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Avoiding procrastination through self-forgiveness

‘We achieve inner health only through forgiveness – the forgiveness not only of others but also of ourselves.’  Joshua Loth Liebman

Creating legacy and procrastination

Let’s face it: a sizeable portion of the time spent on creating legacy is actually spent procrastinating. I don’t like to admit it, but procrastination is part of the game. 

Sometimes, we procrastinate for months or even years before starting a legacy project. And then once we start, the only really productive time is the legacy project honeymoon. Then we start procrastinating in the back-to-reality phase, all throughout the motivation slump, and by the time we’ve reached the last 100 metres we are champions of procrastination. I know I should probably talk in the first person here, but seriously – doesn’t that sound painfully familiar?

Forgiving yourself and moving on

It’s taken me a few years to realise, but one of the best ways to stop myself from procrastinating is to forgive myself for it. And just the other day, I came across a social psychological study that provided some evidence that this is indeed a highly effective method.

The study found that university students who had procrastinated in the first semester but who had forgiven themselves in the second semester did significantly better in their academic work than students who did not forgive themselves.

At first glance, the findings appear counter-intuitive: surely forgiving yourself for procrastinating would indicate that you’re too easy on yourself, and therefore more likely to keep on procrastinating. But the researchers who reported the findings suggested an interesting explanation of the findings.

They argued that the findings may be due to the fact that we often tend to avoid tasks that are associated with negative feelings. So those students who felt guilty about their previous procrastination kept on avoiding their academic study; whereas those students who forgave themselves managed to get back on track in the second semester.

And based on personal experience, I think the researchers were right: forgiving yourself for procrastinating certainly does the trick, and it will help you get back on track on your legacy projects.

How to forgive yourself

Deciding to forgive yourself is one thing, but you may find that you don’t know where to start. Here are a few tips on how to do it that work for me and that you might find useful:

1. Wait until the start of a new day to forgive yourself. There’s no point forgiving yourself when you’re tired; you might as well go to bed and get a good night’s sleep. If you then start the next day by forgiving yourself, you’ll be very likely to do a decent day’s work on your legacy project.

2. Speak to yourself as if to another person. For example, say ‘I forgive you’  rather than ‘I forgive myself’. I often find that I’m more lenient towards other people than I am towards myself. If you’re the same, speaking to yourself as if to another person will be more effective than speaking in first person. 

3. Only forgive yourself; don’t make excuses. Forgiving yourself is not the same as making excuses. As soon as you say ‘I forgive you, and I know that you were tired yesterday and needed a break etc.’, you immediately give yourself license to make the same mistakes today. So just focus on forgiving yourself.

4. If saying it doesn’t work, write it down. Simply write a letter to yourself as if you were writing to a dear friend who has wronged you but whom you forgive from the bottom of your heart. By writing it out, you are clarifying what it is that you forgive yourself for. So often, it is only by clarifying our feelings of guilt for past behaviour that we can eliminate these feelings and start afresh.

How do you forgive yourself for procrastinating?

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