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12 Phrases That Will Help You Procrastinate Less

Effective self-talk can help you make resilient, nurturing choices when you’re feeling uncomfortable emotions. One such time is when you’re procrastinating.

Many people appreciate sample language to illustrate how to do this. Here are 12 ideas for self-talk when you’re procrastinating.

Try to understand the psychological principles behind each example, then riff off the examples to create your own versions that sound the most authentically you. Ignore any that don’t feel helpful to you.

  1. I will do a better job of this task if I start it now than if I keep procrastinating until tomorrow.
  2. I deserve to free myself from the anxiety, shame, worry, and rumination that avoiding this task is causing.
  3. I’m avoiding this task because I expect it will bring up (insert what’s true for you from the examples below). I’ve tolerated those emotions or circumstances before. Insert: boredom, anxiety, doubt, shame, anger, interpersonal conflict, awkwardness or rejection/loss, memories of times in the past when I acted unskillfully.
  4. This task brings up memories of how I’ve behaved unskillfully, failed, or underperformed. Those memories hurt; that type of pain is a universal human experience. I have the capacity to behave skillfully now. Everyone deserves to be allowed to learn from their past experiences.
  5. The fact that some tasks trigger an urge to avoid me isn’t a sign I’m an emotional mess or an incompetent adult. What I’m feeling is a universal human experience. Every adult, including those who seem to have it all together, must build skills to work through these urges.
  6. I’m avoiding this task (e.g., medical testing) because the potential outcome is scary. I feel scared that…. (specify the feared outcome to confront it). Other outcomes are possible, and avoiding the task will not make reality different from how it is.
  7. The emotions this task stirs are not unbearable.
  8. The emotions this task stirs are not intolerable. (This is very similar to the last phrase, but you can switch the last word depending on which you have more affinity with.)
  9. Am I reacting to my hopes and fears, or am I reacting to the reality of the situation? By choosing to face the reality of the situation, I can create space for skillful acting and vulnerable relating.
  10. Spending a very short time (such as five-sixty minutes) on a task I’ve been avoiding may feel more productive than spending a long day grinding through more emotionally comfortable tasks. I can do that and spend the rest of the day enjoying the relief and sense of freedom that brings. (A common mistake is if you expect yourself to do an emotionally uncomfortable task on top of all your usual work. If you do something that requires bravery, you can cut yourself some slack in other areas.)
  11. This task doesn’t require perfection. It doesn’t require the absolute best performance I’ve ever given. When I tell myself that I need to get everything right the first time, outdo myself or overdeliver, I make tasks more intimidating than they need to be. I can do this talk competently and well without it needing to be the best work I’ve ever done.
  12. I will feel a huge sense of relief if I move my task forward. I don’t need to complete it today or make a marathon effort today.

A note on tone.

Your self-talk when you’re procrastinating should always feel compassionate. Whatever words you use, infuse them with a tone of kindness. Your tone should also reflect an appropriate level of self-responsibility–not too little, not too much.

Extension Activities

  • Order this list from what you think will be most to least helpful to you.
  • Swap this list with someone you know well. Talk about which language most appeals to each of you and the situations in which you might use those phrases.
  • How do the suggestions here differ from the self-talk you usually engage in when you’re procrastinating or avoiding?

Was this specific sample language more helpful than just explaining the principles?

Some of the content I’ve included here has been adapted from Stress-Free Productivity. There you will find many more specific strategies for acting effectively when feeling anxiety or other strong feelings

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