At times it may seem necessary to put off doing things we categorize as unpleasant, difficult, painful, time consuming, or relatively unimportant. In many situations “holding off” on an activity can prove to be more beneficial than problematic. We may consciously decide to delay the execution of a task when we know more time will be available. In this type of circumstance, putting a responsibility “on hold” will yield better results.
Procrastination, on the other hand is consistently delaying responsibilities that should be completed. This is an automatic behavior that can govern how one lives, works, and interacts with people. While procrastination is often joked about, it is no laughing matter. Many have suffered unpleasant consequences in their relationships, school, and work. Often times, people find themselves overwhelmed, frustrated, depressed, and anxious if they are unsuccessful in changing their procrastination tendencies. People also may begin buying into labels that they are “lazy” and “unmotivated” which further encourages procrastination in other area of their lives.
There is hope for overcoming this daunting habit! Here are some deeper insights into the behavior of procrastination.
• Procrastination is rewarding. Unpleasant feelings associated with a task diminish if the task is avoided, bringing a rewarding sense of relief. Later, one may rush to complete their avoided task at the last minute and face criticism from others about their choice to avoid the task. These are negative consequences associated with putting a task off. We experience these negative consequences separately from the initial choice of delaying something. Since we tend to experience the immediacy of the reward from putting off that task as separate from the consequence, it is the reward that builds the habit.
• When someone occasionally puts off doing something, they weigh the pros and cons of doing so, and are cognizant of the justification of their choice. In contrast, when someone procrastinates, it tends to be done habitually. Many times procrastinating is used to avoid feelings associated with the task. Procrastination is automatic, like a habit, it is done without conscious reflection.
• Procrastination comes in many forms, a simple behavior with complex and diverse triggers.
A.) Criticism or Perfectionism- The fear one may face of being criticized by others if they don’t do something perfectly.
B.) Overwhelmed – The task is perceived as overwhelming, often because it’s unfamiliar.
C.) Fear or Pain – The task involves some form or fear of pain, perhaps physical, emotional, or psychological that the individual would rather not face.
D.) Resentment- When asked to do something, the individual may feel they can’t control the situation, for example putting off filing taxes. The act of putting the item off is how one exerts control.
Do you want to break this habit? Here are some questions and suggestions that may help.
What are the feelings I have associated with the task? Keeping a procrastination log can be an effective tool that can help you be aware of the start of the procrastination cycle. Write down the feelings related to tasks that you have a tendency to avoid.
What is the immediate pay off for procrastinating? Record in the journal your initial feelings. Did doing something else make you feel more empowered or less anxious?
What did I do in place of the unpleasant task? This activity is often a reward in and of itself.
What are the long-term consequences of putting a task off? Log the after-effects of avoiding a responsibility. This helps to better tie the negative consequences to the habit.
With many habits that you seek to change, having someone to support you in this endeavor can be incredibly beneficial. This person may be a friend, family member, co-worker, significant other, therapist or life coach. This individual should provide support without labeling or criticizing you as you work through understanding and changing your habits. Having an individual to help you through can speed the process along and helps you build back your self-esteem and confidence.