How to stop procrastination
Procrastination is that annoying friend that prevents us from readily starting or completing tasks. It is extremely common, affecting around 20% of the population.
It can affect: performance; physical and psychological health; finances; and, is a major cause of stress and anxiety. But if it has a profound effect on our general wellbeing and creates substantial psychological suffering, why do we do it?
Here I outline common reasons for procrastination and some cognitive behavioural therapy tips to help you become a more productive self!
Why do we procrastinate?
As always, this will vary between people, but common reasons are:
- Task characteristics
- Coping strategy
- Timing of rewards and punishments
- Lack of clear goals and vision
1- task characteristics
Attractiveness, duration and difficulty of the task are one of the major contributors for procrastination as the more unpleasant the task appears to be for the individual, the more likely they are to postpone it.
For example, putting out the washing – ehhhhh boring!!!
The procrastinator appears to create a distorted perception of the unpleasantness and duration of the task – is putting out the washing really going to be that bad? And, will it take that long? Well… for procrastinators it may seem as bad as having to clean the whole house!
We have a natural tendency to avoid things that create negative feelings (such as boredom) and the more negative we label that task and associated feelings, the more likely we are to avoid it and convince ourselves that it really is going to be a horrible experience (even if it will only last 5 minutes).
2- coping strategy
Negative emotions appears to be a major contributor to lack of self-regulation, again, we like to avoid negative feelings and, even though it may appear that you just lack discipline, it may be in fact avoidance behaviour.
Procrastination may be a strategy that we have put into place to protect ourselves and our self-esteem. There is no better way to avoid failure than not trying at all! This is especially common in academia, where procrastination can affect 70% of students. Procrastination is a defence mechanism – studying is hard and can be very challenging, with lot of pressure to perform. Facing a difficult task challenges our self-esteem and directly affects our wellbeing, therefore, most of us avoid it at all costs, even when we really want to complete the task.
3- timing of rewards and punishment
Do you tend to put things off if they aren’t due for a few days, weeks or months? Or put things off that you do not see immediate results? If we do not get immediate gratification, for some it is hard to see the long term benefits of that behaviour.
For example, exercise. You may feel great after doing exercise but it takes a while to see the true benefits and it is a lot of work and physical effort. Therefore the long term benefits are overshadowed by the short term rewards of not getting up at 6 am in the cold to go for a run, no matter how good you will feel after.
4- lack of clear goals and vision
It is very difficult to motivate and commit to a seemingly unpleasant task when we do not know why we are doing it. Will you be motivated to go for a run just because someone else is doing it? Probably not. But if your goal is to get healthier and fitter so you can enjoy life to the fullest, that may create more motivation.
Feeling like you are stuck and have no direction in life may be a big contributor to your procrastination as there is nothing to get you going.
Self-criticism, Self-doubts and self-deprecation
negative thoughts & rumination
Thoughts of worry can occur before the task and after the task has been completed – for example, thinking “people expect me to do a good job” places a lot of pressure to perform and worry that we will not uphold expectations, resulting in avoidance of starting the task or completing it.
Most may experience rumination about our own tendency to procrastinate – “why didn’t I start this earlier”, “why am I always like this”, “everyone else can do this, why cant I”. This can result in self-criticism and self-deprecating thoughts.
result: MORE PROCRASTINATION!
These thoughts generate negative feelings about ourselves and lead to even more procrastination as we invent new ways to avoid these negative feelings instead of facing them (we are very clever!).
Now, how do we break the cycle of negative thought patterns and procrastination?
with CBT of course!
Studies have shown that cognitive behavioural therapy is an effective treatment for procrastination. During therapy, our goal is to identify your negative self-talk, dive deep down into what you are afraid of, what emotions/feelings are you avoiding and deal with this so you can finally break free from procrastination!
but for now, here are some tips that may help you:
- Stimulus control
- Emotional regulation
- Cognitive restructuring
- Behavioural activation
- Acceptance and Mindfulness
1- stimulus control
Control the amount of stimuli which can contribute to the reduction of attention (ie. turn off the TV, your phone and distracting music).
Create obstacles to activities with immediate rewards – like checking Facebook, playing games, etc.
Now try this:
- identify and write down your triggers, what inhibits you from doing those tasks? This will help you become more self-aware and identify moments of ‘weakness’.
- create a productivity space, or a time of the day, where you turn everything off and commit to doing tasks that you tend to avoid.
2- emotional regulation
In therapy, we look at what are these negative feelings: what are you afraid of? Is it failure? Are you feeling lack of self-worth? By identifying your core fears, we can work together to see things more positively, and start that self-love that everyone talks about.
Now try this:
- have you been avoiding doing a task for some time now? Write down what it is about that task that makes you avoid it – is it something really to be worried about?
- Pretend you are two people – one doesn’t want to do the task and the job of the other person is to convince them of all the rewards that task will bring in the long-term.
3- cognitive restructuring
Most procrastinators do not initiate actions as they have a distorted perception of how difficult or displeasurable the task will be. Identifying and questioning these irrational and dysfunctional thoughts is what we do in therapy. Hypnotherapy is then used to reinforce those new helpful thoughts to help you take action faster.
Now try this:
- next time you find yourself procrastinating, write down your thoughts and decide what helpful counter thoughts could you have instead.
- For example, instead of thinking “ehhh doing the washing is so boring, why do I always have to do it”, instead think “I don’t like doing the washing but it only takes 5 minutes, and it is not true that I always have to do it – it is my turn now”
4- behavioural activation
Most procrastinators believe that motivation must appear before action. However, this is incorrect! Studies have shown that starting creates motivation.
So, just start! Do not wait for motivation, creativity or for everything to be perfect. It really is that simple.
Now try this:
- is there something you have been putting off? Well, just get up and start doing it, don’t wait for inspiration or the wind to blow in the right direction!
5 – create a goal, a vision
How can you be motivated to do tasks if you do not know why you are doing it?
Understanding your vision, your short and long term goals will help you achieve more productivity (even to hang out washing!)
Now try this:
- Ask yourself – what person do I want to be? What does my idealised self look like? Is what I am doing now helping me achieve that self-image? What steps do I need to take to achieve that goal?
- For example: I want to be responsible, caring and thoughtful – “Putting out the washing will make my wife happy and that will contribute to my goal”. This will create the motivation.
NOW let’s work together to help you be more productive!
If you want to learn more about how you can become more productive, unfriend your inner critic and self-defeating thoughts, contact me and receive your FREE 20 min consultation to find out more on how I can help you.
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Talask, G. (2017). Cognitive Behavioral Based Treatment for Procrastination. Psychology and Behavioral Science International Journal, 8(1), 0. https://doi.org/10.19080/pbsij.2017.08.555727
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