procrastinationGetting things done can be a real struggle when you are experiencing low mood. When we are depressed, we lack the energy and sense of pleasure or mastery that makes it possible to get essential tasks done. In addition, and perhaps most importantly, we often postpone getting things done until we feel like doing them. If you are feeling tired and down on yourself, it is easy to crawl back into bed, telling yourself, “I’ll get to that (fill in an important project here) tomorrow.” Unfortunately for many, the next day keeps getting postponed indefinitely. If this cycle continues to play out, the long term goals are never achieved and that in itself helps perpetuate the low mood.

How can you get out of this frustrating and self-defeating cycle? One critical idea to help unravel the cycle of procrastination is to look closely at the concept of motivation. We often will wait to feel motivated before we attempt to achieve any of our goals. I know I should work out—I’ll head to the gym when I feel like it. I’m not in the mood to organize the garage today—I’ll get to that when I feel like it. These thoughts may not occur to you in your awareness, but if you look deeply at some the tasks you are procrastinating, you may find that this idea that you are waiting to feel like doing the task is lurking just beneath the surface. We should really call that relationship counselor back, but I’ll wait until we are both ready to go.

Does any of that reasoning sound familiar? If so, one strategy you can try is to shift around the equation to beat procrastination and start living the life you want to live. The equation we tend to work with is this: Feeling Motivated + Idea = Action. Our suggestion is that you work with this new equation: Idea + Action = Motivation (which then leads to more action).

Have you had the experience of doing something you did not want to do but ended up having fun or experiencing a sense of satisfaction? A lot of people struggling with fitness endorse this. Getting exercise is something that a lot of people dread but then, once they do it, are happy that they did it and—here’s the best part—are often compelled to do it again. This is an example of how engaging in the task even when you don’t feel motivated to do it can help you essentially feel motivated in the end.

In short, waiting for the motivation to get things done may be a losing game, especially if you are struggling with low mood. In fact, procrastinating tasks essential to your well being actually plays a role in perpetuating a low mood. One method of getting out of this self-sabotaging loop is to experiment with doing tasks even if you don’t feel like it and observing whether that enhances your motivation. Motivation often comes after an activity rather than before it.

If you would like to learn more about beating procrastination, check out these resources:

  • Procrastination: Why You Do It, What to Do About It Now by Jane B. Burka and Lenora M. Yuen (Dec 23, 2008)
  • The Now Habit: A Strategic Program for Overcoming Procrastination and Enjoying Guilt-Free Play by Neil A. Fiore (Apr 5, 2007)
  • The Procrastinator’s Guide to Getting Things Done by Monica Ramirez Basco (Dec 21, 2009)