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Procrastination: Why We Do It and How to Stop

I work with many clients who struggle with procrastination. My job as their clinical therapist is to help them understand possible reasons why they are procrastinating things in their life, whether it is in their professional or personal life. Once we figure out why they are procrastinating things, I then help provide possible coping skills to help them with their procrastination tendencies.

I recently read an article from FastCompany that touched on this very topic, “Procrastination is an Emotional Problem” by author Sam Kemmis-Zapier. Kemmis-Zapier describes in more detail about the main reasons why individuals procrastinate and how to cope with these tendencies.

Below are some key points from Kemmis-Zapier’s article.

  • What Exactly is Procrastination? A lot of people assume procrastination is a time management problem, when in fact it is more of an emotion-management problem. Tim Pychyl, associate professor of psychology at Carleton University, defines procrastination as the “voluntary delay of an intended act despite the knowledge that this delay may harm us”. It is an irrational behavior individuals do because they know in the end it will actually make them unhappy. For example, you know that if you finished your task on Monday night, you will feel better on Tuesday night, but instead you keep putting your task off up until Friday morning. Now it is Friday morning and you’re unhappy you have had this task, whatever it may be, hanging over you since Monday. The feeling that comes to mind is simply frustration with yourself. Many people who struggle with procrastination tendencies often struggle with anxiety as well. People with anxiety tend to avoid doing something that seems threatening to them, which in result turns into procrastination, which then could result in depression. It is a vicious cycle we do internally to ourselves.
  • The Connection Between Procrastination and Your Inner Dialogue. Lack of self-compassion and procrastination can go hand in hand. For example, when you fail to complete a task due to procrastination, your inner self is likely saying, “Why didn’t you just do the task? What is wrong with you?” The lack of self compassion might actually be the cause of the procrastination in the first place. If it’s not the lack of self compassion, it might be a feeling of guilt, which is no better, as feeling guilty turns into ruminating thoughts, which only exacerbates procrastination. Other researchers also argue that procrastination is related to the fear of not being perfect. With this fear of not being perfect, some may think why even attempt the task at all.
  • How Can I Overcome Procrastination? Pychyl suggests leaning into the Buddhist psychology of “monkey mind”. Monkey minds never stop, so it might be helpful to give it something to do in order to make it stop. Another suggestion, is simply to lean into the uncomfortable feelings as opposed to avoiding them. With leaning into the feeling, we might be able to be more understanding of ourselves of why we are avoiding it to begin with. Pychyl then suggests to start working on the task, even if it is just the first step. After the first step forward, Pychyl suggests using the mantra, “what’s the next action”.
  • Connections between Mindfulness and Procrastination. Pychyl finishes with suggesting using a mindfulness stance when struggling with procrastinating. As in, simply view yourself in a nonjudgmental way when initiating a task, which will make you feel less stressed. Taking deep breaths and being kind to yourself when initiating the tasks is also taking a mindfulness stance.

For the next time you have a task you feel like you are procrastinating, try to ask yourself a simple question, of “what’s the next action” in a gentle and non-judgmental tone while taking a deep breath.

If you are currently struggling with procrastination, it may be a good idea to connect with one of our skilled counselors at Symmetry Counseling today. You can contact them at 312-578-9990 to set up an appointment.

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