What can you do about procrastination?

In our fast paced lives we may find that we keep putting off the things we intended to do to such a degree that everything becomes overwhelming. Although not a clinical condition, procrastination can have a negative impact on us, keeping us in a perpetual state of stress, guilt or sense of underachievement.

The Centre for Clinical Interventions defines procrastination as:

…making a decision for no valid reason to delay or not complete a task or goal
you’ve committed too, and instead doing something of lesser importance,
despite there being negative consequences to not following through on the original task or goal”
They take a cognitive behavioural perspective (our thoughts influence our behaviour) in understanding and dealing with procrastination that I have found very useful. So with regards to procrastination, we have unhelpful ‘thought rules’ and assumptions about ourselves and our work, that influence digression. Such thoughts could be:
“Things have to be done my way. I shouldn’t have to do things I don’t want to”
“Life is too short to be doing anything difficult or boring “
“Everything I do has to be perfect (otherwise I will be perceived as a failure)”
“I must be certain of what will happen. What if it’s bad? Maybe I shouldn’t risk it”
“I can’t do it. I am not good enough or capable”
“I am too stressed and tired to do anything at the moment”
“There is loads of time, I can do it later”

When we encounter a work situation that activates any of these thoughts, we feel discomfort (e.g. anger, anxiety, resentment, frustration, boredom, fear, embarrassment, despair, depression, exhaustion etc). In order to reduce the feelings of discomfort, we seek to do something else more pleasurable – and so we procrastinate. We then begin to associate procrastination as a better alternative to the task at hand (because it reduces the feeling of discomfort, and what we choose to do instead is usually more pleasant or short-lived rewarding).

In this way we can get caught in a negative vicious cycle of procrastination. There are several things we can do to get out of the cycle. One is to modify the rules and assumptions we have about ourselves and work to be more realistic and helpful, by asking questions like, what is unreasonable or unhelpful about the assumption? what negative assumptions are linked to that? and what could an alternative more helpful assumption be? (i.e. I don’t always have to do everything perfectly, it is ok to make mistakes…)


Another way to reduce the procrastination cycle is to endure the sense of discomfort and realise that the feeling will disappear on its own! The idea is to try and break the habit of associating the ‘relief’ of not doing what one had set out to do by procrastinating, and instead try and gain a positive experience by achieving what that task – and then rewarding yourself for it. In other words, breaking the habit of associating procrastination as a positive experience.

On a final note, remember we all procrastinate and sometimes it can be good (we get other things done) and informative (our body maybe telling us we have too much going on). So sometimes we should simply acknowledge that it is ok to procrastinate one in a while.

Another way to try and change your behaviours is to do the 30 day Breathe Wellbeing program which is based on interventions from the field of Positive Psychology.  These interventions have been shown to raise levels of personal wellbeing .  To order go to http://breathe-london.com/positive-connections

Madeleine Mason is a member of the Breathe London wellbeing team

Madeleine is a Danish trained Occupational Therapist with a wide range of Psychology qualifications. In addition to an undergraduate degree in Psychology she has a diploma in Cognitive Behavioural therapy and certificates in Applied Positive Psychology and Level AB testing. She is currently studying for a Masters degree in Occupational psychology.

For more information on procrastination try looking at this site: http://www.cci.health.wa.gov.au/resources/infopax.cfm?Info_ID=50




Posted on July 26, 2011, in Coaching, Meditation etc. and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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