and I don't want her to freak out. And I don't want her to be in panic mode in two weeks from now.

And that helps me a lot find a good motivation to start doing the thing right now. Alright, so the thoughts that you can have around this is “I am doing this for Mélanie from the future”, for example, or “I am making sure that I will not freak out at the last moment” or “I enjoy having the pride of having completed something way ahead of time”.

Find your own thoughts that create a feeling that will motivate you much more than this feeling of permissiveness. So now you have an idea of how to tackle procrastination. You need to notice what you're telling yourself about the task; and the feeling that these thoughts create. And then you need to find a better angle;

an angle that describes the situation in a way that creates a more interesting feeling for yourself. And a last note: if you find that you are procrastinating about tackling your procrastination. Well, just take a deep breath. Tell yourself that being uncomfortable is part of the process of growth and just do it and feel uncomfortable at the same time.

If you like what you heard, go to my website That's Excellent Rider in one word dot com and get the episode notes. They are organized in a structured way that makes them easy to remember and there are always additional exercises and illustrations that you don't get in the audio. And if you really liked what you heard, go to your podcast platform and leave me a review.

You can Google how to do that if you're not sure how to proceed. This helps the podcast be more visible. It means that it will be easier to find for other people who need to hear exactly this. And it's also a great encouragement for me. If you felt that this information was valuable, is the absolute best way to let me know. I personally answer everyone who is kind enough to leave me a review.

Thanks a lot for listening today. I hope to talk to you again very soon because you my friend, even when you cannot get yourself to do what you want; even when you're stuck in negative emotions and unpleasant thought loops; and even when you don't believe it – especially when you don't believe it – you absolutely rock.

And you'll soon be an excellent rider because there is no bad horses, only untrained riders.

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