Q: “I Am Fraught with Guilt and Shame When I Procrastinate”
“Procrastination is troubling because we recognize that we have made the decision to needlessly delay a task that must get done, and we expect that the delay will be costly. That is what makes procrastination a deeply existential issue – it is ultimately about choosing not to live the life we want.”
Q: “I am fraught with guilt and shame when I procrastinate. I hate that I often know what I have to do, but I can’t bring my ADHD brain to do it. How can I deal with gut-wrenching shame and stop procrastinating?”
Guilt and shame are closely tied to procrastination, and many of us struggle with these feelings when we make the choice to delay.
Choice is key here. Procrastination is troubling because we recognize that we have made the decision to needlessly delay a task that must get done, and we expect that the delay will be costly. That is what makes procrastination a deeply existential issue – it is ultimately about choosing not to live the life we want. Sometimes, this realization alone sobers us right up.
Mindfulness is hugely important to overcome procrastination and its accompanying feelings of guilt and shame. Mindfulness helps develop a non-judgmental awareness of the emotions that crop up when we face various tasks in our lives, which helps us cope with them. If you feel overwhelmed at the thought of doing a task, you might say to yourself, “I’ll come back to this when I don’t feel so overwhelmed” and procrastinate. But, if you take a non-judgmental stance to your overwhelm, you might say, “Isn’t it amazing how overwhelmed I feel right now?” When we acknowledge our negative emotions without judgment, we’re less likely to react with avoidance.
Mindfulness teaches us that we can have an emotion, but we need not be that emotion. Mindfulness shows that negative emotions and accompanying thoughts will pass, as all thoughts and emotions do. Mindfulness also builds attentional and emotion-regulation skills, which may help relieve symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Self-compassion is also important here. We won’t always avoid procrastination, and we need to forgive ourselves when we do not live up to our expectations or intentions. In fact, we’re more likely to try harder at the next opportunity when we practice self-forgiveness. We know this from research on college students studying for an exam. We found – against my expectations – that students who forgave themselves for procrastinating actually procrastinated less in preparation for the next exam.1
The next time procrastination and its negative thoughts come around, acknowledge those thoughts, but know that you do not have to react to them. You can choose to respond as intended. That is how you will begin to take ownership of your life and overcome procrastination.
ADHD Procrastination Fixes: Next Steps
- Watch: Understanding the Science of Time Management
- Read: How To Get Things Done Without Getting Bogged Down
- Download: Get Control of Your Life and Schedule
The content for this article was derived, in part, from the ADDitude ADHD Experts webinar titled, “Stop Procrastinating and Get Things Done” with Timothy A. Pychyl, Ph.D., which was broadcast on November 12, 2014.
View Article Sources
1Wohl, M., Pychyl, T., Bennett, S. (2010). I forgive myself, now I can study how self-forgiveness for procrastinating can reduce future procrastination. Personality and Individual Differences, 48(7), 803-808. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2010.01.029.
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