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Letting go of Procrastination

by Janette Ward
by Janette Ward

The topic for this month is Procrastination – that is the avoidance of doing a task that needs to be accomplished. Research shows that everyone procrastinates sometimes but that 20% of people chronically avoid difficult tasks and deliberately look for distractions. I chose this topic because I have experience of procrastinating. I first became aware of it when I was studying and had assignments to write. Instead of getting on with them, I would clean the house, do the ironing, any jobs to put off sitting down and getting on with it. At the time it felt like strange behaviour because once I sat down to write, I did enjoy it. Procrastinating robs us of our peace of mind and can have a negative impact on our self-esteem.

There are several reasons why we might procrastinate. Not having developed sufficient self-discipline/self-control. In Psychology Today, is was suggested that having a harsh, controlling parent keeps children from developing the ability to regulate themselves, from internalizing their own intentions and then learning to act on them. Also perfectionists often procrastinate, often believing that it is psychologically more acceptable to never tackle a task than to face the possibility of making a mistake. Writer Robert Hanks wrote that it stems from a failure to ‘identify sufficiently with our future self.’ Also we often believe that we must feel good or ready before we embark on a task.

nrm_1410437857-procrastinationDr Joseph Ferrari, PhD Associate Professor of Psychology at De Paul University in Chicago, identified some behaviours of procrastinators. 1: They overestimate the time left to perform tasks. 2: They underestimate the time it takes to complete tasks. 3: They overestimate how motivated they will feel the next day, the next week, the next month – whenever they are putting things off. 4: They mistakenly think that succeeding at a task requires that they feel like doing it. 5: They mistakenly believe that they shouldn’t do the task when not they are in the mood.

He also identified three basic types of procrastinators:

  1. Arousal types, or thrill seekers, who wait to the last minute for the euphoric rush
  2. Avoiders, who may be avoiding fear of failure or even fear of success but in either case are very concerned what others think of them; they would rather have others think they lack effort than ability
  3. Decisional procrastinators, who cannot make a decision. Not making a decision absolves procrastinators of responsibility for the outcome of events.

It is possible to stop procrastinating, though, it can be difficult. Here are nine strategies that might help – 1. You could break the task down into manageable steps. 2. Use rewards for completing the task or elements of it 3. Make a list of tasks and prioritise them, you can feel some satisfaction crossing off completed tasks. 4. It can be helpful to consider our future self and how our future self would benefit/feel when you have completed the task. I have made a habit of doing things for my future self and it has made me feel happier. 5. Remind yourself how good you have felt in the past when you have completed tasks and how good you will feel this time when you have completed the task. 6. When you feel negative emotions about doing the task, don’t give in, but acknowledge your feelings and just get started, the negative emotions will pass. 7. Minimise distractions, turn off the email, isolate yourself as much as possible and make sure that your environment supports you 8. Self-discipline is like a muscle that we need to keep exercising, practice saying no to yourself 9. Stop beating yourself up with thoughts such as ‘I should have started earlier’, that keeps you stuck – forgive yourself and move on.

The book, The Road Less Travelled by psychiatrist and author M. Scott Peck is wonderful and thought provoking and discusses that life is difficult and stresses the need for self-discipline and delayed gratification for our overall health and wellbeing. Delayed gratification is the ability to resist the temptation for an immediate reward and wait for a later reward. He shares the example of a woman who procrastinated at work. She spent the first hour of her working day doing the most enjoyable tasks and then struggled to complete the further six hours. Scott Peck suggested to her that she force herself to accomplish the unpleasant part of her job during the first hour, she would then be free to enjoy the other six. She did this and experienced one hour of pain followed by six of pleasure and she no longer procrastinates at work.

I wish you success in letting go of procrastination and moving toward taking more control of your life and achieving your goals.

If you would like to contact Janette or know more about the work of Circles Work CIC contact janette@circleswork.co.uk or www.circleswork.co.uk

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