Procrastination, the habit that keeps us emotionally stuck

Every day I meet people who want to change or change parts of their life. As a therapist, I am a guide on the path of change. And my biggest challenge is not the fact that the client may be traumatized, or that he/she thinks they are unable to change - we all are and too many psychological experiments and researchers have proved it. My biggest challenge is that thing called procrastination - a needless delay of starting ... the task that will change everything.

We all want to be happy and most of us have an idea of what will make us happy. We have dreams, life goals and even a plan. But we don't act on these. And with this modern paralysis taking over our lives, we grow more and more stuck and miserable. It's like we forgot that happiness is found in the pursuit of our goals, not necessary in accomplishing them.

Procrastination, whether conscious or unconscious is basically giving in to feeling good in the moment. In order to accomplish a dream or achieve long-term goals, we need resilience, patience and a down to earth approach when it comes to our desires and needs. The easiest way to cope with frustration, lack of results, lack of feedback or the absence of validation is to delay the task.

Studies have shown that those people with personality traits categorized as conscientious - organized, dutiful, responsible, scrupulous, and persevering score less at procrastination. In contrast, those personalities that show perfectionism and emotional instability have the highest score at procrastination. The reason is that the external pressures to be perfect are internalized in a self-critical voice that will sabotage any attempt to start the task. With emotionally unstable personalities, impulsiveness and moodiness are the traits that make the individual give in to feeling good and avoiding the task or action that would elicit change.

The reluctance to get started on a task that we know is useful but which comes with different emotions that we don't want to handle has unnecessary costs. One way of changing the habit of procrastination is to stay with the negative feelings and just start working. Even if the motivation for the task is not big, it is psychologically proven that our attitudes follow behaviour, therefore when we act on our intentions to get started we will see our attitudes and motivation change. Procrastinators have ways of thinking that encourage the habit and they have developed ways of coping that are very unhealthy. If you recognize any of the below in the way you rationalize your procrastination habit, then make them a flag and every time they occur just breathe and start working without thinking. Just start.

  • Distraction - avoiding the negative feeling related to the task. Social media, friends, daily chores are used as distractions and they increase procrastination

  • Forgetting - both passive and active determination in forgetting about the task

  • Trivialization - saying to ourselves that the task is not as important

  • Self-affirmation - in spite of not performing the task we tell ourselves that we are good at other things so we can feel positive about ourselves.

  • Denial of responsibility - we externalize the locus of control placing responsibility and accountability on other people, family, community.

Therefore, to stop procrastinating, you should act according to this scheme:

Self-deception (through any of the above or any other thing you tell yourself) ==> Flag (be present and aware, breathe and stay with the negative feeling) ==> START TASK

And if you are not yet convinced to just start, then think about the cost of your procrastination habit. Identify what is it that you voluntary delay - is it a task at work, related to your career, your health, your emotional well-being? Take a piece of paper and start to quantify the hours spent doing something else, the money spent doing other things (like smoking or partying) and be realistic about the financial costs that you pay because of procrastination. And then write down the emotional cost - the feeling of anxiety, worry, stress, guilt, lack of confidence... Be honest with yourself.

The incredible thing with procrastination is that it requires very little to break. Only to get started. And during the time we work at the task, our attitudes change. Our motivation increases, we feel more positive, confident and many times we discover that the task was not so terribly difficult or scary. The best way to be happy with your day to day life is to START.

Check my upcoming workshop on procrastination, Saturday October 21st, starting 2pm at AFYA studio in Kingston, Jamaica.

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