How the German Concept of 'Sitzfleisch' Can Help You Fend Off Procrastination
October 18, 2018
Hi, my name is Martha, and I am a procrastinator.
That’s right—I’m admitting that procrastination is my crutch. If a project, responsibility or anything—even taxes—is due at a certain time, I tend to do anything in my power to push it off until the wee hours of the night and let fate decide whether or not my crunch-time efforts will make sense in the morning.
The rush of getting work done in a short window of time is never worth the waves of unnecessary stress, anxiety, and guilt—yet, I continue to do it. Again. And again.
I know I'm not alone—one in five people are chronic procrastinators, meaning we don't just put things off, we carry shame for the behavior, too.
Even though I've noticed this habit of mine, I've never really asked myself why I procrastinate. I just subscribed myself to the title of “procrastinator” and assumed that was just the way my brain was wired. But new research shows that procrastination isn't so much about a person's inherent laziness as it is about the feelings that come with certain tasks.
"When we face negative emotions like frustration, resentment, boredom, or anxiety that are associated with a task, we procrastinate on the task in order to regulate our emotions," Timothy Pychyl, Ph.D., explains on Psychology Today.
We procrastinate because it feels like the only way to modify those uncomfortable feelings a task stirs up.
The solution: Lean into the discomfort.
And your "sitzfleisch" can help you do that.
Procrastination, Meet 'Sitzfleisch'
The German word sitzfleisch has a few different meanings. One of them is, well, one’s literal behind. The other is a little more applicable here: the ability to endure or persist in a task. It's the German concept of working through something tedious or challenging and riding that sweet, sweet wave of productivity.
"To have sitzfleisch means the ability to sit still for the long periods of time required to be truly productive; it means the stamina to work through a difficult situation and see a project through to the end," the BBC explains.
It's your staying power, and to say someone has it is a compliment in the German workplace. (And, yes, Angela Merkel is described as having loads of sitzfleisch.)
Sitzfleisch is the antidote to procrastination—and here are two ways you can tap into it next time you feel stalled on a task:
1. Check Your Threat vs. Challenge Mindset
One of the reasons tasks can stir up stress: They feel like a threat to us. When faced with any task—especially something new—it’s easy to feel threatened by a lot of factors, like time commitment and lack of resources. Switching from a threat mindset to a challenge mindset can help ease that emotional burden.
"If you feel threatened by a situation, you’ll be stressed," writes Tchiki Davis, Ph.D. "But if you instead view it as a challenge—or an opportunity to overcome adversity—you may be able to transform some of your stress into invigoration."
I've tried making the mental shift, and it's definitely helped. There’s a certain vigor that comes in when I'm faced with a challenge. It changes what feels like a locked door into a hurdle that, yes, is a little bit high, but I'm able to jump over it. That subtle shift helps me step outside of my mind and energizes me.
Finding the ability to embrace your work as a challenge instead of a threat can be one way to fuel your motivation and your sitzfleisch.
2. Spot Your Emotional Blockers
As I mentioned earlier, our emotions are the main thing feeding the procrastination fire. Knowing this, try to pinpoint which feeling might be blocking you from your sitzfleisch groove.
It's a tactic recommended in a recent viral tweet from researcher and educator @black_and_woman:
Friendly reminder: procrastination is a symptom of anxiety. Next time you’re procrastinating (avoiding) a task, lean in w/ curiosity and ask yourself what about the task triggers avoidant behaviors. Feelings of incompetence, lack of interest etc. & work from there.— linc (@black_and_woman) October 10, 2018
Next time you're procrastinating, examine why starting scares you—and be kind when you uncover the answer. I realized that my fear of starting was rooted in my fear of failing, but reminding myself that there are things to learn from failures was a huge lift in terms of shattering that idea.
By asking yourself why you’re resisting a task and exploring the emotions behind your actions, research shows that you’re gearing yourself up for less procrastination in the future.
Get curious: Why are you feeling guilty? Worried? Anxious? Shameful?
Try naming the emotion and peeling back the layers, and see what you can find. You might just uncover your sitzfleisch and ability to power through.