Hello, thank you for reading this article on procrastination. Firstly, can I just say I firmly believe that we are all on the procrastination continuum. I procrastinate over writing my book, it is one of the things I keep delaying, partly because I doubt my ability in writing a book and partly because It feels like such a big project. I am a psychologist with a clinic in Hampton and Kingston upon Thames. Over the years I have analysed my own and my clients cognitive and behavioral procrastination rituals. One of the things I have noticed is that procrastination involves a cycle of encountering negative emotions and thoughts when facing a task or goal. The negative emotions might include feeling overwhelmed, embarrassed, frustrated, bored, burdened, and annoyed. The thoughts might include “this task is pointless” or “I can’t do this”. These thoughts and emotions, overtime strengthen and take hold of the procrastinator, draining them of any resourceful energy they might have had once. As these ‘negative’ emotions strengthen they become quite unbearable and lead to feelings of anxiety. Then sometimes, when the procrastinator can no longer stand the discomfort caused by the emotional pain he/she commits to the task and eventually completes it, albeit halfheartedly, under drastic time contraints and not to his/her standards. Thus, the discomfort of the emotions is what eventually motivates the procrastinator to complete a task. This is the pattern they have fallen in to, probably since childhood, and subconsciously use this pattern to motivate themselves. I know, it is a little bit counterintuitive, but it is true. This pattern is clearly maladaptive. It consumes the procrastinator with ‘negative’ thoughts and emotions leaving little mental space to engage with the task in a proactive way, which then results in a lack of enthusiasm, not being able to meet his/her standards and a sense of disappointment, incompletion and perhaps defectiveness afterward.
From an evolutionary perspective, survival for most animal species depends upon maximising contact with beneficial stimuli and minimising contact with harmful stimuli. However, the internal reward pathways of the procrastinator are not activated when they do complete a task, and herein lies another problem. Furthermore, because the procrastinator does not perceive the task as beneficial they consciously or subconsciously try to minimise contact with the perceived harmful stimuli/task. So, the poor procrastinator not only suffers with emotional turmoil leading up to the task but they do not gain a sense of achievement or accomplishment or get a hit of reward chemicals such dopamine after they complete a task. if this reward pathway is continuously neglected in this way, it not only distances the person from the task but also makes them feel increasingly defective and demoralised. Over time this can contribute to low mood, depression, or low self-esteem. So, for all of you who are on the higher ends of the procrastination continuum, if you want to change this pattern I suggest starting with this: Explore new cognitive, emotional and behavioral patterns/rituals to motivate you for any given task. This will take time as you will have to undo old patterns and try out new approaches. Remember to be self-compassionate. So let me give you an example, teach yourself to recognise and validate small wins, perhaps by keeping a small win’s journal. Try to approach the task with a different mindset, a growth mindset for example, stop yourself over focusing on the problems you perceive in relation to the task and instead think of the positive aspects related to the task, your capabilities, what you might gain after you complete the task, or perhaps how you might reward yourself after you complete the task. Get creative with it. Also try to break the task into phases; beginning, middle and end, and only concentrate on planning the beginning phase to start with, particularly if the task is a little mind boggling! For example, you might need a little advice, do a little research, and then set a day to put pen to paper or start the task. Use cognitive strategies to acknowledge and challenge negative automatic thoughts in relation to specific tasks. Remember to be compassionate to yourself throughout the whole thing as you don’t want to feed the emotions that disengage you from the task and deplete your energy reserves! Ok good luck. I hope you found this article useful and please do leave me a comment. I have other articles on procrastination and borderline personality disorder on my website,