I have decided to lump procrastination and motivation together in this blog as I find that they often work in tandem with each other.
Often when we procrastinate we lack in motivation and I wanted to write a blog that would cover both aspects and give a good idea of how you can start to notice that your anxiety is playing a part and then do something about it.
For my full blog on this head here, but the short form is that anxiety is a fear of the future. This can be a specific event or just a general unsettling fear of something going wrong.
Anxiety is a very normal process of protecting you from harm but when we talk about people who struggle with anxiety as a mental health issue, this natural process has gone a bit wrong and is becoming overprotective to the point that it negatively affects your life.
Anxiety is linked to the fight or flight response in our bodies that help us prepare for life threatening situations and so comes with a range of physical symptoms like heart racing, sweaty palms, shallow breathing and stomach disturbances.
When we are talking about anxiety as a mental health problem, we are talking about the whole process of the client’s anxiety. Because we don’t often find ourselves in life threatening situations, we have to look at what thoughts a client has had that has led them to think that there is a reason to fear something, for example public speaking.
Thoughts (which therapists call cognitive distortions) that cause anxiety can be things like “I am going to look stupid” or “What if I forget what I am meant to be talking about?”.
Find out which cognitive distortions you do using my free exercise here.
These thoughts, or cognitive distortions, can have a huge impact on how motivated we are to do things and whether we procrastinate or not.
Continuing the public speaking example, often people don’t prepare or practice enough before the talk which can often lead to them not performing at their best. This is because of those negative thoughts reducing the motivation to practice and making us look for opportunities to engage in other activities, i.e. procrastinate.
I struggle with motivation as much as anyone else, but you can learn to challenge your anxiety and change the way you think to improve motivation.
The biggest mental challenge I have faced has been marathon training. I did the London Marathon in 2016 and was supposed to be running in the April 2020 London Marathon also. Finding the motivation to go out for runs, especially the long ones and the ones in bad weather, can be really difficult.
When anxiety is affecting my motivation I am saying things to myself like “this is going to hurt”, “I am going to get wet and cold” or “what if I get half way around and can’t keep going”.
These thoughts lead to feelings of dread, heaviness, heart racing and shallow breathing that makes going for a run even harder than it was going to be already.
When we talk about being motivated to do something, we ideally want to feel excited and energetic and in the case of physical activity, strong and ready to overcome barriers.
So, the question becomes what can you think that will help you feel those feelings?
This is something you have to find out for yourself, in the case of my marathon training I imagine how I am going to feel when I cross the finish line. I also think about how much the fundraising will benefit the disabled children that I am raising money for. I think about how proud I will be when I finish my run and I think about how much stronger each run will make me and how much more I will be able to enjoy the race because of my hard work.
When I hit an inevitable tough spot on a run, I think about how amazing I am to have made myself go out for a run and how proud I am to be taking on a challenge that not many people are able to do.
It might sound big headed, but you have to start bolstering yourself with your head when you want to motivate yourself, especially when what you want to achieve is really hard.
In fact, self-hypnosis can be really helpful here as you can learn how to calm your mind when the negative thoughts start and visualise the things that will make you feel excited and energetic to get going. Find out more about how you can learn self-hypnosis online here.
If you are trying to motivate yourself to practice a presentation and maybe you are in a position where you have to do the presentation and you aren’t that keen, then there are still ways to use your head and thinking.
I would consider what this presentation gives you and look for the positives in the situation. Presentation skills are extremely valuable and can often lead to getting better jobs. But you have to find your own positives in each situation that will make you feel excited and energised about doing something, even if it scares you a little.
Procrastination links to motivation because it is what we do when we are not very motivated. Procrastination can take on many forms but generally speaking it is when we find stuff to do that distracts us from the thing that we were not very motivated to do.
Sometimes we even convince ourselves that the things we did while procrastinating needed doing and therefore were more important than the thing we weren’t very motivated to do. I for example, hate cleaning but as soon as I have a piece of work to do that I am not very interested in, it’s amazing how the house suddenly needs a clean.
Things to ask yourself are “Am I just avoiding ……………….?”, “is this really urgent or can it wait until after I have done …………….?” Or “Could I get someone else to do this while I get on with ……………?”.
Finally, I wanted to touch on the impact of anxiety and perfectionism on procrastination as it is something that I see very often in clinic.
Perfectionism is a very destructive mindset as it leads people to judge themselves extremely harshly if they cannot conform to whatever “perfect” idea they have in their head.
Perfectionists will often procrastinate due to anxiety that they won’t be able to do it perfectly and therefore often struggle to get started.
To combat this, try and ask yourself how perfect does the task really need to be? Would it still be acceptable if it was 90%, 80% or even 70% perfect? Is it more important that the task gets done but is not perfect rather than not getting done at all?
The way we think has a huge impact on our mental health. If you are looking to overcome your anxiety or just improve your mental health then first you need to know what thoughts are making things worse.
This download gives you a list of the most common ways we think negatively. All you need to do is see which ones you do most.
Also, keep an eye on your emails! I will be sending you a really useful video that goes with this exercise.