Episode 30 of the Self-Made Mamas Podcast
Today, what I want to talk to you about is something that I actually referenced in one of the episodes of our 5 Day Podcast Party series. It’s a concept I spoke about on a TikTok, probably about a month ago, that went viral. This video has 1.2 or 1.3 million views and for me, it was a very casual concept that I was talking about, but obviously, it hit a nerve with a lot of people. This is a good indicator that I need to speak about it a little bit more. Today, I want to talk to you about the concept of procrastination as stress-seeking behaviour and also just stress-seeking behaviour in general.
Before we get into the meat and potatoes of today’s podcast, I want to remind you that last week on the Podcast Party I announced I would be releasing a limited number of strategy intensives each month. These are 30-minute strategy calls for people that don’t already work with me, and this is something that I never do. Typically, if you want to work with me you have to be inside my program, there’s no other way to get access to me. I keep my business very tight, very simple. These are brand new, something I have not offered before, and the price point is phenomenal. It is an absolute steal.
I announced these on Friday, I released only a handful of spots for the month, and they’re booking up very quickly. If you are someone that is not already in The Society, you don’t already work with me, and you want to hop on a 30-minute strategy call and plan out a six-month strategic plan for your business, then make sure you get that booked ASAP because once they’re gone for the month, they’re gone, and I won’t release any more until July.
The Problem of Stress-Seeking
Let’s talk about stress seeking. About a month ago, I released a TikTok video. What I said in that TikTok video was that if you are someone who has experienced trauma or has lived a chaotic life—you’re someone who experienced chaos or instability in childhood, or perhaps for an extended period of time in your adult life—then it’s very likely that you do what all of us do, which is unconsciously or subconsciously repeat cycles. We seek that chaos, we seek that stress that we were used to or that we’ve become accustomed to.
In this TikTok, I connected this idea to procrastination because over the years, I have observed in myself and my clients that those of us who have experienced trauma or extended periods of stress are so much more prone to procrastinating about everything for absolutely no reason. I’ve observed that this is, in many ways, a form of stress seeking. We’re seeking that pressure, that little adrenaline rush we get when we have to do something under pressure. The problem is that when this goes too far, it can really negatively impact your life.
Maybe you’re someone who always writes, “works well under pressure” on your resume, who always waits till the last minute to do things because you work better that way. If you’ve found that as the responsibilities in your life have increased, as you’ve gotten older, as your habits and lifestyle have changed, this is actually becoming a detriment to your life and not a superpower you can whip out when you need to…this episode is for you.
I put that TikTok out and for the first 24 hours it was very quiet, and then all of a sudden it picked up. As I said, it has around 1.2 million views at this point and thousands and thousands of comments. Typically, when a TikTok gets picked up like that, there will be lots of dissent in the comments. Lots of disagreement, lots of arguing. In this case, with this particular TikTok, I saw maybe five or six comments where someone said something like, “This is BS, I don’t agree with it,” but thousands and thousands of people saying, “Oh my God, I definitely do this. This is me.”
That was so fascinating to me because it’s two things that we know that we do, and we widely accept that we do. Procrastination is a totally normal thing that everybody to some extent does. This concept of reenactment or reliving cycles is very widely acknowledged psychologically. If you’ve ever spoken to a therapist or a mental health professional, they will tell you that most people, without being aware of it, unconsciously try to recreate the environment they either grew up in or that they have become accustomed to through stress. This is because stress and danger create so much deeper of an imprint on your brain than other things.
I’m not going to go into all of that because that’s not my lane. I’m not a therapist or a psychological professional so I don’t want to go too far down that rabbit hole. What I am going to do is find somebody who is, who specializes in this kind of thing, to come and be on the podcast so we can ask questions and hear from a professional in this field. What I’m going to talk about is just the surface-level concept of stress seeking in your life and how that relates to your business, productivity, and efficiency.
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Procrastination Because of Stress
First, let’s look at procrastination. Now, the very first episode I ever did of this podcast was about procrastination. When we’re having this particular discussion about procrastination as a stress-seeking behaviour, I think it’s important to eliminate the other possibilities for why someone might be procrastinating. If you haven’t already listened to episode one of this podcast, go take a listen because I talk about some of the really normal reasons for procrastination in that episode. Right now, we’re going to talk about procrastination as a subconscious recreation of a stressful environment. That means you’re intentionally creating stress for yourself because you are kind of hooked on that little rush that you get from being under pressure.
In the TikTok I shared, I actually used the wording, “addicted to your own stress hormones” and I wish I hadn’t used that wording. I said it that way just off the cuff. It was a TikTok I recorded without scripting it or making any notes beforehand or anything, I just spoke to my phone off the cuff. Had I known it was going to reach that many people, I would have adjusted my wording because there really isn’t any hard research to support the idea that you can be “addicted to your own hormones.” There are articles about it if you Google it, but they’re not referenced by peer-reviewed research, so I don’t think it’s really valid to say that 100% yet.
What’s really interesting is that when we look at the research about addiction, there is a gap in the research and a gap in attention paid to behavioural addiction versus what would typically come to mind when we think of addiction—being addicted to an external substance, for example. There’s been quite a bit of research done on pornography addiction and gambling addiction, but not much else.
There is some research done on adrenaline addiction, for people who are into extreme sports and things like that. In the last couple of decades, there has been some research done on people who are danger-seeking, and I think that’s really interesting (I’m absolutely not a scientist, so understand that when I’m saying this) but presumably, if you can be addicted to adrenaline, you could be addicted to cortisol.
That’s really what got my wheels turning about this. I started thinking about this 6-8 months ago and being aware of it has been such a game-changer, honestly. When I procrastinate, am I looking for that rush? Do I like being under pressure? And why do I like it? Because it doesn’t actually feel good. I feel accomplished when I get something done in a short period of time, but it doesn’t feel good to procrastinate. It feels stressful and stress doesn’t feel good…but it does feel normal. It does feel comfortable.
I think probably a lot of you can relate to that and have also experienced either extended periods of stress, or perhaps childhood trauma, or any kind of chaos in your life, and you find that stress is your automatic operating mode and you function really well in a state of stress. As I’ve been on this journey of trying to heal and take better care of myself and prioritize my own wellbeing, the question that has come up for me over and over again and that I keep thinking about is: What are the ways in which I’m creating stress unnecessarily in my life?
For me, the immediate biggest one was procrastination. Putting things off until the last second. Avoiding tasks that need to be done that are weighing on me and causing me stress and avoiding them despite the fact that I would feel better if they were done. That’s something that has always been a trait of mine, but as a parent, it’s amplified. I know from talking with my clients, chatting with people in the comments of this TikTok and getting messages from people after I posted it, this is very, very common.
There’s also a line here that we should acknowledge. Some people are truly demand avoidant. If you are neurodiverse—you have ADHD, you’re autistic, anything like that—you may be demand avoidant, which is like a very intense version of this. There are a whole bunch of other traits that need to be met in order to be considered demand avoidant. I’m not talking about being pathologically demand avoidant here.
I’m talking about daily, low-level procrastination that over time (and in large quantities when we’re talking about lots of tasks at the same time) can cause a great amount of stress in your life and the negative effect that has on you because you’re perpetuating that cycle of being in a state of stress. Even when things are calm, even when things are good, you are creating these little pockets of stress in your life by not doing things when you should be doing them, or by avoiding things that need to be done in order to alleviate stress or to make improvements to your life.
Actually Addressing the Procrastination
If you’re someone who resonates with that and you feel like you can only get things done when you are stressed the F out, you feel like you thrive in chaos, that you work best under pressure…there are a few things we can do to start addressing that.
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This is kind of a two-pronged approach, so these things are parallel, but you can just start with one. The two things are, 1) actually addressing the procrastination (addressing the productivity issue) and 2) addressing the stress issue. Those are two very different things that sort of need to happen at the same time in order for you to successfully stop doing this.
Let’s tackle procrastination first. If you are somebody who really struggles to start or finish tasks, but you find that you can get a lot done in a short period of time when you are under pressure, then it may be worth it for you to employ the tool of creating “faux pressure” for yourself. Creating fake urgency pushes the same buttons in your brain and gives you the push you need to actually get things done, but with no actual hard consequence on the other side so you’re not actually in a state of stress. What we want to do is light that little fire under our butts, but not have the actual stressful consequence on the other side. Again, we don’t want to continue perpetuating that cycle of putting ourselves into a state of stress in order to get things done, then being stressed about it and not being able to do things until we’re stressed.
Instead, we want to create low-level urgency that doesn’t have a really terrible consequence if the deadline is not met, but we can make it just exciting enough that we are compelled to do it and that it flicks that switch in our brain and we can actually get it done. A really good example of how to do this is using a timer.
Before you try this though, if the task you’ve been putting off is really big, you need to break it down. One of the reasons people procrastinate aside from stress seeking is overwhelm. If you go back and listen to episode one, I talk in-depth about that, but breaking your task down into tiny little sprints is one of the easiest ways to get over that.
Once your task is broken down, you can use a timer to motivate you to complete the sprint as quickly as possible, and this gives you that urgency that your brain is seeking. It gives you that urgency that you often feel you need to actually do anything, but there’s no negative consequence. It’s almost like a game. You’re turning it into a game as opposed to something you’re doing out of survival.
Let’s use a household task as an example here. Say your kitchen is a mess and you need to clean your kitchen. The best way to tackle this, if this is something you are constantly procrastinating—let’s say you never do your dishes, you never actually get your counters cleared, you’re just procrastinating on it, it’s sitting there stressing you out—the very best thing you can do is to pick one tiny thing to do in your kitchen. If there’s a bunch of dishes piled up beside the sink, maybe your tiny thing is that you’re going to put them all in the sink. That sounds absolutely ridiculous, but what you need to do is you need to build the momentum of successfully accomplishing tasks in your brain, and you will need the urgency of completing that task quickly to push yourself to do it if you are someone that struggles with this.
I would set a timer for two minutes to put all the dishes in the sink, or maybe it’s five minutes to put all the dishes in the dishwasher. You’re setting this little tiny timer and you’re racing the timer to get this small one single step of the task done. Often what happens when you do that is you get that little hit of dopamine from finishing the task and it feels so good, it’s so rewarding to your brain, that you’ll actually just keep going and get the whole job done. If you don’t feel naturally inclined to go and get the job done, then just pick the next tiny thing and set a timer and do it that way.
You can do this with any household task. I hate doing laundry and bless my husband, he usually does the laundry, but if I have to do it, I literally set timers and do it one tiny little piece at a time. Otherwise, it’s something that I will put off forever and we will just pull our clothes out of a giant pile on the floor if it’s left to me. I have to be disciplined about it and using timers is one of the ways that I can get a handle on this task that I would otherwise just let go and let go.
Procrastinating in Business
When it comes to your business and work, we often procrastinate on projects that feel overwhelming or hard to us. Part of that, as you would know if you listened to episode one is a fear of failure. It’s a fear of not being good enough and not doing the project successfully. Part of it is also this procrastination problem, this stress seeking. We’re waiting for the pressure to be so high that the pressure motivates us to work.
What I do for a big project is write down on a piece of paper everything that needs to happen for that project. You can use a project management software for this, but for me and the way my brain works, I find they’re kind of a rabbit hole for me. I end up just going down the rabbit hole of managing the software as opposed to it actually helping me, so I just do this in a notebook or with a piece of paper and it works great. Write down everything that needs to happen for this project, every little tiny stage. Then I work backwards from the actual deadline of the project and I set a short little deadline for each piece, each tiny little task.
What I do is I work in sprints. I can’t sit down for an hour every day with a big list of things I need to do for a project and just chip away at it. It won’t happen, it’s just not how I operate. What will happen is I will leave it until the last minute and then do it all at once as fast as possible, but that doesn’t result in my best work. Again, that’s perpetuating that cycle of stress. I don’t want to keep putting myself in that state of stress, so I have to take action to change that. So do you. This is a way that we can take action to address that.
I set these little tiny deadlines. For example, if I am doing a website audit with a client, I know that step one is that I need to go through the website and take screenshots to stick in a Google doc so I can add comments on the side of each section of the website. That is not a very big task. It’s not actually going to take me very long, but it is the first step, the first hurdle I have to overcome in order to actually get into the project and get into doing the work. So I take that task I need to accomplish (“take screenshot, paste into Google doc, format space for comments”) and I will set myself a 24-hour deadline, so that has to be done by the end of day tomorrow. That’s the one thing I have to do.
Then I will go ahead and do that for every other stage of the project and set these tiny little deadlines. Instead of having one big deadline two weeks from now, I have teeny tiny little deadlines that are happening every 24 to 48 hours, and each task that needs to happen is very manageable. Again, when I sit down to work, I set a timer. If I think that task is going to take 20 minutes, I’ll set a timer for 20 minutes. If I think it’s going to take an hour, I set a timer for an hour and I race my timer. It gets that part of my brain going that needs a little bit of pressure, but it doesn’t result in any actual stress, and slowly but surely this is breaking that cycle. That is the best advice I can give you in terms of breaking the productivity cycle of procrastinating all the time.
Addressing the Stress
Let’s talk about the other side of this, which is the fact that we are used to being in stress, so we are seeking stress. Unfortunately, the only way out of that is through it, which means that we have to work to reduce our overall stress levels. This is going to be a whole other podcast episode because I could talk for hours about it. However, intentionally reducing stress in your life, even when stressful things are happening to you or around you, is such an important skill that absolutely none of us are taught. It’s not something that is valued or spoken about, particularly in the entrepreneur space, the girl boss, hustle-culture, “rise and grind”-type culture.
This is not something we talk about, but intentional stress reduction is such a game-changer for the type of business owner that you’re going to be and the quality of your life and breaking little cycles like procrastination as a stress-seeking behaviour. It’s so important. We’re not going to get into all the ins and outs of it in this episode, but if you’re someone who has resonated with the topic of this podcast, if you realized, “Shoot, I’m seeking stress when I procrastinate,” then I want you to start thinking about how you can work on overall stress reduction in your life. Constantly being in a state of stress or being exposed to things that put you into a state of stress is going to be completely counterproductive when we’re trying to break this cycle.
It’s worth starting to think about little ways that you can reduce stress in your life—whether that’s getting a little bit more exercise, cutting something out, maybe an activity or something your family does, that is just more stress than it’s worth. Something that’s not bringing you enough joy to make it worth it, you know? Just thinking about how you can trim your life down to a nice, simple, low-stress rhythm so that over time, you can completely break this cycle of being used to being in stress and constantly seeking out ways to be in stress because that’s where you’re comfortable.
That’s what I’m gonna leave you with today. I hope you enjoyed this episode and I will see you next time.
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