If you’re like the majority of my clients, it’s likely that you identify as a people-pleaser or a perfectionist. Or a special combination of both. And you’d love to stop procrastinating.
Many women hold onto a story that says their life would be better if they could stop trying to please everyone. Or that they’d race toward their goals if they could stop procrastinating or wanting everything to be perfect. They seemingly believe that the problem sits with them. And if they could just fix that problem, then everything would be awesome.
They download every article or guide, searching for a way to bypass the problem. Surely something titled ’11 proven tips to stop procrastinating once and for all’ will help right? What about ‘How to stop people-pleasing in its tracks’? They follow the advice diligently, and a week later find themselves right back where they started. And often, they end up feeling frustrated and as if something is wrong with them. Or they give up trying to achieve their dreams by resigning themselves to the ‘fact’ that ‘this is just me’.
But here’s the thing. When you try to stop procrastinating, fix your perfectionism or stop people-pleasing you’re not actually tackling the real problem. The problem is our old friend, psychological risk. If you’ve been around here for a while, you’ll be aware of the seven big psychological risks. They are disappointment, rejection, failure, complexity, conflict, judgement and success. And procrastination, perfectionism and people-pleasing are actually protective behaviours. Protective behaviours are an extremely sophisticated way that our self-doubt protects us from psychological risk. How? Because these behaviours stop us from taking action. Compiling evidence that we can achieve despite risk was the best way to ease your self-doubt. And you build that evidence by taking action – either in the form of experiments or baby-steps.
Yes, it turns out that protective behaviours – and I believe there are seven of them – are self-doubt’s way of keeping us safe. And the more risk averse we are, the more likely it is that these protective behaviours will show up regularly.
I talked about procrastinating, people-pleasing and perfectionism on the Self.Styled.Life podcast
I shared a lot more about the protective behaviours that could be holding you back in a recent podcast episode. You can listen to the episode here, or on your favourite podcast player.
But this is such an important topic. So I wanted to share my thoughts here as well, for anyone who prefers to read rather than listen.
My mentor Sas Petherick introduced me to six of the protective behaviours – procrastination, perfectionism, proving yourself, passivity, paralysis and people-pleasing. For any coaches here, I can’t recommend Sas’ Self-Belief Coaching Academy highly enough. It’s definitely worth checking out. I’d met these protective behaviours before both professionally and personally. But it was Sas who taught me to look at them in a whole different light. The seventh behaviour is polling. I’ve added it into the list from my own observations and coaching experience. Let’s look at each behaviour more fully so you know what to look out for in your own life.
For me, procrastination is the art of doing anything and everything before taking the risky action that’ll move you forward. It’s interesting that despite what many think, procrastinating rarely looks like doing nothing. In fact, procrastination appears highly productive as you clean, tidy and shop before you get to the task.
At our house, we’ve got into the habit of naming our procrastination and talking about it. I’m most often found ‘procrasto-cleaning’ or ‘procrasto-washing’. But recently, when I had a particularly large creative project on my to-do list, I found myself ‘procrasto-painting’ the carport. Now, I’ve walked past this carport every day for the last 15 years. I’ve occasionally muttered to myself that it would look better with a lick of paint. But apparently I needed a large and somewhat risky project on my plate before I’d actually pick up a paintbrush. I’ve got to tell you, I was very amused with my own antics that day. And the carport does look better.
I do wonder how many amazing dreams withered on the vine thanks to perfectionism. The number would be mind-boggling. I guess there’s a reason why there are so many sayings about perfection. ‘Progress not perfection’. ‘Done is better than perfect’. And all of the rest. Not sharing something until it’s perfect is a way of appearing to take action without the risk of actual action. I guess that approach at least creates something. An outcome that must be better than not starting something at all because it won’t be perfect. Which is another version of where perfectionism can be used as a protective behaviour.
Proving yourself presents as working harder or doing more so that you’ll be liked and needed. It also shows up as doing yucky things so that you’ll be given permission to do something you want to do. Like procrastination, this behaviour can be a sophisticated way of not taking action. Why? Because you’re working hard on something – just not the thing you want to be working on.
Passive behaviours include scrolling, watching TV, shopping and the like. I describe passive behaviours as consuming rather than creating. And the consuming can also look like actual eating or drinking. We’re so busy doing these passive, nothing sort of things, that we forget to take action.
This behaviour is the most obvious of the protective behaviours. You just don’t do anything. There are none of the productivity benefits that can come with procrastination or proving yourself. Mostly because nothing much is happening. It’s like you’ve had the idea and then…simply ignored it. Paralysis looks like the easiest of the protective behaviours. But it’s worth noting that the strategy comes with the increased likelihood of self-criticism. This is due to the fact that there’s more opportunity to be hard on yourself for a lack of productivity.
One version of people-pleasing shows up as doing everything for everyone else before you do anything for yourself. And another shows up as acting – or not acting – so as to not impact the opinion others hold of us. ‘They won’t like it.’ ‘I wonder what they’ll think?’ We have conversations like these with ourselves as we use other people and their perceptions as a way to protect ourselves from the risk of taking action.
Polling is the practice of asking everyone for an opinion on what they think you should do. Or of what they think of your idea. You get the picture. This habit keeps you stuck in a couple of ways. The first one is that you can kid yourself into thinking you’re taking action in the form of research. Secondly, collecting a whole lot of opinions can just leave you spinning. You can lose your original vision as you try to work out a way to incorporate all the feedback. At the end for the day polling is a very effective way to avoid risk because you don’t take action.
How to deal with your protective behaviours like procrastinating
So now that you know what these behaviours look like, what do you do when they come up. Observing yourself and understanding that you’re engaging in protective behaviours is half the battle. You can’t fix what you don’t know about. For some of the protective behaviours just knowing you’re engaging in them can help you move past them. I know that’s definitely true for me with procrastination and passive behaviours. Lovingly checking myself on the behaviour, and then directing my attention to my intention can get me moving. You might find that observation is a great first step for you too.
Other self-coaching tools that can help include journaling, Emotional Freedom Technique (aka tapping) and meditation practices. And of course, if you find that protective behaviours are keeping you stuck, it’s worth considering working with a coach. If coaching could support you, make sure you check out my different coaching packages. Maybe a zero-cost single session is right for you. Or perhaps a deeper-dive coaching intensive would meet your needs. Alternatively you might like the compounding effect of support and guidance that comes with a coaching series. I’m sure you’ll find something to suits you right here.
I‘d love to know. Where do protective behaviours like procrastinating, perfectionism and people-pleasing show up in your world? Feel free to share in the comments below.
And until next time – stay fabulous xx
Image credit: Haute Stock