A dreaded word — and with good reason.

When we don’t follow through on things that are important to us or waste precious time and energy saying we’ll do something but never actually making it happen, procrastination is most definitely a habit that could use some upgrading.

But sometimes when it looks like you’re procrastinating, things might not be quite as black and white as they appear.

In my experience working as a coach with smart, self-aware, well-intentioned but perfectionistic women over the years, I find that one or more of the following four elements are often at play when it looks on the surface like we’re just being lazy. 

#1 Fear

You’re on the precipice of expanding into some new and vulnerable terrain. The part of you that wants to keep you safe from physical harm and protected from emotional risk will do anything in its power — including employing the sneaky tricks of your Inner Critic and control-loving ego — to try to keep you safe.

To check in with fear that’s acting as a speed bump (or a brick wall) between you and the action you want to be taking, you can pause and investigate with curiosity:

Where am I noticing fear in my body in this moment? 

It’s hard to sort out fear when our mental hamster wheel’s spinning a mile a minute. Check in with your direct experience of fear as a sensation in the body.

What might this fear be trying to tell me? 

Don’t assume fear’s message is the most obvious. Dig beneath the surface to check out: 

What might this fear be trying to protect me from? 

Is this fear True with a capital T?

The first step in working with fear is to acknowledge that it’s present — to name it. Because you can’t work with something you’re pretending isn’t there. And as long as you’re human, fear is going to show up when you make a bold move. 

But fear only becomes a problem when we try to resist it or take what we interpret it to mean on face value as evidence-based truth.

#2 Values conflict

When there’s “one part of you” that cares a lot about one thing and “another part of you” that cares about a very different thing, it’s natural that you’d experience some internal tension.

Two of your values are playing tug-o-war.

I noticed I was dragging my feet on taking action on something recently, so I did a little inner investigating. I realized that freedom was on one side of my “rope” and contribution was on the other. Once I saw that tension with clear eyes, things naturally started to free up toward clarity and action.

All parts of you are valid and worthy (and in need) of nonjudgmental exploration and care.

So take a curious look into which of your values (aka your priorities) might be playing a little tug-o-war and see what frees up from there.

#3 You’ve entered an integration or germination phase

Despite what your whip-cracking Inner Critic might be telling you, we humans are simply not capable of always being in an outward phase — of constantly doing doing doing.

Life and energy move in seasons and cycles.

There are phases when massive external action is called for and phases when inward reflection is most wise and appropriate. 

There are phases when fruit is ripe and ready to be picked, but there has to be an attentive seed-planting and watering phase in order to get to that ripe fruit phase.

Pause to check in:

Could this “procrastination” be signaling that a rest or integration phase is called for?

#4 It’s time for a fresh chapter

Again zooming out to remember how the cycle of life flows, sometimes a particular chapter has just run its course and it’s time to turn the page to a fresh chapter.

This phase calls for some extra stillness, space and self-compassion as it tends to involve some grief or forgiveness work. Losses both “big” and “small” ask for a grief process to help heal and integrate the ending of the old and make space for the new.

It’s hard for us humans to let go of things, even when deep in our beings we know it’s the right thing for our greatest good.

And it can be scary to step into uncertainty even when we trust, on the bigger picture level, that some next great thing is ready to enter this space.

The less you resist or judge whatever cycle you’re in, the more smoothly things will get flowing again.

Be gentle with yourself as you turn inward and explore whatever’s present for you in this moment with some nice nonjudgmental curiosity, having faith that it’s all OK.

And if you’d like a little support in creating more space to be compassionately with what is, The Daily Pause is here to help.

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