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HELP! I Procrastinate!

You haven’t gotten out of bed yet but you’re already filling up with dread— you have a paper to write and know you should start today. You tell yourself you’ll start after breakfast. You get yourself downstairs and proceed to make a buffet-styled smorgasbord and even offer to make enough for your roommates. Evening time comes around and you’ve managed to do the laundry, clean the entire house, and start learning Italian (something you have always wanted to do). Even though you traded in what should have gotten done (your paper) with other productive tasks, you feel like absolute crap and even your cat can see right through your self- deception.

Procrastination. The bane of many people’s existence. We all struggle with procrastination and no one is entirely immune to this phenomenon. But when it becomes a chronic, ongoing issue that negatively affects our lives and weasels its way into our bad habit list, we could all really benefit from understanding why we procrastinate and how we can stop it in its tracks.

“People don’t procrastinate on everything. We do on somethings and most of the time it’s done against other things and the thing we procrastinated against last week we are doing with earnest this week because we are avoiding something else.”- Tim Pychyl

Why do I Procrastinate?

There are many different drivers of procrastination such as our automatic thoughts, underlying mental health disorders, habits, low self confidence, anxiety, and lack of structure and motivation. At its core we are using it as a coping mechanism. We are using it to escape or avoid unpleasant emotions, many of them being unconscious in nature. We avoid certain tasks or goals because we don’t believe they will be enjoyable, we fear failure, we feel like we won’t do them well enough, or we are plagued by uncertainty, and their complexity. We then in turn want immediate mood repair. We want to feel better now. We want to give in to feel good. So we swear to ourselves that it will get done tomorrow and plop ourselves right down in front of the TV. We are momentarily comforted by the thought of not having entirely abandoned our intentions because by golly it will get done tomorrow. This feeling of relief has a very short shelf life because it very quickly turns into a shame and guilt cycle. Our stress increases and we are left feeling worse off than we began. We are even more inclined to further procrastinate. We all know that we are way better off not procrastinating (sorry future self), so why do we still do it and how can we change our behaviour?

Strategies to Overcoming Procrastination

Right off the bat I am going to suggest an amazing podcast called iprocrastinate led by Dr Timothy Pychyl, an expert researcher on procrastination. He also wrote an excellent book called Solving the Procrastination Puzzle: A Concise Guide to Strategies for Change. Another great book reference is End Procrastination Now!; Get it Done with a Proven Psychological Approach by William Knaus.

Commitment, Agency and Value

Dr Pychyl emphasises that commitment and agency are at the forefront of better understanding why and whether or not we should commit to a task or goal. Let’s first start with one of his analogies that can be used as an excellent tool when you find yourself putting something off. Think of a horizontal ladder with your goal or task in the middle. To the right, you will ask yourself HOW will I get this done— with each rung you devise yourself a detailed but manageable plan of action. To the left, you ask yourself WHY am I doing or needing to do this? The why part is all about your value system which will be influenced by commitment and agency. Is your goal to become healthier? Do you feel like this is just something you SHOULD do or is it coming from your deep inner being of “I really want to start exercising and eating well so I can feel good, kick ass at life and spend time with the ones I love?” If it’s the latter, it is coming from your sense of self and not out of obligation. It is you who wants this! Knowing why you are doing something brings meaning and joy to not only the completion of the goal but to the process itself. When you work from this, procrastination will become less of an issue.

If you find yourself saying, wait a gosh darn minute, I don’t know why I am doing this! Then this realisation may be a symptom for change and re-evaluation. But there will be other times where you just can’t get out of your existential reality, so as Pychyl puts it “when we can’t get out of it, we better find a way to get into it”. Commitment sometimes comes from the place of “this is just my reality”. You may not love writing papers but you wholeheartedly want to become a lawyer. Or you find training handstands arduous but dream of getting your one arm handstand hold. Well, you better get into loving spending 4-6 hours a day training those handstands.

Remember this is your life, we can choose to love the crap outta it, even in our daily monotonous pursuits. Love the process.

Just Get Started

Our motivational and emotional state do not need to match the task at hand. Infact, social psychologists have come to observe our motivation and mood usually follow our behaviour. When we are facing a difficult, overwhelming, or lacking in personal meaning task, waiting for motivation to hit us right in the face or waiting until we “feel like” taking action may not happen until the year 2075. We intrinsically want to be doing enjoyable things all of the time, but this just isn’t reality. If we just get started, our emotional state will change for the better and with each bit of progress our motivation will also increase.

Remember action before emotion.

This may seem simplistic but when you give it a try, I think you will be pleasantly surprised by it’s effectiveness. Progress is the other route to feeling better— the lasting and authentic route.

Let's go through a couple examples:

1) You are still dreading starting that paper. If we break things up into more incremental steps and just start, you will be 3 pages in before you know it. So first, just get yourself to open up your laptop, then open up a document and title your paper. So far so good! Okay, now just tell yourself to begin the research phase. Start reading and gathering research articles and see where you end up. I bet your mood has changed and your motivation has too.

2) You were supposed to go for a run at noon and it’s now 4pm. Again, we are going to break up this task into steps and just start. So start by only thinking about getting your running gear on. Then put on your runners. Then tell yourself, I’ll start with a walk then a 10 minute run. If you feel like that’s enough, then give yourself permission to go back home. By the 10 minute mark you can decide to go for another 30 mins or not. But I have a feeling that once you get going, 9/10 times you will finish the 40 minute run and feel really great about it.

Just making the simple and not so overwhelming initial action of opening your laptop and titling a document, or putting on your running shoes fuels your motivation and will keep you in motion. Whoa, I think I might have just touched on Newton's First Law of Motion— so many highschool flashbacks happening right now.


One of the biggest questions we need to ask ourselves is, what are we getting out of procrastination? I hope you all are thinking “absolutely nothing plus some suffering.”

We all know we feel really crappy when we procrastinate but one of the reasons why we default back into this pattern is that we lack awareness into how we are feeling and how our emotional state influences our behaviours. Trumping this bad habit requires awareness of our emotions and the courage to dig deep and ponder how procrastination is REALLY serving us. Hopefully you will end up moving from a place of knowledge, “I know I shouldn’t procrastinate”, to a place of internal wisdom “procrastination makes me feel more depressed, anxious and stressed.”

You will then become disenchanted with the mere idea of procrastinating.

And when you are successful in not giving in to the procrastination, hold on to how good that made you feel for dear life. Studies show that we remember the ending of a task or experience, so taking the time to relish in it will help imprint this “good feeling” memory. When you finish making progress on that paper, remember how good you felt not procrastinating. When you finish your workout, remember the feeling of accomplishment and that boost of endorphins when you are cooling down. With greater awareness we can also learn to recognise that we can have negative emotions without having to give into them.

When you encounter the red flags of your procrastination cycle (fleeting thoughts of doing it tomorrow), remember how procrastination ACTUALLY makes you feel. An amazing thing happens when we become observers of ourselves and we start to pay attention to the perceived rewards of our behaviour.

A great way to strengthen our awareness of self is to engage in mindfulness exercises and mindfulness meditations. Google these and perhaps schedule the exercises and meditations into your weekly planner and see how this makes you feel!

Planning and Our Environment

To end this blog, let’s chat a bit about setting goals, making plans and manipulating our environment to our advantage.

When procrastinating something, the issue may lie in an unstructured plan that lacks clear, concrete and actionable steps. If you want to lose weight and be healthier but you are still in the fantasizing or contemplation phase, it might really help to make a specific plan which will increase your likelihood of success.

● When is your start date: Now

● Specific goal time- 6 months from now I will reach my goal

● Specific plan for achieving this goal- eat more healthfully and exercise

Then list what needs to be done and schedule it into your planner being as specific as possible. It will be really easy to procrastinate if all you have done is entertained the idea of “working out more and eating better.”

- Learn about optimal diet and lifestyle behaviours

- Tell my family and friends what my plans are and ask for support

- Buy a planner tomorrow

- Shop for food every Saturday morning after Yoga

- Batch cook every Sunday morning

- Do a big pantry clean out - Feb 20th

- Run Tuesdays and Thursdays right after work, Yoga Saturday mornings, strength training Monday and Wednesday right after work

Now your dream of becoming healthier is not just a dream- you have a plan Stan!

Okay, so now let's look more into our environment. How can we optimize our success and make it easier for ourselves to make the right choices?

1) Reducing distractions- when you are well on your way to starting your paper you don’t want distractions to undermine your efforts of just getting started! So shut off your email, close all those open tabs and place your phone on silent. Set a timer for 1 hour of uninterrupted work time. You can even let your roomies know that you are working on your paper and hopefully they will think twice when asking you to watch another episode of FireFly Lane with them.

2) Leverage your preferences- Are you into a binge- worthy netflix show or listening to a great audio book at the moment? Only allow yourself to watch or listen to these when you are running on the treadmill or on your stationary bike. You will never miss a workout again! What can you do to leverage studying for your upcoming exam? If you work better with company, ask your roommate if they want to study with you for 2-3 hours everyday until your exam and reward yourselves with something at the end of each study session.

A Small Note on Paralyzing Procrastination

Contradictory to scheduled procrastination described in my first paragraph where we find ourselves becoming very productive in the name of avoidance— doing anything that isn’t what we are really procrastinating. On the other hand, we may find ourselves unable to get anything done. Our anxiety around getting our priority task done can be so overwhelming that it becomes impossible to get ANYTHING done. We find ourselves caught in a rumination limbo state where we want to be prepared to take action in case a motivation miracle strikes us, so we prevent ourselves from becoming knee deep in anything else. We have a hard time admitting that we might just want to abandon the task completely so we hold onto the idea of “I can stop procrastinating at any point.” Sound familiar?

So what do we do if this happens? We practice self awareness and make a decision. For better or worse, because at this point, we are not making any conscious decision at all. So we make a choice to either abandon the task and move on to other things or we start the task. To abandon or not to abandon— but at least you are making a conscious rational choice and at this point either decision frees you from the reigns of limbo turmoil.

Wrapping Up

Freeing ourselves from the dreaded procrastination habit is not a linear process. There may be a whole lot at play here that needs to be addressed. So don’t hesitate to reach out if you are struggling. As with anything, unlearning our default behaviours takes a lot of practice and self reflection. Don’t expect to be perfect and when you do catch yourself procrastinating be kind to yourself. Actually, research shows that the more compassionate you are towards yourself when you slip up, the less likely you will be to procrastinate in the future. I really need to do a self compassion blog, don’t I? Alright friends, hope you enjoyed the read- You got this!

Pychyl, T. (Host). (2012, Dec 5). Key Strategies to Procrastinating Less. [Audio podcast episode]. In iProcrastinate Podcast. Procrastination Research Group.

Pychyl, T. (Host). (2010, March 10). Paralyzed by Procrastination. [Audio podcast episode]. In iProcrastinate Podcast. Procrastination Research Group.

Popper P. “From Inertia to Action”. Wellness Forum Health. October 2017.

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Understanding Anger

Although feeling angry is justified in many cases, some of us may have a tendency to resort to anger on the daily- a pattern that can ultimately hijack our lives! Anger is often referred to as a secondary emotion because we usually have another emotion that precedes it. The primary emotions that we are most likely to feel before anger are fear/anxiety, hurt, guilt, stress, or embarrassment. These emotions are often perceived as threatening to our well being, so a natural response is to feel like we need to defend ourselves. A common internal struggle some of us may have is feeling like this is just who we are and we will never be able to control our tempers! I can assure you, that we do have more control over our emotions than we think. With gaining better insight as to why we might be reacting in anger (doing some good ol’ reflection to see if we can identify a cause) and using some emotion regulation skills, we can start freeing ourselves from this turmoil. There could be many causes- traumatic experiences, never having learned how to express emotion, not feeling heard as a child, seeing a parent use anger as a way to express themselves, or growing up in a culture that shames sensitivity. Whatever the cause, it will need some attention and lovin’! Do we need to resolve something from the past- write a letter to ourselves or someone else? Do we need to hold space for our resentments or hurt and actively work on letting go?

The goal of anger management isn’t to stuff down our feelings of anger, but most importantly to understand the message behind it and to be able to express ourselves in a healthy manner. Just like anything we are working towards in life- the proof is in the pudding. These skills take practice and then a lot more practice. It takes time to unlearn the patterns we have been resorting to all our lives, so please be patient with yourself. Learning to control our emotions will help us build better relationships and ultimately live more meaningful and happier lives.

What Makes it Hard to Regulate Our Emotions

Lack of skill- we may not know how to regulate our emotions.

Reinforcement of emotional behaviour- we have been positively reinforced by our environment for being highly emotional.

Moodiness/emotional overload- we don’t think our emotions are a problem or do not want to put in the effort to try to manage them. Our mood tends to control what we do rather than using our logical “wisemind”.

Myths- we hold faulty beliefs when it comes to validating our emotions. An example might be letting someone know how I feel is a bad thing and shows weakness. Or, my emotions are who I am and should always be trusted.

Let’s Get Started: Checking the Facts!

If you have read some of our other blogs, you will know we really like checking our facts! So just like when we check the facts for our other thoughts (like anxious thoughts) we also have to check our thoughts and resulting feelings when it comes to regulating our emotions.

How to Check the Facts:

1- We need to identify which emotion we want to change- in this case it is anger

2- Then we try to pinpoint what triggered our anger (what happened before we felt angry)

Here we need to describe what happened using all of our senses and try to identify patterns- is there a specific situation that causes us to usually react in anger? Does it have anything to do with the time of day, people we are with? Are you easily angered by your partner’s PB&J’s sandwich crumbs being everywhere? Does not feeling in control have you bulldozing through your day?

3- Then we need to look at our thoughts, interpretations and assumptions about the event.

After identifying our triggers we need to challenge our judgements and cognitive distortions. Some might look like this:

Mind Reading-Thinking you “know” what someone else is thinking or feeling- that they purposely wanted to upset you or push your buttons.

Blaming- This one is common. Having a “life’s not fair” attitude or blaming others for your problems rather than taking responsibility for your own life.

“Shoulds” and “musts”- Having an inflexible view of how something must go. Reacting in anger when reality doesn’t line up with your demands.

We need to ask ourselves some questions here- Are there other possible interpretations? Is there a different way to look at this event? Does my anger and /or intensity fit the reality of the situation?

Remember- Anger issues have less to do with what happens to us and more to do with how we perceive and interpret situations.

If our anger does NOT fit the facts or when our anger is unhelpful in the situation (not effective) then we turn to a skill called Opposite Action. Feeling frustrated when you are cut off in traffic fits the facts, road rage does not! Feeling frustrated when you blow your bike tire on your commute to work fits the facts, being in a terrible mood for the remainder of the day because of it is unhelpful.

Opposite Action

Although this may seem silly, it can be really effective. If we intentionally alter our emotion and/or behaviour our thoughts will follow suit! So let's say you planned an entire vacation and you just found out that it has to be postponed. Instead of reacting in anger, shouting at the lucky person in our presence- we can take a time out or do something kind (be compassionate) towards ourselves or someone with us in that moment. We are doing the opposite of what we would do if our anger was unleashed. Something else we could do is change our body language- crack a half smile and turn our palms up to the ceiling in a willingful way (willing hands). These actions literally trick our minds (in a good way) into being more calm and then we can start to give ourselves a reality check.

Reality Check

It can be so hard to see the bigger picture when we are engulfed in our emotions. But if we can remain calm by using the skills above we can start thinking more reasonably and realistically. Great questions to ask ourselves to get a better perspective are:

How important is this in the grand scheme of things?

Is this worth ruining the rest of my day?

Is there anything I can do about this? Which leads to my next skill - Problem Solving!

Problem Solving

So if your facts are correct and the situation is the problem, start by brainstorming a solution, choose one and put it into action. It’s important to evaluate the results- if it didn’t meet your goal go back to an alternate solution!

Pros and Cons of Changing an Emotion

If we are trying to decide whether putting in all this effort to change our anger is worth it, completing a pros and cons worksheet might be helpful. Write down the pros and cons for staying angry AND choosing to regulate anger. See what comes up and then the decision might be really obvious. How is anger serving us? Is reducing our anger likely to increase or decrease our freedom. Is being attached to our emotions about a situation useful or not?

Prepare for Your Sore Spots

Another thing we can do is plan ahead! When we know what types of situations trigger us we can make ourselves a plan so when it actually happens we know what to do. This can be really helpful because when we are in the emotional mind it is hard to think clearly and objectively. Envision yourself doing what you planned just like how a figure skater might visualise their routine. This one can be very powerful.

Healthier Ways to Express our Emotions

If we can practice expressing ourselves in the moment instead of starting to feel angry, we may find that just expressing how we feel diffuses the situation with no further action required. If your spouse does something that is hurtful, instead of going off on them, tell them how you feel and how their actions affected you. You may have misinterpreted their intentions or they may immediately try to reconcile their behaviour. Use “I” statements instead of “you” statements when expressing yourself. Using “I” prevents feelings of blame. If you are alone and you feel like rage is coming up, try journalling to express yourself.

Other Helpful Tidbits to Keep in Mind:

Make your relationship the priority- Instead of focusing on being right or “winning” the argument think about strengthening your relationship as the priority.

Be willing to forgive or let something go- when we feel like punishing someone, remember forgiveness will set you free. Oftentimes, if we are still processing or experiencing hurt from the past, letting go of something or radically accepting what happened is the key to moving forward.

Focus on the present- it’s all too easy, when something goes wrong to start bringing up other things from the past. Keep the focus on the present to establish a better chance at solving the problem.

That’s it for now friends. I hope this was somewhat useful! Regulating our emotions is not an easy thing to do. But just imagine a life without the yucky, toxic feelings of anger lingering around us, ready to pounce at any chance it gets! It just takes practice and lots of it. You got this!

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Do you feel suffocated by your responsibilities to your parents or your loved ones? Do you deal with guilt or shame when you try to engage in self-care? Maybe you just feel the need to “take care” of your parent(s) even when that means neglecting your own needs and responsibilities.

Take a minute to think about your childhood. Were your parents there for you? Or, were you always there for them? What is a Parentified Child? When we think of a parent-child relationship, there are often certain archetypical characteristics that come to mind. Parent Caregiver Responsible Teacher Supportive Loving Observing Selfless Child Growth Developing Fun Learning Exploring “Sweet, baby, munchkin” (according to my best friend) It’s certainly normal for children to occasionally help their parents out. Age appropriate tasks and challenges can build their self-esteem and their sense of competence. Parentification occurs when“helping out” or “taking care” comes at the detriment of a child’s development and well-being. Think of your family unit as a well-oiled machine. If the machine breaks down because the child isn’t doing a good enough job of taking care of everyone else (which they won’t… because they are kids), then that child will likely develop issues both in childhood and later in life. In other words, if a family’s homeostasis is contingent on the child playing the role of the parent, and taking care of their parent (and therefore neglecting their own needs), the child (and later the adult) can suffer a number of deleterious effects.

Instrumental Parentification This is when the child takes on responsibilities for the household that a parent would normally be responsible for (e.g., shopping, paying bills, cooking meals, having to work, taking care of younger siblings). This type of parentification is usually found in families where one or both parents are sick, working too much, or are in other words impaired in some way. Instrumental parentification isn’t always bad since it can teach a child responsibility, and in certain circumstances, enhance their confidence and sense of mastery. However, these responsibilities have to becoupled with a parents support and acknowledgement for them to reap the benefits.

Emotional Parentification This is when a child fulfills their parent’s emotional or psychological needs, when they aren’t emotionally or developmentally mature enough to do so. This type of parentification is usually found in families where a parent is suffering from mental illness or struggling with their own attachment issues. Practically, this looks like: - The child has to figure out what the parent needs emotionally - Then they typically try to fill that void for them. - Being their confidante (and let’s be real – a confidant when you’re a 35 year-old-woman isn’t a 7-year-old. It’s another 30-something year-old, while you’re having a nice glass of Ripasso on the patio. Or… a therapist. Ha). - Be emotionally supportive or providing advice. - Being the person that maintains balance in the home. - Acting like a peacekeeper or mediator with members of the family. Often one of the parents has problems from their own childhood, and they expect support from their ownchild. The problem is, the child just isn’t there yet (emotionally or maturity wise) to take on such a burden. Kids usually end up sacrificing their own emotional and attentional needs because at the core, children want to please and be close to their parents. As a child you might have experienced: - Depression - Anxiety - Headaches - Self-harm - ADHD - Problems socializing with others - Difficulties in school - Problems figuring out your own identity - Feelings of guilt when you couldn’t meet your parents expectations (and an aside – you wouldn’t have been able to at that age, because you really didn’t have the skills to be able to do it) - A sense of obligation to the parent What puts you at risk? - If your mother has a history of sexual abuse - Low maternal socio-economic status - Physical and mental illness - Addiction - Divorce - Single parent households - Intrusive parenting styles - Adult attachment issues You might be asking, "How does that affect me?"

Do you feel like you: - Lost your childhood? - "Have to" be or were your parents confidant? - Took the role of peacekeeper in your family? - Have/had to be responsible for your parents at the detriment of yourself? - You never got a chance to play and not be bogged down by responsibilities? - Can’t form healthy relationships? - Have attachment issues? - Don’t know your own identity? As an adult you might: - Have taken on the role of caretaker in your adult relationships - Have trouble defining your own life goals - Have difficulty differentiating yourself from your family - Have trouble leaving the family home because you have taken on the caretaker role - Have trouble saying no to others at the expense of your own care - Have trouble accepting help from others - Feel overwhelmed by how others classify you are “always reliable” - Have learned to give but never to take - Not “know who you are” - Doubt your own capabilities - Experience anxiety about meeting expectations What you can do about it: Reflect on your childhood and your relationships with your parents Feeling guilty or resentful is often a good emotional indicator that something isn’t right. Try looking at your child self from the lens of an adult. Ask yourself, “Would I ever expect a child to do x, y, or z?” If you are aghast then you might have been parentified. Recognizing that this happened to you is a good starting point. Notice your patterns

Take a moment to reflect on your last few partners/relationships/friends (whatever the case may be). Notice anything similar about how you exist in these relationships? How did you feel in those relationships? Did feelings of resentment creep into all of them? Did you find yourself always coming outon the short end of the stick? Keep an eye on it. You can’t change something unless you start paying attention to what’s happening. Talk to a Therapist About Your Attachment The whole point of developing healthy attachment with caregivers is to that the child has a model for the formation and maintenance of future relationships. Their sense of security, well-being and how they connect with others depends on it. When we are babies, our connection with our parents start and can change the corticolimbic and orbitofrontal circuitry in the brain (which are associated with emotion regulation, and those yucky anxiety symptoms). Since our brains aren’t totally developed at birth (and like… are they ever? haha), the changes in the aforementioned parts of the brain are vulnerable to their environment. That environment (and consequently our early relationships) set the stage (i.e., the neuronal systems) for future attachment later in life. Taking to a therapist who specializes in attachment can help you understand your attachment style, andhow this has impacted you in your adult life. Work on Your Boundaries

This is one of the biggest hot topic issues in my practice. The formula for setting boundaries is relatively simple; however its implementation is often quite challenging. Learning how to set boundaries is actually a really important skill to have, whether you were parentified or not. Figure out What YOU Really Want Remember! YOU. ARE. IMPORTANT. TOO!!!

For real. Having your own dreams, goals, desires and aspirations isn’t something that you need to feel guilty about. Last time I checked, your parents aren’t driving your meat sack (and if they are… weird bro). You are. You’re also the person living inside your brain, feeling those feelings, and getting up every day. Give yourself permission to take care of yourself. Sources Used The Developmental Implications of Parentification: Effects on Childhood Attachment by Jennifer A. Engelhardt What Psychotherapists Can Begin to Learn from Neuroscience: Seven Principles of a Brain-Based Psychotherapy by NYDIA M. CAPPAS, RAQUEL ANDRES-HYMAN, AND LARRY DAVIDSON Long-Term Sequelae of Emotional Parentification: A Cross- Validation Study Using Sequences of Regressions by Katarzyna Schier, Max Herke, Ralf Nickel, Ulrich T. Egle, Jochen Hardt

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