That Winnie-the-Pooh vibe – when you’re stuck in a hole
I used to LOVE reading Winnie-the-Pooh books when I was young. My favourite story is when Winnie-the-Pooh ate too much honey (his favourite, and only food source, as far as I can remember) when he was off visiting his mate, Rabbit. When it was time to leave, he managed to get himself thoroughly and properly wedged in Rabbit’s door (rabbit warren hole). No, this week I’m not writing about gluttony, or disordered eating, rather that unpleasant feeling of being STUCK.
Whether it’s full-blown procrastination, or just an uneasy feeling of stuck-ness it’s not a comfortable place to be – just ask Winnie-the-Pooh! It comes from an essentially protective place which is a vague sense that the future options or tasks awaiting us (change) are possibly unpleasant and therefore our brain encourages us to ignore the prompts to act and instead to remain where we are.
Procrastination isn’t about laziness, it’s more about emotional regulation as opposed to time-management, which is why it goes hand-in-hand with depression or low mood. Sometimes the aversion comes from the essence of the task itself – cleaning the shower plughole, or packing to leave for boarding school, other times though, it’s rooted in a complex relationship to self. For example, sitting down to write an essay for university staring at a blank page thinking, “I don’t know what to write, I can’t do this, I’m stupid.” The challenge is that the more we procrastinate, the more stuck we get and the more ingrained these negative beliefs become, and the more we procrastinate.
It’s made worse when we are under significant stress or heightened states of anxiety because then our amygdala (threat response area of the brain) is running the show and that ancient part of our brain is all about saving our lives not cleaning our house or writing essays. If this is what is happening for you, the most important thing you can do for yourself is to find ways to settle and calm your nervous system. Breathwork, grounding practices or changing your physical state to alter your nervous state would all be great places to start. Only then could you turn your attention to practical matters.
One of my favourite ways to deal with ‘stuckness’ with clients is actually to work with a mixture of self-compassion and mindfulness strategies to help clients find new ways of understanding themselves. Remember it’s not about ‘doing better’ or finding some lifestyle-hack. Procrastination is usually wrapped up with all the complex negative feelings of self-worth and getting hooked onto all the negatives thoughts and physical sensations that run riot as soon as we think about doing things that we don’t really want to do.
Here are a few really simple strategies to help if you’re in a procrastination loop:
- Remind yourself of a time when you have done the thing that you’re avoiding – what feedback did you get from others? How did it make you feel when you finished it?
- When you become aware that you are procrastinating, notice what kind of feelings come up for you – what is it you like about avoiding that task? Where do you feel those feelings in your body? What happens if you just lightly pay attention to them for a few minutes? Do they dissipate or get stronger?
- Think about what you would do next, even if though you aren’t actually going to do it? It’s a weird thing that happens in our brain when we give ourselves that option.