I’m sure you’ve had your fair share of criticism. Who hasn’t? Of course, nobody likes to be criticized.
As an Adult with ADHD, maybe you’ve had more than your fair share of criticism from your parents, teachers, partner, boss or others. And, maybe you’ve tried to get them to stop. Not easy. I know.
But what about the criticism you heap on yourself in the form of negative self-talk? This negative self-talk, also referred to as an inner critic, gremlin or saboteur, is that self-sabotaging inner voice that can hold you back from accomplishing your goals.
While these inner critics may have developed over time because of past failures due to your undiagnosed and / or untreated ADHD, your negative self-talk continues to reinforce them. The good news is you have control over stopping this self-talk.
Ready to stop being your own worst critic so you can move forward?
Becoming Aware of How Your Self-Talk Contributes To Your Procrastination
If you struggle with procrastination, you’ve probably read a lot about how to overcome it and even tried some of the suggested strategies. And by now you know there is not one right or easy answer to this pervasive problem.
But one place to start in managing your procrastination is to consider how you talk to yourself. Because the way you talk to yourself represents your beliefs and attitudes, and these beliefs most certainly impact how you feel and act.
Makes sense, right?
You can begin to become more aware of how your self-talk contributes to your procrastination by asking:
- Where am I resisting taking action?
- Where am I making a lot of excuses?
- When do I say, “I’ll try” instead of “I will”?
- Where do I give up right away as soon as something is not working?
Then, in the places you notice you are procrastinating, consider the self-talk you use.
Are you using one or more of the 5 messages below Neil Fiore, author of “The Now Habit,” attributes to procrastinators? If you are, you can learn how to change these messages in order to become what Fiore calls a producer, rather than a procrastinator.
#1 “I Must Be Perfect!”
As you already know, perfectionism is one of the leading causes of procrastination. It starts when your internal critic shouts, “This is not good enough!!”
Like many people Ari struggled to keep on top of his email. He thought he needed to write perfect emails each and every time, and told himself, “I need to make sure there are no mistakes in my emails and be sure to add plenty of detail so they get my point. I know it will take a lot of time, but I can’t send out emails that are not just right!”
So, no surprise, Ari would often avoid tending to his email because he did not have time to write what he thought was the perfect email each time, and that in turn led to an ever growing backlog.
To get more efficient at responding to emails Ari practiced replacing his old messages with:
- “A short email response is better than no response at all.”
- “They just want an answer, and don’t want to wade through a tome to get to the point.”
- “If I don’t include something and they have questions, they’ll ask.”
- “If I spend less time on emails, I’ll have more time to work on my important projects and can get home sooner.”
Where do you need to change your perfectionist messages so you can minimize your perfectionism and stop procrastinating?
#2 “I Have To…”
I often hear from people during the initial consultation, “I just need someone to force me to get my stuff done!” I tell them that I don’t do that not only because it is not my style, but also because it just doesn’t work, especially for Adults with ADHD.
Think about when you have felt forced to do something. You probably felt resentful and resisted doing the task, right?
In order to get his email done, Ari would sometimes tell himself, “I have to get this email done!” But, as soon as he said this, he became aware that he would almost immediately feel pressure and resentment welling up inside him.
And so, again, he would avoid his email.
The key for Ari was to change the authoritarian message he was sending himself into a message that conveyed he has a choice.
He did this by telling himself, “I am choosing to respond to these emails because…”
- “Communicating in a timely manner will help me grow my business.”
- “I will feel less overwhelmed if I stay on top of my emails.”
- “Fewer things will fall through the cracks.”
Where are you trying to force yourself to do something by telling yourself, “I have to…!”
How can you change these messages to convey the idea that you have a choice?
#3 “I Should…”
When you say “I should…” you are implying there is a rule you and others must follow.
But what happens if you fall short of your own rules? In all likelihood you feel guilty, frustrated and maybe even rebellious. And, though you might be using these statements because you think they will motivate you, in the end you might actually procrastinate.
Consider Ari’s should statements about his email:
- “People should never make mistakes when writing an email.”
- “People should not be trusted if they don’t respond to email in a timely manner.”
- “A professional always takes their time and writes thoughtful, detailed emails.”
With everything else on Ari’s plate he simply could not follow these rules, and so often ended up falling short and feeling frustrated. And, yes, putting off his email.
But, by replacing his should messages with the ones below, Ari found that responding to his email was not so daunting and he did not avoid it as much.
- “I’ll do the best I can, but making an occasional mistake in emails is unavoidable.”
- “It is simply not possible to write lengthy emails each time. I will keep my emails on point. And, if they need more information, I’m sure they will ask me for it.”
- “I’ll do my best to respond in a timely way, but some will slip.”
What should statements do you have around something you are avoiding?
How can you change these messages so the task does not feel so daunting?
#4 “I Must Finish…”
Another message that may be getting in the way of starting and following through on your work is “I must finish…now!” When you say this you may also think:
- “I’ll never be able to finish this!”
- “I have too much on my plate, and don’t have time to finish this now.”
- “If I can’t finish it, I might as well not start…”
The overwhelming pressure of feeling the need to finish the project /task right now can lead you to put it off.
Ari also feels this same pressure when he says to himself, “I must finish — get through — all these emails now!”
The key to turning around this self-talk is to focus on persistent starting.
So, Ari decided to put aside several 30 minute blocks of times during the day to work on processing and answering his email. And he reminded himself, “If I start and focus on my email during these times, I’ll get through what I need to do. All I need to do is start.”
Where are you procrastinating, and telling yourself, “I must finish..!”?
Instead ask yourself, “When is the next time I can start?”
#5 “This Is Too Big and Important!”
When you think about doing one of your current projects, you might be saying to yourself:
- “This is huge! How am I ever going to do this?”
- “This is too important to screw up. I better get this right!”
- “How can I possibly create this training, write this report, finish my dissertation…?!”
And then you become anxious and, yes, once again avoid tackling the project.
The key to tackling any project in the moment is to focus on the very next action. Because, well, that is all you can do, right?
One step at a time.
Likewise, when Ari looks at his email in-box and spots emails that seem complicated, will require a few steps and quite a bit of time, he gets overwhelmed and is tempted to avoid them.
He has learned when he notices this happening to:
- remind himself, “I can do this one step at a time.”
- ask himself, “What is the first step I need to take to answer this email?”
- continue to ask himself, “What is the next step?”
You can’t do your entire project, at least not right now. But you can do one step at a time.
What is the next manageable action step you can take? When are you going to do that?
Questions for You
Which of the above messages are you using that are also contributing to your procrastination in one or more areas?
If your inner critic was not sitting on your shoulder right now, what message would you change to make it easier to follow through?