Always putting things off until tomorrow? Here's how to take action now
Procrastination…..’to defer action’
Do you constantly say to yourself: 'I'll do it tomorrow, or next week, or next month....', rather than taking action now? The purpose of this article is to help the reader to to understand what causes us to do this, thus raising self awareness and also to think about how to manage this condition, which is commonly referred to as procrastination.
What holds you back?
- Procrastination is often a way of protecting yourself from experiencing an unpleasant emotional state, e.g. you prefer to watch television rather than going for a walk because that will mean exerting yourself and cause you pain rather than enjoyment.
- The ‘comfort of discomfort’ paradox – your current miserable or non-productive state is familiar and safe compared with the feared consequences of change and subsequent failure. Therefore the statement ‘I’m happy as I am’ is not a statement of genuine contentment but a fear of being worse off if the change fails, therefore you stay as you are.
Causes of procrastination
- Anxiety – based on perceived threats to self-esteem if you participate in the avoided task. E.g. if you try to tackle Jane about her failure to start work on time and then fail, you will be a failure so what’s the point in starting the process?
- Low frustration tolerance (LFT) – your perceived inability to endure frustration, boredom, hard work, uncomfortable feelings, setbacks. E.g. ‘I can’t stand present pain for future gain’
- Rebellion – a way of expressing your anger towards others by delaying important tasks – you want to get back at someone for being told what to do or how to behave.
Avoidance behaviours and rationalisations accompanying procrastination
- ‘Armchair contemplation’ - contemplating doing the task for long periods of time.
- Leave tasks until the last minute because you ‘do your best work under pressure’.
- Convincing yourself that saying ‘I’ll do it tomorrow’ means the job is as good as done; tomorrow is a hazy point in the future and therefore you don’t need to worry about it.
- A variation on the point above is making future action contingent upon present problem solving, e.g. ‘I’ll sort out that problem with John when I’ve got more time to focus on it properly, I’ve just started a new job or I’ll be moving house soon’
- Previously unimportant tasks suddenly become all important – displacement activities.
- Pleasurable tasks are undertaken first as a way of encouraging yourself to eventually face the difficult task but the pleasure takes over and the difficulties are pushed into the background.
- Creating the illusion of tackling the task. E.g. you make a list of what you need to do before you can start a project like tidying your office, making sure you’ve got all the right stationery, phoning team members to make sure they’re OK etc. and then decide that’s enough for one day, you’ve made a start and can now turn to something more pleasurable.
- Calling yourself lazy or useless gives yourself an excuse not to do anything.
- Waiting to feel motivated before you start. Motivation doesn’t come first though – productive action does.
- Challenge the procrastinator by asking: ‘How would you feel if you achieved this task/behaviour change?’ The answer is usually ‘fantastic’.
- Then ask: ‘So what is stopping you from depriving yourself of this pleasurable state?’
- Challenging thinking errors. An example of a thinking error was provided earlier: ‘I can’t stand present pain for future gain’. This can be referred to as ‘I can’tstandititis’. We tell ourselves we ‘can’t stand’ things and yet, in reality, we can.
- Using ‘real time’ coach-management, e.g. actually starting the project or action within a coaching session.
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