38: Procrastination: The Self Defense Mechanism We Can Do Without

by Jen Barna MD | Physician Coaching, Podcast, Resilience

“Procrastination is often not just about laziness and people who don’t care and don’t give a darn and aren’t willing to do something. It’s actually a variation of a fear response.” -Master Certified Coach, Jill Farmer

In today’s episode, Coaches Gabriella and Jill tackle procrastination. Who of us hasn’t dealt with procrastination at one time or another? Does it leave you calling yourself lazy or not good enough? You’re not alone. But it turns out that is simply not the case. Procrastination is often a variation to a fear response and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. It’s a natural way of your brain trying to protect itself from something it may find threatening. Tune in to hear ways to move through and overcome procrastination.    


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Excerpts from the show:


“Jill, in your work with clients what have you found is the reason for putting things off?” -Coach Gabriella Dennery


“Well, that was an interesting thing that I discovered because I had the tendency to be a procrastinator myself and my secret deep dark, inner critic voice around that, was that I was lazy and just not as smart as everybody else because I couldn’t get my act together. When I started trying to help other people with procrastination, I decided to sort of dive into the psychology of it and figure out why, as humans, do we procrastinate? It turns out that procrastination is often not about just laziness and people who don’t care and don’t give a darn and aren’t willing to do something, it’s actually a variation of a fear response. So when we get agitated and are in the activated fear response, we tend to fight, flee or freeze. So procrastination is really a version of fleeing away from something that feels like a threat to us. That was so fascinating for me because I thought about how I tried to motivate myself to do something that was feeling overwhelming, that I was putting off, the big project, whether it was in school and it was the big paper I was writing or it was a big project that was due at work, my way to try to get myself excited about doing those things was to beat myself up and talk about how hard it was and how much time I needed in order to do it right. And I just needed to buckle down with this inner dictator voice, and of course, I would find anything else to do other than that because I was trying to use an inner voice that was threatening me in order to deal with something that I was already perceiving as a threat. It felt hard to me, it felt threatening. So I was subconsciously moving away from it. So that was kind of eye-opening for me to think about, that procrastination does not mean that we are evil or lazy. Often it just means that we’ve got the subconscious perceived threat about it, we’re worried about doing it, we’re worried about doing it right. Perfectionism often gets mixed in there and so we avoid it because it feels scary.” -Master Certified Coach, Jill Farmer

“A lot of time it has to do with the overwhelm. Especially for doctors and for medical students, for people going through all of that craziness of hours of studying and sleeplessness and trying to jam all this information into a very short period of time. Then it’s like, ‘You know what, I just want to zone out for a minute.’ And you want to gravitate to something that feels a little better in that moment. If there’s some kind of instant gratification, so, you know, let me look at a cat video on YouTube so that I can feel a little more sane, rather than trying to push myself. And then you’re right, I think the point about the inner critic being able to say, ‘Look, let me try to beat myself into submission,’ as opposed to, ‘I’m being lazy or I’m not good enough,’ and all of these kind of stories we tell ourselves. When the focus is on that, and then that creates a kind of vicious cycle of more procrastination and more delay and more, ‘I know I have a deadline but hey, etc. etc.’ – Coach Gabriella Dennery MD

“So what have you found in your coaching experience and in your personal experience that kind of beats that little devil down and is able to get that procrastination, I don’t know if I want to say ‘under control,’ but really, to know how to work with it and move past it?” -Coach Gabriella Dennery MD



“I love the way you framed that at the end perfectly, ‘How do you work with it and how do you move past it?’ We don’t have to beat it down, right? It’s a part of us that’s trying to protect us from something that feels like a threat. A couple of things you said I think are really powerful. One is that sometimes we don’t do it because we’re bored with it. A really helpful way to get motivated or get some fuel in the engine when we’re feeling stalled or putting something off is to remember why it matters to us. When we’re bored with something it’s either because we’ve forgotten or aren’t really paying attention to why it matters to us. Sometimes it just matters to us because it’s a condition of employment and we like our work, and we want to continue to be able to do it. Sometimes it’s deeper than that, ‘This matters to me because I identify my value system as somebody who shows up and does things and completes them and is reliable.’ There’s a big spectrum of what Matters with capital M. That can be an effective way when we’re feeling stalled or putting something off, is to recognize that sometimes we’ll say, ‘Oh, I’m just really tired and I wanna take a break.’ But avoidance is often not rest. I am all for taking breaks. And I think a lot of times what will help me with procrastination is if I break it down into ridiculously easy steps and you have heard me talk about that before. Like, if we think about what my mentor, Martha Beck, would call turtle steps, because a turtle can only move in ridiculously easy steps in relation to its body. But they cover a whole lot of ground over the course of their lifetime by taking ridiculously easy steps.” -Master Certified Coach, Jill Farmer

“One of my clients, for example, said that one way she beats procrastination, or again

 works with it, recognizes it, and moves past it, which is what you said. You recognize that you’re now in procrastination mode when you’re trying to avoid what’s in front of you, and put it in a larger context, ‘Why am I doing this? What are my values around it and what’s the bigger picture? What’s the vision around it?’ And that becomes important as well. But one of my clients mentioned that one of the things she does when she knows she’s in procrastination mode is to call somebody, connect with somebody, collaborate, brainstorm. It helps get that motivation going again. Especially if it’s too overwhelming, there’s too much to do. How to break it down into simpler steps or if it’s kind of boring and stiff or you’re in that judgment place. But you know, it’s like I’m judging myself for not getting it done, right? So to break the pattern by calling somebody who has a certain expertise. So she was working on a big budget for her not-for-profit and budgeting is not her thing, and so it just kept dragging on and on and everybody’s waiting for this information. So she started working with people who know something about budgeting for not-for-profit. And just having a regular weekly call where they would brainstorm, shoot the breeze, check on her progress, etc. etc. Having that kind of support also helped a lot on getting it done. Because part of it is, ‘Ok, I have to get it done,’ which is kind of where my procrastination is. ‘If I don’t get it done, somebody’s going to say something to me and I’m going to feel badly about myself.’ That somehow I’m not good enough or I’m not competent enough to take care of it or it’s too much, etc., whatever I tell myself about a situation. But to be able to break out of that, often times as a physician, I mean I don’t know if it’s every physician and I don’t want to generalize, but it’s easy to get into that mode of, ‘I have to figure it out myself,’ which can also perpetuate the cycle of procrastination… so to break that part of the cycle it’s like, ‘Let me call somebody. Let me reach out to somebody. Let me ask for their thoughts and opinion. Let me talk to somebody who knows more about this than I do.’  And that also gets that motivation going.  And it’s fun to connect with someone, to have that conversation. So to allow that kind of outside creative input can also get things moving.”  -Coach Gabriella Dennery MD


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Podcast produced by: Amanda Taran

Board-certified practicing radiologist, founder and CEO of DocWorking, and host of top ranked DocWorking: The Whole Physician Podcast

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