The Surprising Reason Why You Procrastinate That Keeps You Stuck

Procrastination: the action of delaying or postponing something.

We’ve all been there before, right?

I know I have.

But why do we do it?

What causes us to delay or postpone things?

Why is it that, even when we genuinely want to do something, we occasionally find ourselves procrastinating?

And perhaps more importantly, what can we do about it?

This week on the I’m Busy Being Awesome podcast we’re taking a deep dive into one of the sneakiest culprits of procrastination.

In fact, this culprit is not only overlooked, it’s often feels necessary, which makes it even easier to stay in the procrastination loop. 

So if you find yourself delaying tasks, postponing projects, or stuck in indecision about how to move forward, then episode 86 has your name on it.

You can listen to the episode below, or stream it on your favorite podcasting app here:

Prefer to read? No problem! Keep scrolling for the entire podcast transcript.

Listen To The Podcast Here!

In This Episode, You Will Discover… 

  • One of the sneakiest culprits for procrastination
  • Where it commonly shows up in our lives
  • Concrete steps to overcome procrastination and take action

Links From The Podcast

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Episode #86:The Sneaky Reason Why You Procrastinate That Keeps You Stuck (Transcript)

Hey, Everybody. Welcome to episode 86. How are you? Thanks for tuning in today.

In this week’s episode, we are digging into one of the sneakiest culprits of procrastination that I see so many of us deal with on a regular basis. And what’s more, I don’t think we often recognize it as procrastination. In fact, I think we see it as necessary. (Hence why it’s so sneaky!) 

Procrastination Meaning

And before I share what it is, I first want to quickly define the concept of procrastination generally, because I think it can be a loaded term at times – especially for us ADHDers who have either self-labeled or been labeled by others as procrastinators for much of our lives. 

But when we look at the definition in Google, procrastination is simply defined as “the action of delaying or postponing something.” That’s it. The action of delaying or postponing something. And let’s be honest, who hasn’t done that before, right?

Indecision

So with that definition in mind, I think one of the things that keeps us delaying and postponing things the most is the feeling of indecision. It is getting stuck trying to decide on something.

As humans, we make decisions all the time. We make small, daily decisions about what to wear that day. We decide whether or not we’ll go walking on our lunch break. And we think about what to make for dinner each night.

We also make decisions about whether we’re going to take that vacation next fall. We spend countless hours trying to decide whether we should go with this color of paint or that color of paint in the dining room. And we waste more time than we’d like to admit researching and choosing between the best appliance, or program, or school, or flooring for the house, etc.

Analysis Paralysis ADHD

Case in point, I needed a new vacuum. And frankly, I have needed a new one for quite some time. 

Several weeks ago, something happened to my current vacuum so that when I use it, it’s 20 times louder than it was before. And let’s be honest, vacuums aren’t quiet, to begin with. But something happened with mine so that every time I turn it on, it sounds like it’s going to take off for the moon. Poor Bruno runs and hides on the opposite side of the house every time I turn the thing on. And the amount of time I spent in indecision as I researched, tried to decide, and weighed the pros and cons of what vacuum would be best is – frankly – ridiculous.

In fact, this weekend as I was researching – again – I finally realized that I had slipped into this procrastination trap myself, which prompted this episode. And it also spurred me into making a decision, buying the vacuum, and moving on. Thank goodness.

So today we are digging into procrastination through indecision. We’re talking about the three reasons we often get stuck in this form of procrastination and how we can start taking action and moving forward so we’re using our time intentionally in a way that we want.

So let’s dive in. What are the most common reasons we find ourselves stuck procrastinating in indecision?

More Research

One very common reason we find ourselves stuck in confusion and not making a decision is that we believe we need to do more research. This was the trap that I fell into with my vacuum situation. And the reason why this one is sneaky is that – often when we are making a decision –  we do want to do some research first. We do want to spend some time assessing our options and learning what’s out there so we can make an informed decision.

As you might guess, this type of research indecision comes with what we perceive as bigger decisions. We’re probably not telling ourselves we need to do more research before deciding what to wear in the morning. But when it comes to booking your next vacation spot, choosing a new appliance, signing up for a course, getting a new computer, etc. You may want to do some initial research. That’s fine. But we want to be intentional both about the type of research we’re doing and how long we want to dedicate to it.

Too Many Options

Because the reality is this: you could research forever.  You could keep reading reviews. You could keep searching for new or alternative options. And you could continue asking every person you know what they think. Because if you do that, you will continue getting different opinions. You’ll get different pieces of information to consider. And you’ll learn about different avenues to explore. And you will keep feeding your brain’s belief that you just need to “do a little more research.”

As I mentioned, this is exactly where I was. I found myself hyperfocused on gathering data. I kept bouncing back and forth between the same handful of options. I’d keep reading reviews. I’d do yet another Google search or Amazon search thinking another ground-breaking vacuum would come on the market in the past day and change everything. And I wasted so. much. time. in the process. My brain was looping on this belief that there was more to learn, and it did not want to let it go.

Where do you notice this?

So I first invite you to think about this area of indecision procrastination in your life. Where are you stuck in indecision because you think you need to do a little more research?

Perhaps it is deciding what washer and dryer set you want to purchase. Maybe it’s choosing which email service provider or website hosting service you want to use for your business.  Or maybe you’re upgrading your computer.  Think about that area in your life and ask yourself these three questions:

  • Have I done enough research to make an informed decision? Yes or no. Don’t let your brain tell you “I don’t know.”
  • If the answer is no, what do I still need to understand in order to make an informed decision? Again, answer the question. Don’t let your brain tell you “I don’t know.”
  • How can I get that information so I can make a decision by the end of the day? (Or perhaps the end of the week if you have quite a bit of information that you want to gather.)

Feeling Uncomfortable

Now if you pause and ask yourself these three questions, you may find yourself feeling a bit uncomfortable. You may even feel a little uncomfortable hearing me ask this right now because it’s putting a time constraint on the decision-making process. It’s asking you to get specific and move forward. If you’re uncomfortable, that’s probably a good indication that you’re procrastinating.

Because the reality is this. It is so much easier for our brain to stay in indecision. It is so much easier to sit in passive action of: research, read, ask around and get feedback, repeat. When we do this, we don’t have to take action. We don’t have to actually make the decision. And we stay stuck. By identifying what we know, what we still want to figure out, and exactly how we can get that information to make a decision, we create much more clarity to get out of the procrastination loop and into action.

People Pleasing

Another reason we get stuck in indecision procrastination has more to do with the fear of upsetting other people. In other words, we delay deciding because we think we might upset someone if we say no or decide to do one thing over another. And not surprisingly, this shows up in all different areas of our life as well.

Maybe your boss asked you to take on an additional project and you’re stuck in “should” energy. Perhaps you’re thinking, “I don’t really want to do this. I don’t have space in my calendar right now, nor do I want to create the space for it. But…I should probably do it because I don’t want to disappoint my boss.”

But since you really don’t want to do it, you just keep delaying a response. You don’t commit. And you tell yourself you’re trying to decide whether you can make the request fit in your schedule. So in this indecision, you delay your response until either the very last minute or your boss asks you directly.

Fear Of Saying No

Or let’s say a friend of yours really wants you to sign up for an improv class with her, but your idea fun does not involve creativity on demand in front of a random group of people. And you’re less than excited to do it. But you also don’t want to tell her “no” because you think you might disappoint her. So again, you either procrastinate answering the email or the text. Or if she asked you directly you said, “let me check and I’ll let you know.” but you just keep delaying.

Usually, when we procrastinate responding to someone in a situation like this, it results in one of three situations. And my guess is that you’ll hear yourself in one of them. 

First, you might simply ignore the message altogether. And your lack of response makes the decision for you. You don’t go, but you also don’t acknowledge your friend. So you avoided the discomfort of a direct no, but you’re probably now dealing with other negative emotions for avoiding the situation entirely.

Alternatively, you may keep delaying your response until you can’t wait any longer and then you finally say yes. So you feel terrible while procrastinating and you do the thing you don’t want to do. So you feel terrible throughout. Or you delay telling her until she finally asks you directly at the last minute and you say no. And now she doesn’t have time to ask someone else to go with her instead.

Our Brain Thinks Procrastinating Is Easier

Our brain tells us it’s easier not to make a decision. It thinks it’s easier to sit in confusion or avoidance than to simply tell the person no. But when you play it out, that procrastination usually creates an undesired result.

And remember, what we do or don’t do can’t make the other person feel bad or disappointed anyway. What we do is the other person’s circumstance. It is their thought about the circumstance that makes them feel bad.

If I say “no, I’ll pass on the improv class, but I’d love to go for a hike next weekend.” or “I’ll pass on this one, but I bet Katie would love to go – she was a theater major in undergrad.” My response didn’t make my friend feel bad. It is her thought like, “boo, I was hoping you’d want to go.” Or “blah, I don’t want to go alone.” that makes her feel disappointed.

Now, that’s not to say that we don’t care. That’s no to say other people’s feelings don’t matter. The reason I’m mentioning it is that their feelings do matter. And when you’re a person who tells the truth and is honest in what you want to do. AND you do it without procrastinating so the other person has time to figure out who else they can ask instead, you’re showing up authentically in regard to what you want. Plus, you’re showing up with respect for the other person, too.

How To Stop People Pleasing

So if you’re navigating this area and you often find yourself putting off making a decision in an effort to try and control other people’s feelings or avoid feeling uncomfortable, I invite you to ask these questions:

  • Do I want to do this thing? Yes or no. Get quiet. Be honest with yourself. And listen for an answer.
    • I promise you, you know the answer. And even when your brain says “I don’t know.” You do know.
  • If your brain needs a little more convincing, however, it’s time to make your lists. What are all the reasons you want to say yes? What are all the reasons you want to say no?
    • Once you have your complete list of both, check-in with yourself. Which reasons do you like more?

Saying No Example

So let’s say your friend did ask you to go to improv night and you made your list of reasons. The reasons you didn’t want to do it include: you’re scared of getting in front of people. You’re worried about what other people think. And you have a lot of other work to do. And the reasons why you did want to do it were because you love spending time with your friend. You are working on building your self-confidence and stepping out of your comfort zone at least once per week. And it could be fun to meet more people. In this case, you might examine your reasons and find that you like your reasons for saying yes and you don’t like your reasons for saying no.

On the other hand, if your reasons for saying yes are: I don’t want to make her feel disappointed. I feel like I should go because she asked me. And I don’t like telling people no. And your reasons for saying no are: I had plans to read my book that evening and I was really excited about that. I genuinely don’t want to go. And I’m learning to honor what’s true for me and this is a good exercise for that. Then you may find you like your reasons for saying no and you don’t like your reasons for saying yes.

Awareness

Remember, there is no right or wrong here. It’s just gaining awareness of what you truly want and making a decision from that space. Because when you can tell your toddler brain, “I’ve thought it through and I like my reasons for this decision,” it has an easier time getting on board. It has an easier time accepting whatever decision you make with your executive brain – your prefrontal cortex that is responsible for this kind of decision making.

Making the Right Decision

This brings me to the third reason we often find ourselves in procrastination indecision, which focuses on the thoughts: ‘I don’t want to make the wrong decision” and “I don’t want to regret it.” And I have a sneaking suspicion that you can relate to this thought process as well.

Maybe you’re delaying making a decision on whether or not to take a vacation this fall. Or you’re debating where to take a vacation this fall. And you tell yourself over and over that you’re trying to make a decision. You tell yourself you don’t want to choose the wrong location and feel disappointed when it’s time for the trip. So instead you wait. You procrastinate the decision. But the amount of time you spend in indecision – the longer you wait to choose your location – often means there are fewer available vacation spots overall. You might not get the one you really wanted.

Tying To Decide

Or perhaps you’re deciding where you want to move or whether you want to move at all. And you’re spinning out, telling yourself you’re trying to decide. Your brain offers you thoughts like, “I just want to make sure I make the right choice.” Or “I just don’t want to regret my decision.” And these sound like genuinely good reasons. It’s easy for your scared, toddler brain to convince you of this logic. “I just want to make the right choice so I don’t regret it.”

I’ll give you an example that seems to happen for me almost every winter – save for last December. I go through tons of indecision procrastination when I buy my tickets to fly home to Minnesota for Christmas. I delay choosing dates because I think to myself, “I need to make sure I pick the right dates. And I need to make sure I’ve worked everything out in terms of Ryan’s gig schedule and who is taking care of Bruno and Rascal.” So I push off buying the tickets. 

And then before I know it, most of the tickets have been purchased. I’m now left with a few options that I have to make work with the pet sitters and Ryan’s gigs. Plus the prices are WAY higher than 3-4 weeks ago because I waited until the last minute.

Decisions Ahead Of Time

Of course, if I would just make the decision ahead of time and choose convenient ticket times for us, we’d at least have that going for us. Then I could work around that constant so rather than juggling three unknowns, it would just be two. And now that I’m mentioning this out loud on the podcast in March, hopefully, it will be on my radar for this December when we fly home again.

But it’s sneaky, right? This is why it’s so important to start raising our awareness of when indecision procrastination creeps in. That way we can be on the lookout for it. If you hear yourself thinking, I just want to make sure I’m making the right decision. Or I don’t want to regret making the wrong decision, let that be a flag for you. Let that be a little nudge that you may be in indecision procrastination.

No Right Or Wrong Decisions

Because here’s the real truth. Are you ready for it?

The whole reason why you are procrastinating in indecision. The entire reason why you are continuing to do research or prolonging saying “no” to a request, or worrying about making the wrong decision, all comes down to a feeling. You are delaying making a decision because you want to avoid a potentially negative emotion or ensure that choose the decision that will make you “happy.”

So you continue doing research because making a choice means it’s time to move forward on the thing. And when you have to move forward, you risk the chance of feeling disappointed. 

With my vacuum example, moving forward meant that I had to click the buy button and risk buying a vacuum that didn’t meet my “standards.” I risk feeling disappointed or frustrated because I’m thinking something like, “Argh. I knew I should have purchased this other one instead.” But that’s it, right? That’s the worst thing. I have a vacuum that doesn’t meet my arbitrary standards – which I hadn’t even set, by the way. And I feel disappointed because of what I’m thinking. Because I am thinking, I should have chosen this other one instead. When in reality, anything will be better than the loud rocket ship I currently have.

It All Comes Down To A Feeling

You avoid saying yes or no to a person because you’re likely avoiding a feeling. You’re probably telling yourself you don’t want to make the other person feel bad. But the reality is if the other person is disappointed or upset, then you will have a thought about it that makes you feel a negative emotion. 

If I tell my friend I’m not going to take the improv class and she feels disappointed because of what she’s thinking, then I might feel guilty because I’m thinking, “I should have just gone. I should have just sucked it up and signed up for the class. I’m not a good friend. etc.” But again, this is why we weigh our reasons and we make sure we like our reasons before making the decision. And this is true for any of the examples that we give today. When you know you have thought it through and you like your reasons, you can have your own back. You didn’t just have a knee-jerk response. You thought intentionally about the situation and moved forward from there.

“Moral” Decisions

And when it comes to making the “right” or “wrong” decisions, this again comes down to how we think we will feel. Essentially what we are saying is, I want to make sure the decision I choose will make me happy. I want to ensure that I am happy with this choice. And as a beautiful reminder, friends. You have that power regardless of the choice you made. Because whether you feel happy or not comes from your thoughts. The way you know if you made the right decision is this: You decide it was the right decision. I’m not kidding. This is true. You get to decide and think to yourself, I know this is the right decision. That’s it.

Now some of you might be jumping to worst-case scenarios. You might be thinking, “yeah…okay, Paula. So you’re telling me we just get to decide it’s the right decision. You’re telling me that I could just decide it’s right to go rob a bank.” If we want to keep it super black and white, yeah. That’s what I’m saying. But of course, there is nuance to that. As there always is. If someone wants to rob a bank and sits down and writes out their reasons and decides with intention, “yes, I like my reasons for robbing a bank more than I like my reasons for not robbing a bank.” then they can believe it’s the right decision because “right” and “wrong” are thoughts.

Now, are there collective beliefs as a society that we generally agree upon in terms of right and wrong? Yes, of course. Are there laws that govern our countries and states and cities to keep people safe? Yes. Absolutely.

Indecision Procrastination

But here’s what’s also true. The decisions you’re making. The decisions that have you stuck in procrastination indecision probably aren’t moral issues. You probably aren’t listening to this podcast and writing down your list of reasons why you would or would not want to rob a bank. And if you are, I’ll even offer you my thought that I don’t recommend it. My guess is that the areas where you’re procrastinating in indecision sound more like this:

  • I’m trying to decide what niche to target for my business.
  • I am trying to decide what calendaring system to use.
  • I’m trying to decide whether to use this color or that color of paint in my living room.
  • I am trying to decide whether I move to a new state or stay where I am.
  • I’m trying to decide whether I want to sign up for this program.
  • I am trying to decide whether to leave my job or not.

These are the decisions, both big and small, that we are making each and every day. These are the decisions where we often procrastinate making a choice. And these are the decisions where you truly get to decide whether or not it is the “right choice” for you. You get to choose that by deciding, “this was the right choice.” Going all-in  on that belief. And creating evidence for that every step of the way.

And if you want some help doing this. If you find yourself procrastinating in indecision and it’s keeping you from taking action on the goals in your life. And if you want to learn how to have your own back and feel confident in your decisions, let’s talk. Just head to imbusybeingawesome.com/coaching. Sign up for a free 45 min consultation with me where we’ll do some coaching, talk about the decisions you’re making and the plans you have, and we’ll decide whether my 1:1 coaching program is a great fit to help you make those goals happen. 

I’m telling you, when you lock in the skill of making powerful decisions and having your own back no matter what, it makes such a positive difference in all areas of your life. And I’d love to help you build that confidence.

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