Procrastination: To delay, put off or avoid doing something, especially something requiring immediate attention. That is the dictionary definition.
Many of us procrastinate to some degree. That is, we may find ourselves putting off certain tasks which may be difficult or unpleasant even if they have to be done. We may get them done at some point, hopefully before it is too late and our efforts wasted.
Procrastination is not simply a matter of poor time management skills. Chronic procrastinators often have several issues that create what sometimes appears to be lazy or uncaring behavior.
Chronic procrastinators regularly put off doing things because they want to avoid unpleasant emotions.
Those emotions can be feeling overwhelmed, sad, angry, resentful, helpless or powerless. Delaying the start or completion of something does not address the problem but avoids feeling the feeling.
Procrastinators Avoid Feelings
Fear of Feeling Overwhelmed:
The chronic procrastinator magnifies a task so that it becomes too hard or impossible to do. He views it as too complex and, rather than breaking it down into manageable components, he gets the feeling that he must do all of it at once.
The stress of feeling overwhelmed is so powerful that the he becomes phobic or avoidant. He then becomes paralyzed with fearful and obsessive thoughts that lead to total inaction.
Fear of Failure:
The chronic procrastinator thinks that if he tries and does not succeed the feeling of defeat would be so great that he would be totally devastated by it. Therefore why should he try at all!
He is driven by what something should or should not look like. Consequently he is likely to get fixated on what the results should be and not think about the rewards of engaging in the process of working through a problem.
Fear of Disapproval:
The chronic procrastinator is so afraid of rejection, criticism or being disapproved of that he prefers to stay out of the spotlight. He is unlikely to take any risks at all if he fears there is a possibility of making a mistake. Any type of input by a coworker, friend or family member, may be perceived as severe criticism and cause him to shut down.
Fear of not being Perfect:
The chronic procrastinator often suffers from perfectionism. He feels that if he is to perform any task at all the results must be beyond compare, supreme or unequaled. The standards or goals are set so high that he couldn’t possibly accomplish them, so he becomes immobilized and delays moving forward.
Fear of Success:
The chronic procrastinator is concerned that if he has success it will really be just accidental. However if he does succeed at all he will then have to continue to perform at the highest possible levels as the demands on him will increase every time he is successful.
This perverse reasoning causes him to worry that he will ultimately be rejected as soon as he fails at something. He can control that possibility by avoiding any commitment in the first place.
How to Overcome Procrastination
Disregard how you actually feel: Since procrastinating helps you to avoid feeling a certain way (IE: anxious, fearful, etc.) then completely disregarding your feelings about doing a task and simply pushing through to doing it even the first part of it can help. The truth is you do not have to be in a good or bad mood about doing something to actually do it!
Commit to a new attitude: The first step is to develop an attitude of wanting to make a positive change. Recognizing that making a change is the only way out of the painful loop of avoidance will set the stage for a real shift to occur.
Identify the fear: Take a personal inventory of what you fear when you think about beginning or completing a project. Write those fears down. Notice how one-sided and defeatist they are. Think about how good you would like to feel when you complete a task.
Make a simple list: Write down whatever it is that you have been avoiding. Don’t concern yourself with how you feel about any task or project on the list. Simply do the exercise of writing the list.
Break it down: Break down the steps for each task on your list. What do you need to do first? What comes next? Create steps that take only 15-30 minutes to complete.
Reward yourself: When you complete a step, reward yourself with something you enjoy. Spend a few minutes enjoying your reward before returning to the next step.
Replace Perfect with Good Enough: Realize that doing something that is “good enough” is so much better than not doing anything for fear of it not being perfect.
Start! Do not worry about the finish! Once you have created the steps for something all you need to do is follow them one at a time. Don’t get hung up on what something will look like when it is finished. You will get there with much less anxiety if you focus on what you are doing.
Create a productive environment: Get rid of clutter and anything that might tend to distract you. Make sure there is enough light and that the sounds around you are conducive to concentration.
Make it enjoyable: Create a WANT TO approach rather than a HAVE TO mindset. Nobody is forcing you to change. You have chosen to live a more productive, happier and fulfilling life. You need to keep this notion at the front of your mind so that your old habits don’t control your thinking.
Schedule your tasks: Plan the time to work on things. The tendency to put things off can be overcome with a systematic method of working on them. If you have created a WANT TO approach you will be more likely to follow through. Life coaching can help individuals with time management and planning.
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Dr. Stan Hyman is a licensed psychotherapist and life coach in private practice in Miami, Florida. He specializes in treating Anxiety Disorders (including Panic Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder, GAD and OCD) stress and depression.