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Part 3 of Getting Unstuck from Procrastination - other common drivers and tips.

2 weeks ago, we discussed procrastination and knowing if you are ready to change the pattern. Last week, we looked at how fear and perfectionism play into the cycle of procrastination.


This week we will talk about the 4 other feelings that lead to procrastination - Confusion, and Indecision, which are close cousins, Self-Doubt, and Overwhelm.  Those 4 feelings, like fear, are preceded by thoughts that cause them.  Our thoughts create our feelings which in turn create our action or inaction. You may only have one emotion driving your procrastination or you may have a combination.


Our brains are wired to keep us safe, efficient, and experience pleasure. Naturally, it offers us lots of thoughts that lead to those emotions above.  Begin to ask yourself some questions when you find yourself avoiding a task. "What emotion is making me avoid working on the presentation?" "Why am I having that feeling (i.e., what thoughts do I have about the presentation that lead to that feeling)?"


By way of example, let’s take a larger task that many of us procrastinate – preparing a presentation.  "I don't know which topic to teach." (Indecision). "I don't really understand it." (Confusion). "I'm not an expert here; I can't teach this." (Self-Doubt). "There is so much to read and to do." (Overwhelm). No wonder we haven't made any meaningful progress! 


We will start with the first thought. “I don’t know which topic to teach.” Good news, you can decide! You can teach anything you want. Really. You can choose from a topic you love and really understand well and feel like you have a lot to offer. Or you can dive into a complex subject so you can learn it more fully and then teach it in a way that helps others. Or anything in between.  You just decide. A decision only takes a fraction of a second. You don’t need to spend a lot of time here.  Ask yourself - "What if there is no bad topic?" Thinking that there is only one best answer will keep you stuck.


“My topic is so hard. I don’t really understand all the endocrine pathways in secondary hyperparathyroidism or the medications used in chronic renal failure for it.” Again, good news! You CAN learn. You made it this far because your brain is amazing. Grab up-to-date, your endocrine colleague, a general medicine text, or the AAFP article. Research and read until you DO understand. Voila.


"I'm not an expert; I can't teach this." Guess what? Yep - I have more GOOD news. Thank your brain for trying to keep you safe, but remind yourself that you have a unique perspective as a primary care physician (resident or faculty) that can relate to those you’re teaching. You are actually the most effective instructor because you understand the gaps and the practicality in our day-to-day worlds. Brainstorm all the ways you are the best person for the job.


“There is so much to read and do.” And the good news is – there are things you can read. Pick your favorite. Take notes or highlight. You don’t have to read everything. Read as much as you need to know you’re up to date and close your own knowledge gaps and frequently recognized ones others have. Start by getting started. Take the next best step.


We have now realized other thoughts we can have that are true and can move us forward.  “I just decide what I will teach,” or “This is a helpful topic to teach.”  (If you are teaching a topic that you find unnecessary and that you have disdain for – we should talk about how you ended up there – but that’s another topic for another day).  “I will gain knowledge that will help me clinically, as well as my audience.” “My perspective as a primary care physician is a great one to teach my listeners.”  “I can read as much as I want on the topic.”


Once you have some thoughts that serve you better, you may feel determined, courageous, or something similar that extracts you from the procrastination cycle. Then your actions can be forward moving. 


Here are some of my favorite mantras:

-There is no one right way.

-I can just decide.

-A decision only takes a split second.

-I am the perfect person to do this.

-Start by getting started.

-Small steps lead to great gains.

-Do the next best thing.

-The best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time.


You can do this. Remember, if you have made procrastination a habit, the urge to put things off will likely continue to show up. It's normal. The more you practice asking yourself questions – "What am I feeling? Why?," challenge the automatic thoughts, and look for other accessible thoughts that are believable, the less pull that habit will have on you. 


Okay,  you’ve got this! Go get started on the next best small step. And if you need a jump-start, I’m here to coach you.

Have a joy-filled day,  Tonya

My next 6-week program for individual coaching for residents and early career physicians is coming up soon.  Learn more



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