On the way to Vegas, I was reading Dr. Valerie Young’s The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women, it’s all about Imposter Syndrome. Dr.Young is one of the leading people when it comes to Imposter Syndrome research. She does talks on the subject, and you should take the time to look into her! The book includes a system called the “Seven Defense Mechanisms”. One of those defense mechanisms is procrastination, which is the topic of today’s blog!
I’ll be doing a blog post for each of the Seven Defense Mechanisms, so please keep an eye out for those!
I feel like we’ve all experienced procrastination at one time or another. If you haven’t procrastinated before- that’s amazing! Good for you! Although I feel students for example are a group of people who tend to have to deal with procrastination frequently, although it isn’t uncommon to also see procrastination creep into your adult life as well! You can procrastinate going to the Dentist, writing an assignment, and with women who experience Imposter Syndrome, procrastination can mean a whole other slew of things!
Essentially, procrastination is delaying the release of your service or product, or delaying an action. It’s been linked to depression, low self-esteem, and anxiety because you’re creating chaos in your head. That chaos being: “I know I have something to do...I know I should be doing it… but I’m not doing it.” In turn, you might be distracting yourself by procrastinating. You may be looking for easier things to do, maybe because what you have to do is something hard (like writing a difficult paper that you have no idea how to go about writing). Therefore it’s hard to get motivated to do something when you aren’t sure where to start with it or it seems to be something overwhelming!
I remember when I was doing my master’s degree, I had to take a law class and it was my WORST class. It’s funny because I actually work in the legal field right now! But I hated doing it during my master’s! It was because I was putting it off and trying not to learn anything because I keep feeling like I wasn’t grasping it. I found that it was easier to just ignore the work that was required to do for that class rather than actually putting forth the effort and just doing it! In the end, I think I was internally worried that I wasn’t going to grasp any of it and I was going to feel stupid.
Essentially you feel like an imposter because you feel like you have something wrong with you. And for a lot of women, this could include the thought that they’re actually stupid!!! Some women actually think things as: “I’m not smart”, “I’m not brilliant”, “I’m not good at what I do”. Their internal reality - even if they don’t come out and say it - is to think “I’m stupid and I’m worried others think the same of me.”
When it came to me dealing with my own feelings of Imposter Syndrome, and there was something that I didn’t know how to do and my Imposter Syndrome was being felt the most, I would just ignore that task, which would, in turn, end up making me procrastinate. When I opened graded projects or papers, I wouldn’t read the feedback. I would procrastinate opening documents or attachments that would reveal my grade, because I was afraid of what I was going to look at it and think: “Oh my God… I can’t handle that I got constructive criticism, or any criticism at all, they think I did terrible!”
Constructive criticism is good and welcomed by most people, but for someone who struggles with Imposter Syndrome, receiving any type of criticism is something they can’t stand!
When we procrastinate it means we’re ultimately creating this stress in our lives, because we’re putting off something that we know we shouldn’t. We’re simultaneously shaming ourselves as we’re putting off whatever we’re putting off! Not only are you not completing what you need to complete but you’re also telling yourself you should be able to do this. You should-you should-you should, but you’re not doing it!
Procrastination definitely creates a perfect storm within our head. Not only does it increase our stress, create all this drama and chaos within us. It also means that we’re avoiding rejection or failure. I know I’ve talked about this before, but nobody likes experiencing rejection or failure. This is one of the biggest hurdles when I coach women because they don’t want to be seen or be revealed as a fraud, which is obviously the whole premise around Imposter Syndrome.
Essentially, what you’re doing when you procrastinate is you are putting off having to possibly deal with being rejected or failing. Meaning if you have a project to finish or you’re putting off doing a type of work, if you don’t finish it, it means you can’t fail! If you’re taking an extremely long time perfecting something to the point of trying to get everything just right, then you’re revealing another symptom of Imposter Syndrome- Perfectionism. (Perfectionism will be covered in another blog post.)
Procrastination is the kind of an off strand of perfectionism, in that you could be putting something off or working on something until you think it’s perfect, but in reality, you may never achieve the perfection you strive for. In the back of your mind you think it’ll get criticized if it’s not perfect. The whole procrastination cycle is a way for you to somewhat feel safe. It keeps you in your comfort zone therefore making it that you never have to face what is making you feel anxious or out of control.
Many people (I was included in this statement once upon a time) say things like: “Oh, I work best under pressure” and “Oh, when I have a deadline, sometimes I just push it to the last minute.” Think about it- are you REALLY doing your best work if you’re doing that? Probably not. Once again- Imposter Syndrome is NOT forgiving. Even if you think that you work best under pressure, what you’re really doing is stressing yourself out and not putting out your best product. Which in turn is going to sink you deeper in the realm of feeling like an imposter, and it encourages your thoughts in thinking- “I really don’t know what I’m doing, because someone who would know what they were doing wouldn’t leave things to the last minute!” You're probably not going to feel as confident in your assignment if you do something like that. Right?
In this next section, I’ll be covering my main way to help reduce the procrastination cycle!
I like working in small sections/blocks of time. For example, if I had to do an assignment in university, I would work on the introduction one day, then I would work on the first and second paragraph the next and I would allocate each section a certain amount of time. Let’s say I would block off two hours to work on the introduction. (Which seems like a long time to stay focused on one task I know!) During those two hours, I would always give myself time to do research and do a rough layout/draft of what I thought would work. I would then always stop when my timer would go off saying the two hours had passed.
I found that instead of sitting down and banging out a whole assignment at once, breaking it up into smaller sections made it easier because I knew that when I would come back and look at it at a later time. I could then modify my content and layout to make things flow better. Sometimes if I read something over at a later time I would think to myself: “Oh my God!! I can't believe I was drunk last night writing this assignment - I need to check my wording/organization again, it makes no sense this way!!”
These simple section breakups can be helpful in business as well! For example, you don't have to do a whole podcast episode in a night, including editing and upload and make sure every single thing is done! Another example would be that you don't have to feel like you need to make your whole freebie in a night or feel like you’re a failure if you don’t get it all done! Breaking into digestible chunks helps you organize your thoughts better.
You can definitely use time blocks and chunk the different things in your business without feeling like you're not getting anything done because you are!! Working a little bit at a time is MUCH better than not getting ANYTHING done at all! Another option would be to do a brain dump - write everything that comes to mind in a word document or with pen and paper. It may make no sense at the moment but looking at it with fresh eyes at a later time will make things come together with ease! Sometimes just writing out a rough idea at least gets you going in the right direction. I would sometimes come back after writing my intro for a paper in University and I could tell that it wasn’t my greatest work, but at least it was a start!
Sometimes when I work on my podcast episodes, stuff for my business, or things for University, I would think that the work I had just done in the block of time was my shittiest/worst work I had ever done. Then I would revisit it after a little while and I would appreciate it so much more. Sometimes the work that you think is your shittiest, can end up being released as your latest podcast, blog, or Instagram post and it have good results! You can always go back and edit something - at first the brain dump gets it out in the open, therefore making you less prone to push the whole project to the side!
You may not feel that you’re a pro at what you’re doing but you’re taking strides to get your ideas organized and find a flow that works for you! I hope this will help you break the procrastination cycle! You don’t have to be perfect, but taking small steps can make ALL the difference!