I often wonder how some people are great at overcoming procrastination, yet others delay, postpone, or avoid solving problems, and withdraw from making smart decisions, taking calculated risks, or taking intelligent actions?

– Why do they become paralysed and unable to take the actions necessary to solve some of their key problems and deliver their key goals?
– Why do they often resist making even the most necessary changes to support to enable the delivery of their solutions, desired outcomes, and goals?
– Why do so many also avoid taking personal responsibility and being accountable for achieving their desired outcomes and goals?

Despite knowing that there may be a range of negative consequences for procrastinating, involving a crippling, overwhelming, and paralysing combination of reactive responses? Which then typically impacts negatively on people’s self-efficacy and self-belief, self-worth, and self-esteem and diminishes their motivation and immobilises their ability to take the necessary actions and as a result, spiral downwards? Making overcoming procrastination, a key coaching competency to develop, and master, to create an open space for re-thinking for a new age.

How do we, as coaches help client’s in overcoming procrastination?

Why is this important?

It seems that procrastination is a challenge we and many of our coaching clients have faced at one point or another, where we struggle with being indecisive, delaying, ignoring, avoiding taking actions to initiate, progress, or complete tasks that may be important to us, and on issues that really matter to us, our teams, partners and organisations.

Ultimately leading to failures, inability to mitigate risks, or be creative and inventive and decreasing possibilities for innovation and increasing productivity and improving performance. Also potentially leading to feelings of loss, insecurity, inadequacy, frustration, disengagement, and depression and in extreme cases, client, project failures and job losses, and even burnout!

Why do people procrastinate?

The need for security and self-protection is the key root causes of procrastination

Procrastination is most often a self-protection strategy, a way of defending ourselves, rooted in fears that result in anxieties around feeling unsafe, vulnerable, and being judged or punished, especially in times of uncertainty, unpredictability, uncontrollability, and when feeling overwhelmed.

In most coaching contexts, procrastinating clients are likely to respond be risk-averse by:
– Being apprehensive and even withdrawing energetically from people as well as from the coaching conversation, coupled with a lack of commitment to the coaching process or towards achieving the agreed goal (lacking conviction and being worried about the future).
– Not showing up and spending a lot of time and energy zigzagging around and away from what they feel is consuming them or making them feel threatened or uncomfortable (avoidance).
– Blaming external people and factors for not “allowing” them to participate or succeed (time, workload, culture, or environment).
– Denying that achieving the goal really matters, bringing up excuses, and reasonable reasons about why having the goal don’t really matter to them, as well as a willingness to take risks (non-committal).
– Being fearful of the future, dreading what might be the range of possibly negative and overwhelming events and situations (pessimism).

What are the key signals of an effective procrastinator?

The first step in noticing the key signals is to tune into the client’s effective avoidance default pattern as to what is really going on for them from a systemic perspective and paying deep attention to the range of signals outlined as follows:

Behaviour signals

– “Playing it safe” or “being nice” by being unwilling to challenge and be challenged.
– Resisting any change efforts, disengaging, and being reluctant to disclose and share authentically what is really going on for them.
– Unwillingness to take risks.
– Shying away from engaging with their partners, families, colleagues, group activities, and from having candid conversations.
– Being overly indecisive and non-committal.

Neurological state signals

– Increased anxiety and “attention deficit” syndrome.
– Low motivation and self-confidence.
– Diminished ability to self-regulate and self-control.
– Diminished self-efficacy and self-concept.
– Onslaught of the creeping doubts and the imposter syndrome.

Extrinsic or environmental signals occur when fearful of the perception of others

– Performing poorly, making mistakes, or failing.
– Fearful of doing too well, or being too successful.
– Losing control, status, or role.
– Looking stupid, or being disapproved of.
– Avoids conflict situations.

Fear of success signals

Some of us are unconsciously afraid of success, because irrationally we secretly believe that we are not worthy of it and don’t deserve it, and then self-sabotage our chances of success!
– Being shy, introverted, and uncomfortable in the spotlight.
– Being publicly successful brings social or emotional isolation.
– Alienating peers as a result of achievement.
– People may think you’re self-promoting.
– Being perceived as a “tall poppy”.
– Believing that success may not be all it’s cracked up to be and that it might change you, but not for the better.

Fear of failure signals

Some people’s motivation to avoid failure often exceeds their motivation to succeed, which can cause them to unconsciously sabotage their chances of success.
– Cognitive biases or irrational beliefs that act as filters distorting reality.
– Past pains felt from being vulnerable, abandoned, punished, blamed, or shamed in front of others, or being disapproved of, envied, rejected, or disliked by others.
– Fearful of looking “bad” or incompetent, in front of others.
– Feeling threatened, a sense of danger or potential punishment, causes them to move away (freeze, fight, take flight) from confronting dangerous, painful situations as threatening.

Overcoming procrastination tips – coaching clients

The safe and compassionate coaching relationship

As most people find safety in procrastination at some point in time, to be an effective coach in these situations, it’s important to be empathic and compassionate and “work with” as to where the client may be coming from in terms of underlying self-beliefs:
– “I don’t want to get hurt”.
– “I don’t want to expose myself to risk”.

As well as their thoughts about how others may see them including:
– Lacking confidence,
– Hesitant,
– Introverted.

Who may perceive themselves as:
– “I am nowhere near as good as I should be”.
– “I am inadequate.”

Then by paying deep attention, and being intentional in co-creating a safe coaching conversation and be:
– Gentle and non-threatening, and by building trust and rapport.
– Aware of being both too direct, fast, and too laid back.
– Providing gentle guidance, assurance, and lots of patience.
– Focussed on encouraging commitment and confidence towards setting and achieving the desired outcome.

Developing the coaching contract – the 5 key “A” steps to overcoming procrastination

1. Attune – Being deeply present to tune into “what really going on” by paying deep attention to the root causes and signals and by withholding judgement and co-creating a safe collective holding space.
2. Awareness – Developing awareness and mutuality by taking a reflective stance to deeply listen and inquire to emerge the procrastination strategy or default pattern.
3. Acknowledge – Acknowledging truthfully the client’s current state, implications and consequences, benefits and drawbacks, and pulling them towards setting a desired future state.
4. Accept – Supporting the client to accept the truth and taking ownership of their procrastination strategy or default pattern and making a fundamental choice to shift and reframe it positively.
5. Act – Co-creating options and choices for setting the goal to initiate a gentle decision, a willingness to engage in risk-taking, and identify three key intelligent actions that lead to the desired future state. Getting commitment, calibrating, and increasing their level of confidence and conviction and willingness to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Ensuring that they take responsibility for completing the actions within an agreed time frame, and have measures in place for which they are accountable, whilst also offering support.

Breaking the procrastinating habit and overcoming procrastination

Here are five key actions for ensuring that you and your coaching clients continue to break their self-defeating procrastination habits by:

1) Looking at your excuses, reasonable reasons, and elaborate stories rationally, and become an “ace disputer” by challenging your perception of them, and even making fun of them
2) Make a daily or weekly “to-do” list, and keep a score of your progress, by ticking items off once completed, rewarding yourself when done, being honest about what hasn’t been done, and making a promise to yourself to do it (by when).
3) Step up and take a stand for yourself, make your project a public endeavour rather than keeping it to yourself. Seek to gain the support of others and have them hold you accountable helps when you feel stymied.
4) Like Nike “just do it” choose a domestic activity that you really dislike doing (like ironing) and commit to doing it for just 10 minutes a day, noticing that once you have started, it just seems to flow more easily.
5) Manage your stress, worries, and anxieties through different techniques you can use to deal with them including deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, visualization, physical exercise, relaxation tapes, humour, and music.

Ultimately coaching clients to overcome procrastination creates openings and thresholds for enabling them to learn and grow and become the best person, to themselves and others, they can possibly be and achieve the changes they wish to make in the world.

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