“It’s Not What You Say. It’s How You Say It.”

Certain negative communication styles are so lethal to a relationship that Dr. John Gottman calls them the ‘Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse’. They predict relationship failure with over 90% accuracy if the behaviors aren’t changed.

The Four Ways to Destroy Any Relationship according to Gottman

⚡️criticism –

” You could have done it better. ” When ever we forget that the other person probably has a reason (that is valid by the way), for their behavior, we potentially damage our relationships instantly.

⚡️contempt-

Using body language that will be interpreted as superiority, dismissal, or a lack of respect.

⚡️defensiveness-

When we respond to another with: “Yah?… but you…” I like to help my clients practice taking turns when it gets this ugly. For example, “I want to hear you, but can you hear what I’m saying first?” (Since I brought up an issue?)

⚡️stonewalling-

When we delay a positive response to a request.

When you forget what matters

Marriages struggle for lots of reasons, but complacency can be especially poisonous. When you take your spouse for granted you’re taking a big risk. Our desire to matter to another is powerful. There is no better feeling than when you make yourself vulnerable to a loved one and they handle you with care.

Thereverse is also true. When you go out on a limb to show love and your spouse takes that love for granted – that hurts. This kind of hurt can lead to a breakup.

Body language as well as the tone of your voice are important. (NOTE: That’s why it’s a bad idea to have important conversations via text messages or email) Imagine your partner asking, “when will you be home?” with a smile and a lilt in his/her voice. Now imagine the same question asked with a scowl and a sigh. Sometimes the words you say have little to do with the message you’re sending. * Hence, avoid texting if you want to have clear communication.

If you want to save your marriage from the “4 Horseman of the Apocalypse”, then you need to pay attention to how you respond to your partner, and how you let them know what your needs and desires are.

Remedies to negativity

1. “It means a lot to me”

People want to live meaningful lives. We want to make a difference at our job, in our community, at our church, in our families, and to our friends. We want to matter. That’s why you feel awesome when your friend or partner says to you, “It means a lot to me when you …” The clarity is magnetic.

Learn to ask for what you want. Otherwise you may be unconsciously expecting magic from the other, i.e., “read my mind if you really care…” Such myths are guaranteed to hurt your relationship.

2. Learn to Speak Responsibly

You can banish your criticism by talking about your feelings using “I-statements” and expressing positive needs. I-statements are best explained in contrast to “you-statements”. Observe: “You are never home on time”. This is a ‘you’- statement, and feels like an attack. Typically, when we feel attacked, our defense-mechanisms kick in big time! True, it might be an exasperation we are stating, but communication experts will tell you – this statement has little hope for a good outcome.

Why? Because “you” statements assume expertise about the other. And here is a key: The only person you can be an expert on is yourself, which is a full time job for all of us! Using “I” statements is more honest, and doesn’t feel so much like an attack. “I feel overwhelmed when you aren’t home on time because I look forward to your help with the kids.” This is an I-statement. It communicates the same thing that the you-statement attempts to accomplish, but in a way that is more likely to be accepted and acted upon.

Variations of “it means a lot to me” are perfect follow-ups to I-statements. For example, you could express your desire for your spouse to be home on time in the form of a request like this: “It would mean a lot to me if you were home in time to help with the kids so I can make dinner.” It’s not what you say, but how you say it. Imagine your spouse asking, “when will you be home?” with a smile and a lilt in his voice. Now imagine the same question asked with a scowl and a sigh.

Sometimes the words you say have little to do with the message you’re sending. It’s important to keep in mind when you are trying to use “it means a lot to me“, the words are useless if they aren’t said correctly. In other words, if I’m also angry when I say it, that will be what the other picks up.

Nobody’s perfect. Practice makes progress!

If you want to save your marriage from complacency, negativity, and monotony then you need to practice.

*Practice showing gratitude:

“It meant a lot to me when you listened to me talk about my frustrating day.” *Practice taking responsibility:

“I can see that what I said made you upset. You mean so much to me. It wasn’t my intention. I’m so sorry.” *Practice assertiveness: “It would mean a lot to me if you would take out the trash.”

The more you practice, the more progress you’ll make.

5 Steps to Overcome Procrastination

Worth Reading – from off the Web! – Tiny Buddha, by Sandra Wozniak https://tinybuddha.com/author/sandra-woznicki/

“You have criticized yourself for years and it hasn’t worked. Try approving of yourself and see what happens.” ~Louise L. Hay

I dreamt of starting my own business for years. Ten years, exactly.

While there are a few reasons it took so long to take the plunge, procrastination is at the top of the list.

It’s hard work to change careers, uncomfortable to leave a steady paycheck, and nerve-wracking to think of failure.

Even after spending months and years learning, studying, and getting certified, when it was no longer a matter of having the skills, the uncertainty of success was enough for me to keep kicking the can down the road to start marketing myself.

I was afraid of failing. I was afraid of not being perfect. I was afraid that people would think I was a joke. And I was afraid that I wasn’t going to be capable of all the work it entailed.

So I dragged my feet and kept passing my work off to “Future Me.”

I did this for everything, though.

“Tomorrow Sandy” can do the dishes. She’ll take care of scheduling that doctor’s appointment. Oh, and sign her up for that tough conversation I need to have with my mom too.

At one point I recognized that I often procrastinated because I needed everything to be perfect.

  • I wouldn’t work on a craft project or cook a new recipe unless I knew it would come out flawless.
  • Or I would keep tweaking projects at work up to the last second and beyond, at the sacrifice of getting more work done.
  • Or I would agonize over every text and email I sent, often opting not to send any message unless I knew exactly what to say.

But, as you can see, I’ve come a long way from that version of me.

I’ve since started my own business (and I’m loving it!), and I’ve pulled my best tools together on paper for how to stop procrastinating—even though I actually procrastinated on writing this post (ironic, I know!).

Today, I didn’t let my fear of “good enough” hold me back from sharing actual, helpful advice and mindset shifts to get moving and stop staying stuck.

Because when we’re stuck, we start telling ourselves stories. So that’s where we’ll start, with this story we tell ourselves about why we procrastinate.

What We Think Procrastination Is

We have this misconception that procrastination is laziness.

But procrastination is an active process. You choose to do something else instead of the task that you know you should be doing.

In contrast, laziness is not caring. It’s apathy, inactivity, and an unwillingness to act. It’s an “I could, I just don’t wanna” kind of attitude.

But when you’re procrastinating, you feel even more stressed because you do care about getting the task done. You’re just avoiding stress and having difficulty with motivation.

Because that is why we procrastinate.

What Procrastination Really Is and Why We Do It

Procrastination is a stress-avoidance technique. It is an active process to temporarily avoid discomfort.

We subconsciously are saying, “Present Me is not willing to experience this discomfort, so I will pass it on to Future Me.”

(We do this as though we’re asking a stranger to do the work for us. Researchers have seen on fMRI that when we think about our future selves, it lights up the same part of the brain as when we think about strangers.)

The really cool news is that by working toward overcoming your procrastination habit, you’re building your overall resilience to distress.

That is how I define resilience: a willingness to experience discomfort.

Examples of Procrastination

Procrastination is tricky. Sometimes it’s obvious that we’re doing it. Sometimes we don’t quite realize it (like when I had to water the plants right then and there instead of writing this blog post).

So here are some examples:

  • Scrolling through Instagram instead of getting started on important tasks
  • Putting off work assignments until the last minute
  • Wanting to start a new positive habit (dieting, exercising, or saving money), but repeatedly delaying it while telling yourself that “I’ll start soon
  • Wanting to start a business but wasting time in “research mode” instead of taking action
  • Doing an easy, less important task that “needs to be done” before getting started
  • Waiting until you’re “in the mood” to do the task

5 Steps to Stop Procrastinating

Now that we know what it is and why we do it, let’s look at how to stop.

1. Motivate yourself with kindness instead of criticism.

What really holds us back from moving forward is the language we use when talking to ourselves.

(Listen to your inner dialogue- it’s too revealing! I would never talk to another human being, dog, or plant, for that matter, the way I sometimes talk to myself!)

Thoughts like:

  • I don’t want to.
  • It will be hard.
  • I don’t know how to do it.
  • It might not come out as good as I want it to.
  • I’ll probably fail.
  • This will be so boring.

This is what we think that drives us to procrastinate. I mean, really, when you read those thoughts, they just feel so demotivating, right?

This negative self-talk has a good intent. It is trying to save us from discomfort.

Unfortunately, it’s achieving the opposite because it adds to the stress by making us feel bad.

If you speak to yourself with kindness, just as you would a friend, (or child) it will feel so much more motivating.

So think about what you would say to that friend. It might sound like:

  • I get it, it will be uncomfortable, but you’ll be done soon and then you can relax.
  • Once you get started, it will be easier.
  • You can do it!!
  • If it doesn’t come out perfect, at least you’ll have practiced more.
  • If you fail, you’ll have learned so much.

2. Create a pattern-interrupter.

That negative self-talk has simply become part of your procrastination habit.

Because that is what procrastination becomes—a habit—and habits are comprised of a cue, a routine, and a reward.

  • The cue is thinking about a task that needs to be done.
  • The routine is to speak that negative self-talk that leads to procrastination.
  • The reward is less stress. (Not no stress, because avoiding the task is still somewhat stressful because we know it eventually needs to be done.)

In order to break the habit and create a new one, you need to introduce a pattern-interrupter.

Mel Robbins has a great one she calls the 5 Second Rule. When you think “I should do this,” before the negative self-talk starts in, count backwards, “5-4-3-2-1-GO” and move.

I find this helpful when I’m having a hard time getting out of bed in the morning.

If I’m having trouble getting motivated to do something difficult like write a post about procrastination, my pattern-interrupter is “I can do hard things.” Not only am I interrupting the pattern, I’m motivating myself positively as well.

If I’m having trouble doing a boring and tedious task like my taxes, I use something like “I’m willing to be uncomfortable now so that Future Me can be at peace.”

3. Break down the task.

One of the big drivers of procrastination is feeling overwhelmed. “Overwhelm” happens when we’re looking at a project in full scope, either not knowing where to start or feeling like all the work involved will be too much.

If the next task at hand is too big, or if you don’t know where to start, your first task, really, is to either 1) make a list, or 2) figure out the smallest thing you can do first.

For example, I have social anxiety and going to the gym was overwhelming to me.

So I broke it down into:

  • I just need to put gym clothes in my car, that’s it.
  • I just need to drive to the gym. I can turn around if I want once I get there.
  • I just need to walk in the door. I can always leave.
  • I just need to get changed in the locker room I can do that.

Honestly, I never turned around and went home. Because once I’d taken the small, easy step, the next small easy step was doable.

Which leads me to the next step…

4. Just commit to five minutes.

Studies show that if we commit to five minutes only, 80 percent of us are likely to continue with the task.

Five minutes is nothing. You can do anything for five minutes.

There is an 80 percent chance you’ll continue working once you put in those five minutes, but even if you don’t, you’re still five minutes closer to your goal.

And, you’ve taken one more step to breaking the old habit of not starting. It’s a big win-win!

5. Reward yourself or make the task more enjoyable.

Another problem with looking at a big task in scope instead of the next five minutes is that the reward is too far away or not satisfying enough.

When you’re trying to lose weight, twenty pounds is weeks and months away.

Or, when you’re putting off your taxes, if you aren’t expecting a return then the reward is “not going to jail.”

So bringing in more rewards sooner will fast-track creating the new habit of getting started.

But also, making the task itself more pleasant will make it a less monotonous task.

  • To write this post, I put on my softest bathrobe and got a tub to create an Epsom-salt foot bath under my desk while I write.
  • I’ll be starting my taxes in the next few weeks, and I already plan to have a glass of wine and super fancy cheese and crackers while I sit down to do them.

What Would Open Up for You If You Stopped Procrastinating?

We spend so much more time avoiding the discomfort of a task than we do stepping into what it will be like once the task is complete.

If you were to stop procrastinating, what would open up in your life?

  • Would you start your business because you’re no longer afraid of experiencing any discomfort if you “fail”?
  • Would you simply enjoy life more if you weren’t in a perpetual state of stress because there is a list of things you’re putting off?
  • Would you finally lose weight or get in shape and feel good once you push through being able to get started?

The Bottom Line

Procrastination is an active process to temporarily avoid discomfort (it is not laziness!)

By overcoming your procrastination habit, you are building your emotional resilience.

Notice the negative, demotivating self-talk and motivate yourself with kindness over criticism.

Create a pattern interrupter before the negative self-talk starts weighing you down.

Commit to just five minutes and you’ll either keep going to do more, or you’ll at least be five minutes closer to done.

Reward yourself or make the task more enjoyable so there is less discomfort to avoid.

About Sandy Woznicki

Sandy is a former anxiety-riddled, insomniac stress-aholic turned coach. She helps career-driven women and working moms master their stress and anxiety, to motivate themselves with kindness instead of criticism, to face life’s challenges with Graceful Resilience, and to start truly enjoying life without all that unnecessary worry. Her coaching and free resources like the Stress Detox Mini Course help women to take back control of their lives to live more fully and freely.

Edited for readability