Procrastination by overwhelm?

I was on a roll writing blog posts on the drama triangle and its links to procrastination. Now I’m off the roll… I’d love to continue writing the next blog posts, but I can’t. Not yet. Here’s what happened:
I know, crappy picture. But is does show the back of our cat, and her five newborn babies. They’re so small!

I’ve never been around a nest of kittens before. I’m mesmerised, exhausted, worried, in love… A plethora of emotions (finally an excuse to use the word plethora) I’m enjoying it lots, but one things is for sure: I can’t think straight. Which means the blog posts will have to wait.

It turns out I have a temperature too. So maybe it’s not the kittens, maybe it’s the flu. My inner critic often tries to whip me into productivity. This morning, in persecutor mode, it said things like ‘You’re weak. Kittens are born all the time, that’s no reason to not work. You’re a wimp, to let all these emotions get to you.

After that, my inner victim (in terms of the drama triangle, hence this choice of words) came through: ‘But only slept three hours yesterday, I’m still exhausted. I’m in overwhelm from all the emotions. And more excuses to not listen to the persecutor and create some space. The inner rescuer concluded: ‘It’s impossible to work now’, and provided time off.


I know what procrastination from overwhelm feels like, and this wasn’t that. There was also a part of me that said: ‘Most things don’t matter today. Enjoy the miracles of life, take care of yourself, the rest can wait.’ I’ll check those thoughts against the winners triangle. Do I have a point?

drama triangle winner triangle

The winner’s triangle subsitutes the victim role with vulnarability, the rescuer role with caring, and the persecutor role with assertiveness. If I apply those to how I feel today:

  •  I’m tired and filled with emotions. Vulnarability in this moment means to simply accept that, not fight it, deny it or judge it.
  •  I’m tired, filled with emotions, and I want to get some things done. Caring means taking all of those seriously, and finding a way to take care of all of those. I can get rest, take it easy AND get things done that matter today. Like buying bread for lunch. And getting this post done – but taking a break when I need one, like now.
  • Assertiveness: taking that break as soon as I wrote ‘now’. Going to the nearby supermarket for bread instead of the bakery a bit further. Finishing this post now, and ignoring spelling and lay out. Also: promising I won’t write again until my temperature is back to normal 🙂

Looks like the winners triangle helps my inner adult to get her job done. (I’d provide a link but I can’t find it quickly enough. Click on the tag when you want to know more about the idea of an inner adult)




How to step out of the drama triangle – Victim

Yesterday I introduced the drama triangle, and applied it to the inner dynamics of procrastination. Today is about how to step out of the drama triangle.

Step 1: Don’t identify with it

When I wrote my example I was tempted to add ‘me’ in brackets behind the different roles: the Victim (me), the Rescuer (me) the Persecutor (me). I realised that was wrong, and actually harmful. They are not me. They are just parts of me that play up sometimes. They are modes, trying to help me through but having the opposite effect. Realising that is the first step in disentangling myself from their dynamics. I try to watch the actors play instead of believing I AM the play.

If you notice one of the roles pop up in your thinking: label it, and take a step back. When you fight it or ignore it, the effect will probably be reverse. It can increase the drama instead of make it go away. Don’t treat the roles as a problem, treat them as information. By taking a step back and observing the ‘actors’ you can find out what’s going on inside yourself.

Step 2: Use the winner’s triangle

When you understand what’s actually going on, you can create a solution from there. Which is tends to be more lasting (and rewarding!) than just battling symptoms. Unless you’re a real fan of symptoms of course 😉

Luckily, someone created a way out from the drama triangle: the winner’s triangle. Here’s what the wikipedia page says about it:

The Winner’s Triangle was published by Acey Choy in 1990 as a therapeutic model for showing patients how to alter social transactions when entering a triangle at any of the three entry points. Choy recommends that anyone feeling like a victim think more in terms of being vulnerable and caring, that anyone cast as a persecutor adopt an assertive posture, and anyone recruited to be a rescuer should react by being “caring”.[15]

Let me apply that to my own example, that I described yesterday:

Vulnerable – a victim should be encouraged to accept their vulnerability, problem solve, and be more self-aware. This asks something of me:

A) I need to be aware that I’m in victim mode. Clues are:

  • thoughts (like ‘this is too hard’, ‘impossible’, ‘everything is important’, ‘there’s no good option’, ‘I have to make the right choice’)
  • physical experiences (for example clenched jaws, hunched shoulders, very shallow breathing, fast beating heart, tense stomach muscles)
  • emotions (for example feeling drained, powerless, jittery, stuck)

Please note that these are my clues, yours may be different. But mine can be a good place to start looking if you don’t know your own yet.

B) Accept that that stuff is going on: I do experience irrational thoughts right now. I”m human. I suffer from improductive feelings right now. I’m human. My body is providing signals right now that something is going on. I’m human. Okay, things are the way they are. What are my possibilities?

C) Problem solve. If I’m in full on victim mode, I don’t even believe that I’m able to problem solve. It’s easier to pick up early clues and start from there, than to wait until I fully identify with the victim role. So I’ve trained myself. When I notice I’m procrastinating (or feeling the urge to start doing it) I ask myself: What’s really going on here? Luckily, the things I mentioned under A will help me gather ideas about that. I also have a handy checklist in my head. Is it that I:

  • don’t WANT to?
  • don’t now HOW to?
  • dont like the WAY I’m supposed to?

When I’m clear on the problem, I can start thinking about the solution. When the problem is simple, I ask myself:

  • What can make me WANT it more?
  • What can help me get clear on HOW to do it?
  • HOW can I change the way I do this?

If the problem lies deeper, obviously the solution may be more challenging. I can use some productivity tools (frog, pomodoro) to get me started straight away, while the back of my mind searches for a way to deal with the bigger problem. Fear of failure for example needs a long term strategy, and preferably a lasting solution. But I don’t have to wait for it to be solved to get my work done. I just need strategies to get moving again and create manageable steps, instead of procrastinate.

Wow, this blog post turns out longer than I expected. Procrastination is murky business. There are hidden monsters in the swamp. And often they’ll keep biting – unless you learn how to deal with them. If you ever wondered why all those articles on ‘10 ways to get rid of your procrastination for good’ never work, maybe now you understand.

All this thinking and feeling I’ve just described may sound awfully time consuming. Personally, I’ve found that they’re a lot less time consuming that procrastinating itself. Or the endless seach for the article/video/image that WILL help.

Rescuer and persecuter deserve their own post. To be continued…

drama triangle winner triangle

By Wiki-psyc (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

A procrastination drama triangle

Let’s apply a theory about interaction between people to you and your procrastination tendencies. Just for fun. I’ll introduce you to the drama triangle – something that may be surprisingly familiar when you think about people you know. Mind you: you need only two people for a full triangle! Do you recognise any of these?

The drama triangle

The Karpman Drama Triangle models the connection between personal responsibility and power in conflicts, and the destructive and shifting roles people play:

  1. The Victim: The Victim’s stance is “Poor me!” The Victim feels victimized, oppressed, helpless, hopeless, powerless, ashamed, and seems unable to make decisions, solve problems, take pleasure in life, or achieve insight. The Victim, if not being persecuted, will seek out a Persecutor and also a Rescuer who will save the day but also perpetuate the Victim’s negative feelings.
  2. The Rescuer: The rescuer’s line is “Let me help you.” A classic enabler, the Rescuer feels guilty if he/she doesn’t go to the rescue. Yet his/her rescuing has negative effects: It keeps the Victim dependent and gives the Victim permission to fail. The rewards derived from this rescue role are that the focus is taken off of the rescuer. When he/she focuses their energy on someone else, it enables them to ignore their own anxiety and issues. This rescue role is also very pivotal because their actual primary interest is really an avoidance of their own problems disguised as concern for the victim’s needs.
  3. The Persecutor: (a.k.a. Villain) The Persecutor insists, “It’s all your fault.” The Persecutor is controlling, blaming, critical, oppressive, angry, authoritative, rigid, and superior.
[This explanation is copied from Wikiedia, from its page on drama triangle -> a social model that was conceived by Stephen Karpman, a student studying under Eric Berne, the father of transactional analysis.]

A typical example could sound like this:

  • Victim (helpless voice): I don’t know what to do
  • Rescuer (energetic): I have some greate advice for you
  • Persecuter 1 (blaming voice): Your advice doesn’t work for me
  • Persecutor 2 (blaming voice): You just don’t want to be helped
  • Persecutor turns to victim: I work so hard to help you and you just don’t appreciate it
  • Former Victim turns Rescuer: It’s not you, my problems are very intricate

Two people, changing roles, a full traingle.

Procrastination drama

Transactional analysis is an intereaction model, meaning it describes how people may respond to each other. I’ll try it out as an introspection model now, to see how I may respond to myself:

  • The Victim: For whatever reson, big or small, I feel victimized, oppressed, helpless, hopeless, powerless, ashamed, or unable to make decisions/achieve insight/solve problems/take pleasure in life. When I give into “Poor me!”, the procrastination dynamic starts…
  • The Rescuer: Procrastination to the rescue! ” Not doing something will feel like self care. Yet this rescuing has negative effects: It keeps the Victim dependent and gives the Victim permission to fail. The rewards derived from the procrastiation are that the focus is taken off of the the difficult feelings. It enables me to ignore what’s really going on, for example my own anxiety or other issues.
  • The Persecutor: (a.k.a. Villain) The Persecutor insists, “It’s all your fault.” The Persecutor is controlling, blaming, critical, oppressive, angry, authoritative, rigid, and superior. In this case it’s trying to whip the Victim into productivity. (You may have met this person before in my earlier posts, then named the inner critic.)


Source  By Cdw1952 (Own work) [Attribution, CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (, via Wikimedia Commons

Tomorrow I’ll follow up with a post on how to deal with the procrastination drama. Simply pushing through is not the answer. Sometimes it might be. More often (and if you’re looking for a life that works for you) it’s helpful to address the actual thing that going on – and THEN get your thing(s) done.


Unmet needs as productivity block

It’s often easier to ask questions than to answer them… I’ve just posted this on my Facebook page, and totally confused myself: “The word of the day today is NEED. What do you need? Which unmet need is distracting you from working the way you had planned (or hoped) to?” How on earth am I supposed to know what I need? I can up with a 1000 answers, but which one of them is true?

Let’s start with the concrete bit: the work I have planned, and the way I hope to do it. I’ll be meeting a coaching client in three hours. Before that, there’s e-coaching I should work on, there’s some decluttering that needs doing, and there are some household chores that are waiting to get done. Whilst writing this down, I notice the way my language changes. There’s something I want to do (provide a great coaching session), there’s stuff I should do, and there’s stuff that’s nagging me.

My first answer would be: I need energy. Since it’s something I don’t have right now, I can write that off as ‘wishful thinking’. IF I had energy, I could do all of this. But I don’t have energy (it’s a lurgy day) and there’s no way t magically get it.

Reality check: energy is what I want. Not what I need.

If I can’t get all of this done -which becomes painfully clear now that I’m writing this – I guess my next answer is that I need to make choices. The coaching is an obvious priority: it’s scheduled, it matters to me, it provides money and fulfillment. Most of the other chores have nothing on this.

If I’ll allow myself to be led by the fear of not having enough energy to be a great coach at 3 PM I will procrastinate on the other tasks all day. Feeling I’m doing something wise (energy saving) but feeling bad anyhow (I could have done more).

Which leads to my next thought: I need to bite as much as I can chew. Or less. I need to feel safe in how I spend my energy.

As long as I’ll feel unsafe, I’ll procrastinate – to leave space for my priority.

That’s a useful insight. I’ll be doing the rest of my thinking around this off line for now. I want to turn this insight into practical action.

Start with the smallest step you can think of

The bigger the fear, the better this advice is. You know that joke about how you eat an elephant? The trunk first? There’s a reason why there’s no such joke about eating a quail. And it’s not just because a quail has no trunk.

The bigger the fear, the better this advice is. You know that joke about how you eat an elephant? The trunk first? There’s a reason why there’s no such joke about eating a quail (and it’s not just because a quail has no trunk).

I reminded myself of the smallest step technique today, because I know I need to restart my November project soon, and I dread it. I had to quit the project because of the flu – two or three rounds of it, I lost count. Then Christmas came, and then work happened. In the meanwhile my brain has labeled the project a FAILURE, and it’s frantically sending anxiety signals as soon as I consider picking it up again.

But it needs to be done. I want to get it done. And I want my brain to recogniseI did well, even when I didn’t finish it. The failure interpretation is an unfair distortion, and harmful too. Not to mention that it’s a clear invitation for procrastination!

So, my first small step today was revisit this blog. I replied to some of the comments I hadn’t replied to before, which reminded me of what a positive the experience othe blogging about my project has been.

It helped me reconnect to the feeling of ‘I want to get this done’. So I decided on a second small step: checking my diary if I had space (both time wise and mentally) to restart next week. Turned out I have SOME space. Which is enough when you think about small steps; it’s not too daunting to work on it a bit.

Obviously my third small step has been to write this blog post. It’s out in the open now: I will restart my November project. In February. Those taxes need to get done…

Today’s illustration is linked to the idea of taking a first small step. I made it on a day when I hadn’t painted for a long while. I wanted to paint, but felt like it would be impossible to create something beautiful. I felt I had lost all my skills, and certainly all my faith in being capable. So I decided to simply grab paint and create something that I would probably throw away because it was ugly. But at least I’d have handled some paint again. I did it. It worked. And I never threw it away. My son loved it (much to my surprise), so I gave it to him.

I worked on it and I didn’t drown

When I started my November project, I had one goal that was more important than getting it done: showing myself that my fear of drowning in this chore was nothing more than a fear, and that I am actually able to work on it and not drown. Safe to say: I did it!

I worked on it and didn’t drown.

That deserves some white space. And some bunting.

Yesterday I was a bit bummed that I didn’t reach my result: I still have not gathered everything I need to do our taxes. But… in projects, the results is only a means to an end. My end was going to be doing those taxes in December, and that’s still possible (if that pesky flu is willing to subside). And I have totally reached my other goal:

I worked on it and I didn’t drown.

I think there are more blessings to count, insights to gather, conclusions to come to. But it’s almost bed time for me. And I don’t want to count my blessings, just celebrate this one:

I worked on it and I didn’t drown.

Thanks for sharing this journey with me! My first National Blog Posting Month has been a joy. A struggle, and a joy. A worthwhile struggle, and a joy.

I’ll probably keep writing about this project until it’s done. Not every day, just when I have something to share. As a form of accountability. And because I’m rarely a fan of stories with an open ending 🙂


I ‘ve got plans, plans to remember

How I looked for ward to ending this series of blog posts with this image:

I’m afraid I’m stuck here instead:
Paper pile monster

I have been working on my November project, and have dared to enter a number of my Mount Dooms. I’ve made relevant progress, both in finding the papers I need and in organising them. I also managed to practice self restraint and not bury myself in trying to do everything at the same time.

There are more successes: I gained insight in the workings of my inner critic, managed to look after my inner child, made decisions based upon my values,, and there’s even more I could compliment myself for, like writing a daily blog post even when I was ill.

Still, I feel sad. I had hoped to finish my project tomorrow, and end with a victory: getting my project done, and looking back on succesfully applying what I’ve learned about dealing with myself. I can check off that last one, but the first one won’t happen.

I do have one important victory today: I made a doctor’s appointment. My temperature is rising again, after I felt better yesterday. And I don’t seem to get enough breath, even with clear sinuses. Normally I would have thought this could be a reason to go to the doctor next week. In our house, we tend to call the doctor by the time all other options (patentiently waiting, self medicating, denial) have failed.

Today, my inner adult took care of my thinking:

  • How will if I feel if I go and they say I have nothing to worry about? Relieved.
  • How will I feel if I go next week and turn out to need antibiotics? Stupid.

There’s nothing to gain by waiting.

I like this inner adult of mine 🙂

NaBloPoMo day 29. I would have loved to share things with you that are more directly related to my project, or to procrastination. But this is what I have to offer today, sat in bed with my laptop on my lap (no worries, on top of a book, it’s safe!).

The title of my post was inspired by this great song: