The Art of Procrastinating

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Procrastination is the thief of time – Edward Young

Most of us procrastinate at some time. I should know, I have a PhD in procrastinating! Indeed, I regard myself as a bit of an expert. How many times have I thought to myself, “I’ll do that later,”or “I must get round to that.” How is it that spring cleaning my office has more appeal than sitting down to a pile of paperwork? Or that checking twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or Google+ assumes such great importance in the scheme of things? I suppose I would call it “the human factor.” It is the difference between us and robots, a rather quaint, old fashioned humanness.

I recall the day a client told me that she was going to “Zumba” classes. Not knowing what this was – some sort of African tribal dancing perhaps? I needed to do my research ( in the name of therapy, of course). I promptly spent the next three quarters of an hour looking at a wide variety of Zumba dances on Youtube. So much more important of course, than writing up notes.

While all of us procrastinate on occasions, some people procrastinate so much that tasks begin to build up and putting off becomes avoidance. The result, a bad case of stress, a build up of pressure and a consequential rise in anxiety. For anybody with a mood disorder this trajectory can be rather more rapid. Deliberately avoiding, putting things off, exacerbates anxiety and failure to confront the necessary.

When is procrastination most likely to occur? Well, simply, when the task either is deemed as not urgent or when what we want to do is more pleasurable. As human beings we like pleasure. Therefore, it could be said that procrastination = putting pleasure before pain.

Why do people procrastinate? Well, often it is is a matter of prioritising, deciding that the task in hand can wait until later and that it is not worthy of immediate attention. It might amount to lack of desire or commitment. Often it is because it is not a very pleasurable task.

For some, procrastination presents when “fear of failure” is imminent. The task gets left to the very last hour and with a gasp the shout goes out, ” I really didn’t have sufficient time to do the job properly.” A very convenient excuse in the face of perceived failure. Good old “denial” works wonders as it serves to protect yourself from the reality that your best efforts might come to nothing!

Then there are those with “perfectionist fetishes.” Those of us who say, “I will not start this until I have sufficient time and can do it properly, otherwise  I will feel a failure.”

Sometimes procrastination is a way of avoiding emotional connection where fear of rejection is the reason for putting things off. For example, avoiding inviting friends round for dinner in case they don’t like what you have prepared or putting off that phone call. Perhaps keeping a distance so that people cannot get to know you. All of which have there roots in “fear of rejection.”

Then there are those who “fear success” and all that comes with success. After all, if you do something really spectacularly, you might even get asked to do more!

Now we come to another valuable underpinning factor. That of punishment, yes, the perfect “passive aggressive”act. Putting something off as a way of getting back at somebody. A wonderful way of indirectly expressing anger at your boss or your partner perhaps?

Finally, just plain and simple, “Can’t be bothered.” Simple as that!

Until next time, Steve Clifford, Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist.

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Ref:  Powell, T (2009) The Mental Health Handbook – A cognitive behavioural approach  3rd edition, Speechmark

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