Some people don’t believe there’s any such thing as procrastination. Some believe it has a life of its own waiting to ambush everything you ever wanted to do. Whatever your beliefs, there are days when you know there are things that could help you, or help you to run your life more smoothly, but you just couldn’t be bothered. You revert instead to your time absorbing activity of choice, such as checking email or Facebook, doing household chores, or watching reruns of old TV shows.
Often, procrastination is the result of an inner conflict between two conflicting feelings, one saying “yes” and the other saying “no.” To put it another way, I want to move towards something and away from it at the same time. The inner conflict can leave us paralysed, because the part of us that says, “You really should do that,” is fighting it out with the part that says, “I don’t want to, I’m not going to, and you can’t make me.”
Over the years, I’ve found some strategies that help to overcome this impasse.
- Make a choice: I want to do this thing that I’m avoiding, and I also don’t want to, so I choose one and go with that. If I choose not to, then I don’t beat myself up for making that choice. I simply say, “I’m choosing not to do it today.” If there are consequences, I am making a choice to accept the consequences. For example, choosing not to do an unpleasant task (like emptying the bin) today means it’ll still be there in the morning. I can live with that. If I choose to do it, I put a time limit on it, and give myself a reward for doing it, perhaps praise or a treat. In other words, I support the choice I make.
- Go public and make yourself accountable: Tell someone, or preferably several people, what you’re going to do. This is a great one for issues where you’re likely to back down on your decisions. Let’s say for example, you are trying to break the habit of watching TV when you should be doing something else. Get another person involved, someone who will hold you to a deal, and promise them you’ll pay them a sum of money (large enough to be a disincentive) if you break your commitment. Embarrassment or shame will generally step in and support you to keep your commitment to yourself and to the other person.
- Create Structure: This might be working during particular hours, or in a particular place, creating targets and goals, or working as part of a group. All of these can help to keep us focused on getting things done when we don’t want to. It’s the equivalent of having a boss or parent watching over you! Knowing someone else will know about it makes you less likely to put things on the long finger.
- Create Momentum or Habit: Make the task as normal as washing your teeth or having a shower. If you want to change your behaviour, commit to doing it every day for 30 days. By that time, it will have gained a momentum that will carry you easily over the resistance. When I first started to write, I wrote for 20 minutes every morning before I did anything else. Sometimes, I couldn’t think of anything to write, so I sat and wrote, “I have nothing to say” over and over until another thought came.
- Do the worst first: I learned very early in my professional career that there’s nothing to sap my energy like the thoughts of a horrible task hanging over my head. I learned that if I really have to do it, and genuinely have no choice, then I do the worst thing on my to-do list first. That way it’s all easier afterwards.
- Really get to know the “I don’t want to” part of you: I said earlier that my belief is that procrastination is an inner conflict between “I want to” and “I don’t want to.” In conflict, there’s an enemy and a friend. Both have something to teach us. In general, there are three broad categories of “I don’t want to.” These are fears, rebellion and timing. Timing and rebellion may also be hiding fears as well. The following questions may help:
- What is the worst that could happen if I do this?
- Who would I please or displease if I do this?
- What might I need to become, or what might need to happen, in order to do this?
Procrastination need not hold you back from having the life you’d like, but if it has been a serious problem for you for a while, perhaps there’s something deeper going on that needs to be explored. Talking to a professional may help. Contact us here to make an appointment.
About the author: Jude Fay is a counsellor and psychotherapist at AnneLeigh Counselling & Psychotherapy. She works with adults and couples and has a keen interest in relationships of all descriptions. If you’d like an appointment with Jude, you can call her at 086 232 7821 or 085 105 0337.