pro·cras·ti·na·tion to defer action, delay; to be slow or late about doing something that should be done : to delay doing something until a later time because you do not want to do it.
Procrastination is a topic that many of my clients bring up. And procrastination can mean different things to different people and often requires a different approach depending on where the procrastination stems from.
Ayurveda views life through the lens of the three doshas, or life energies, of vata, pitta and kapha. These doshas make up your core constitution which can help you see better the nature of your own behaviors and tendencies as well as offer a more effective solutions.
To know how to best navigate your procrastination tendencies, it is important to see which doshas may be playing a role in your behaviors.
When one things of the typical definition of procrastination as it relates to putting things off, feeling a lack of motivation, or being stuck in lethargy, kapha immediately comes to mind. These behaviors can be linked to the kapha qualities of heavy (lethargy and lack of motivation), stable (overly stuck in this case), and slow (in terms of response and action times).
Kapha heaviness can also lead to a space of complacency and “chill attitude” that translates as not feeling any inner pressure or sense of urgency to get something done – much to the possible frustration of their spouse, friend or boss!
Tools to Balance Kapha Procrastination
- Get into action. To counter the heaviness, stimulation and movement is great. In terms of projects, the goal is to seize the energy when it comes up. If you have an idea, follow it immediately in the moment and just do it. Act quickly before the kapha mind starts to talk you out of it. A great nudge can be to invite kaphas to use the two minute rule – if something takes less than 2 minutes, do it now.
- Let the sun wake and move you. Kapha folks do not describe themselves as morning people. They are often slow to wake and like to sleep. However, these tendencies, especially sleeping past 7 in the morning, will add to the lethargy load. Have you ever noticed that the less you do, the less you want to do? This is because kapha sluggishness creates more of the same. To counter this, it is ideal to get up with the rising sun and actually walk outside. Exercise helps moves the blockages in emotions, hormones and energy. It improves processing power and elevates the mood and thoughts. If you can get under the morning sun, it can also help fire you up. While this is a great habit for everyone, people with kapha natures will benefit greatly.
- Mix things up. Kapha nature is steady with strong endurance. This can be great once you get into a project to provide the ability to continue to plow through and stick with it. If that’s working, keep going. However, sometimes kapha can become too stuck in routine and that alone can create procrastination in other areas – especially those that are new, unknown, and uncomfortable. The kapha urge here will be to avoid the change and stick to what is known even if it is harder. Trying something new, switch up your routine, and change tasks. Start with simple shifts, as this process will push you slightly out of your comfort zone in the short term. But long term, this is exactly what the kapha needs for balance. Typically an outer force – a person, deadline, or external pressure – is what will push the kapha into this needed space. If you’re ready to tackle the issue, find the right motivational partner to provide the push.
- Lighten up your lunch. Because kapha tends to have a slower digestion, be careful not to eat too large or heavy of a lunch. If you take in more food that your body can process, you will feel sleepy and sluggish after eating. Don’t skip lunch but be careful not to have too many heavy foods such as meat, dairy, processed wheat products and sugar. Enjoy a cooked meal with whole grains, vegetables, spices with a small to moderate amount of lighter protein (fish, chicken, legumes).
- Find your hook. Kapha can be very laid back, sometimes to a point of inaction. Look inside yourself to see what really matters to you. Find the deep level hook to pull the motivation out of you. You might discover in the process that your procrastination about a project is because it isn’t yours – maybe someone else wants you to do it, or it is a should you’ve taken on. But if it isn’t something you really want, you may be avoiding it because it isn’t right for you. If that’s the case, find the space that is right for you to take action with.
Vata is the opposite of kapha in most ways. Its qualities are light, mobile, and quick – the opposite of the heavy, stable, slow of kapha. As such, vata procrastination is not the heavy type of vata but rather their hesitancy stems from worry, anxiety, and overload. Being ungrounded increases vata lightness and this often come from lack of structure, stress and excess movement from trying to do too much with lots of running around. Procrastination for the vata is often a result of feeling overwhelmed by the barrage of expectations or tasks. This leads to the struggle of bringing the chaos into a cohesive plan and find the first step forward – a process that is difficult for the ungrounded vata who spins in stories, worry and distractions.
The vata nature is also one is shorter attention span with a tendency to be pulled off task by other projects, people, or the next shiny object. Not getting things done in a timely manner is often due to the challenge of vatas to be organized and stay on track.
Tools to Balance Vata Procrastination
- Rest more. This means not only getting a nice 7-8 hours of sleep at night, but also building in a couple short periods of mini rejuvenation during the day. Taking the time to fill your energy cup back up will give the vata dosha grounded stability and energy to move forward.
- Do tasks and projects in small doses. Knowing vata likes diversity and change, take advantage of this tendency by breaking things up. I have found reward systems to be nice structures for vata people. Set a time of 10-30 minutes for tasks that feel more cumbersome or hard to start. After doing that, give yourself the reward of a fun task or break.
- Create a soothing atmosphere. Though vata people will gravitate to public places with lots of sensory and social stimulation, they will actually serve themselves best by creating an atmosphere that is more soothing or quiet. Have music that has a slower beat to calm the nervous system. Add in pieces of beauty like an inspiring picture or fresh flowers. Make sure the space is on the warmer side as vata tends to be cold.
- Get the jitters out of the way. One of the main qualities of vata is movement. While this is the natural tendency of vata and needs to be acknowledged, too much can lead to issues like overwhelm, fatigue, and distraction. Before settling in to focused tasks, it can be helpful to get the jittery bugs out of the way by doing some gentle exercise or even having a bit of dedicated “putsying time” when you allow yourself to flit a bit between tasks. The key here is to keep it contained by doing 30-60 minutes but not going overboard or getting stuck in the movement mode.
- Find a partner or professional to hold the structure. Vata qualities tends toward great creativity, ideas, and innovation. Tangible actions, plans and structured progress are not their talent. Recognizing what you are capable of or not can be the first step to finding the outside structure you need. Working in a group can help hold more structure. Or hiring a person like an organizer, trainer or coach may be more effective.
Pitta and procrastination is not something that typically goes together. The pitta dosha is primarily made up of fire which often translates to strong drive, strong activity and uber-motivation. Pitta energy tends to be focused, sharp, competitive and capable. Pitta people are usually the ones who not only get projects done on time, they usually get them done ahead of time while juggling multiple additional projects!
However, even with the typical pitta work energy, I have seen two types of delay and pitta type procrastination.
The first stems from burnout. Pitta people are used to being able to accomplish a huge amount of tasks and doing less can feel like a weakness. This is distorted pitta energy which often led to the burn out to begin with. Instead of realizing their limit and fatigue, the pitta person may judge their slowing down as a form of procrastination.
Pitta people can also have an expectation of themselves to be perfect. If there is a sense that something can’t be done completely well or right within the time or structure available, a pitta person may put it off. The perfectionism may be sabotaging the start or completion.
Tools to Balance Pitta Procrastination
- Soften. Soften the sharp edges of the critical mind, the perfectionism and excessive expectations. Be gentle with yourself rather than judgmental. In doing so, you can uncover the deeper issue to address and find a way through the perceived procrastination.
- Slow down. This is not something a pitta will “choose” to do willingly unless things get forced to a point of illness. But doing so proactively will actually create greater efficiency and efficacy by decreasing burnout and its effects. When this can be phrased as a way to be more effective in their actions with a hint of challenge, the pitta may be inspired to do it.
- Use a success chart. People with the pitta nature are organized and love accomplishment. Using some sort of a tracking system with a chart or app takes advantage of this natural tendency. The key here is to use the tool without it becoming hyper-competitive or tapping into an imbalanced perfectionism pattern. Keep it fun, light and playful.
In addition to these dosha elements, there is another piece that can affect anyone and everyone – too much to do with too little time creating overwhelm. Our cultural and work-place expectations have created a reality where most people simply have too much on their to-do lists. The truth is that there isn’t enough time to necessarily do everything you want or need and still keep a healthy work-life balance. But the pressure and expectations are there so you might push yourself by trying to keep up on the hamster wheel running yourself ragged, leading to an increase in stress and fatigue.
In this case, I often see that a perceived procrastination may actually be your inner wisdom asking you to slow down and REST and find a new balancing act. Procrastination is often judged as something negative but I would also argue that it can be a cue from your system to look at what is not quite in balance that needs adjusting.
As you can see, there are different roots of delayed behavior. Understanding what energies and needs are behind the delay can help you better find a workable solution.
©2016, Jamie Durner, Ayurvedic Practitioner and Certified Life Coach at Abundant You Coaching in Brookfield, WI