We’ve all been plagued by procrastination at one time or another. For some, it’s a chronic problem. Others find that it hits only some areas of their lives. The net results, though, are usually the same – wasted time, missed opportunities, poor performance, self-deprecation, or increased stress. Procrastination is letting the low-priority tasks get in the way of high-priority ones. It’s socializing with colleagues when you know that important work project is due soon, watching TV instead of doing your household chores, or talking about superficial things with your partner rather than discussing your relationship concerns.
We all seem to do fine with things we want to do or enjoy doing for fun. But, when we perceive tasks as difficult, inconvenient, or scary, we may shift into our procrastination mode. We have very clever ways of fooling ourselves. Procrastination is a bad habit. Like other habits, there are two general causes. The first is the “crooked thinking” we employ to justify our behavior. The second source is our behavioral patterns. A closer look at our crooked thinking reveals three major issues in delaying tactics – perfectionism, inadequacy, and discomfort.
Those who believe they must turn in the most exemplary report may wait until all available resources have been reviewed or endlessly rewrite draft after draft. Worry over producing the perfect project prevents them from finishing on time. Feelings of inadequacy can also cause delays. Those who “know for a fact” that they are incompetent often believe they will fail and will avoid the unpleasantness of having their skills put to the test. Fear of discomfort is another way of putting a stop to what needs to be done.
Yet, the more we delay, the worse the discomforting problem (like a toothache) becomes. Our behavioral patterns are the second cause. Getting started on an unpleasant or difficult task may seem impossible. Procrastination is likened to the physics concept of inertia – a mass at rest tends to stay at rest. Greater forces are required to start change than to sustain change. Another way of viewing it is that avoiding tasks reinforces procrastination, which makes it harder to get things going.
A person may be stuck, too, not by the lack of desire, but by not knowing what to do. Here are some things to break the habit. Remember, don’t just read them, do them! If we begin with the notion that procrastination is not the basic “problem” but rather an attempted “cure” for fears, self-doubts, and dislike of work, then it is obvious that most procrastinators will have to focus on the real problems–underlying fears, attitudes and irrational ideas–in order to overcome the procrastinating behavior.
After accepting this idea, the next step was to figure out what the “real” underlying problem was for me. I started by asking, “Am I a relaxed or a tense procrastinator? ” Tense procrastinators suffer from strong, sometimes mean, internal critics; relaxed procrastinators have bamboozled their self-critic by denying reality. From this point, each procrastinator must deal with his/her own unique emotions, skills, thoughts, and unconscious motives. It may help to think in terms of two fundamental kinds of procrastinators: one tense and the other relaxed.
The tense type often feels both an intense pressure to succeed and a fear of failure; the relaxed type often feels negatively toward his/her work and blows it off–forgets it–by playing. The relaxed type neglected schoolwork but not socializing. This denial-based type of procrastinator avoids as much stress as possible by dismissing his/her work or disregarding more challenging tasks and concentrating on “having fun” or some other distracting activity; if their defense mechanisms work effectively, they actually have what seems like “a happy life” for the moment.
The tense-afraid type of procrastinator is described as feeling overwhelmed by pressures, unrealistic about time, uncertain about goals, dissatisfied with accomplishments, indecisive, blaming of others or circumstances for his/her failures, lacking in confidence and, sometimes, perfectionistic. Thus, the underlying fears are of failing, lacking ability, being imperfect, and falling short of overly demanding goals. This type thinks his/her worth is determined by what he/she does, which reflects his/her level of ability. He/she is afraid of being judged and found wanting.
Thus, this kind of procrastinator will get over-stressed and over-worked until he/she escapes the pressure temporarily by trying to relax but any enjoyment gives rise to guilt and more apprehension. I found that I am the relaxed type of a procrastinator. I let distractions get the better of me. At first I thought that I was the tense and afraid type of procrastinator, but I have proved myself wrong. The first method I decided to try was the rational self-talk method. Which meant that those old excuses really don’t hold up to rational inspection.
I found the so-called “two-column technique” and thought it should help. First I began writing down all my excuses on one side of a piece of paper. Then I try to start challenging the faulty reasoning behind each of the excuses. Next I wrote down all of my realistic thoughts on the opposite side of each excuse. Here are two examples of my excuses and my realistic thoughts. EXCUSE #1: I’m not in the mood right now. REALISTIC THOUGHT: Mood doesn’t do my work, actions do. If I wait for the right mood, I may never get it done. EXCUSE#2:I’m just lazy. REALISTIC THOUGHT: Labeling myself as lazy only brings me down.
My work is really separate from who I am as a person. Getting started is the key to finishing. In conclusion for my positive list of self-statements (my rational self talk) that was suppose to be self-motivating statements of my repertoire thoughts didnt seem to help me. So I decided to try another. My second method was to start setting my priorities. I wrote down all the things that were needed to be done in order of their importance. The greater the importance or urgency, the higher their priority. I put “messing around” (distractions) in their proper places – last!
I even started at the top of the list and worked my way down. In conclusion, I was still putting things off. It helped a little, but still it was hard to avoid certain distractions. This method did help me realize that I was just putting thing off. It is not as though I had a low self-esteem about doing things, I was just being lazy. Then I tried a third method. Praying this method would be the one to stop my procrastinating, I tried partialilizing my tasks. For the big projects that felt overwhelming to me, I tried breaking them down into the smallest and most manageable subparts.
You’ll get more done if you can do it piece by piece I thought. For example, I made an outline for a written report before I started composing it. I also found that getting organized helped tremendously. Having all your materials ready before you begin a task really does help. I began using a daily schedule and carried it with me all the time. I listed the tasks of the day or week realistically. I then checked off the tasks when I completed them. My prayers were answered; I found that partializing really does work, especially well with the unpleasant subjects.
Most of us can handle duties we dislike as long as they’re for a short time and in small increments. I then reward myself. I found that self-reinforcement has a powerful effect on developing a “do it now” attitude. I pat myself on the back, smiled, and let myself enjoy the completion of even the smallest of tasks. Remember not to minimize your accomplishments. Most people have to overcome procrastination gradually. Studying, like drinking, is usually in binges. Almost no one has trouble studying (a little) the night before a big exam. But without the pressure of an exam, many students find it easy to forget studying.
I’d suggest breaking big jobs down into manageable tasks and working on “getting started,” perhaps by tricking yourself by saying “I’ll just do five minutes” and then finding out you don’t mind working longer than five minutes. I called this the “five minute plan. ” The key is to learn the habit of getting started on a task early, i. e. the procrastinator (myself) needs to learn to initiate well in advance studying and preparing for papers and exams. Practice starting studying several times every day. As with exercising, getting in control of starting and making it a routine are the secrets.
Behaviorally, the role of negative reinforcement in procrastination is easy to see, i. e. some behavior or thought enables a person to escape some unpleasant but necessary work. That escape–procrastination–is reinforced. (Besides, the pleasure from playing, partying, and watching TV could easily overwhelm the pleasure from studying. ) Each procrastinator develops his/her own unique combination of escape mechanisms, such as emotions (fears, resentment, social needs), thoughts (irrational ideas, cognitive strategies, self-cons), skills and lack of skills, and unconscious motives, perhaps. etc.