Written by Dr Kate Beaven-Marks
Do you put some tasks or activities off until the last minute, or even beyond their deadline, even if there will be known consequences? This blog explores some of the common factors about procrastination, the key types of procrastination and some easy yet effective strategies and solutions that we use as hypnotherapists in order to help clients deal with procrastination.
Even if you are a high achiever or highly driven to succeed, you may have a habit of procrastination. You might find yourself performing a whole bunch of trivial and time-consuming tasks, rather than the one activity that is really important, or needs to be done, but which has a negative aspect (or even lacks a positive one). This may be due to an inability to make decisions (‘decision-paralysis), a poor awareness of time, whether under-estimating how long tasks can take, or over-estimating the amount of time you have available to complete a task, or even simply leaving the task to the absolute last moment.
Procrastination can become chronic, with an inability to deal with or move beyond negative moods or thoughts relating to certain tasks. This can be worsened by negative self-talk about procrastinating transferring to be associated with the task. In addition, negative self-perception can then have an impact on wider mental and physical health, increasing chronic stress as well as reducing life satisfaction and exacerbating depression and anxiety. Often, procrastinators will report high stress and low self-compassion, as well as limited resources to employ as a buffer against negative reactions to events.
One of the common factors in procrastination is a lack of motivation, (particularly intrinsic motivation) to get certain key tasks completed. Where someone has ‘extrinsic motivation’, based on rewards and consequences, there can be less dopamine (pleasure neurotransmitter, associated with being able to think and plan) and weaker performance in thinking-based and creative tasks. Similarly, with goal-focused motivation, there is less dopamine produced when similar tasks are achieved. Interestingly, this is also influenced by personality type, with introverts doing better with more regular ‘wins’, as opposed to extraverts preferring less regular but bigger wins. The most helpful type of motivation to move beyond procrastination is intrinsic motivation, doing something for the satisfaction of doing it. This can lead to longer lasting satisfaction, particularly where there is a journey towards a goal or outcome, rather than a single task.
Procrastinating due to perfectionism
The perfectionist procrastinator can often be in conflict and can like the pressure of a crisis. They avoid starting the task and put it off until there is little time to get task completed. Yet their perfectionist tendencies are not met by the reduction in available time which puts pressure on the quality of the outcome, and often results in not meeting their own high standards. Alternatively, perfectionists may keep putting off the task until they feel they have time to do it to the full extent possible, thus meeting their perfectionist needs – however, sometimes the time never becomes available. This type of procrastinator can respond well to time management strategies.
Over-committing to procrastinate
The fear of the unknow, of change, and/or of doing it wrong can all contribute towards an unwillingness to engage in certain tasks. The busy-busy type of procrastinator takes on a multitude of tasks and uses being overloaded or overcommitted as a way of avoiding certain tasks. If you are this type of procrastinator, you may wish to reflect on what you are really avoiding. In addition. Gaining a sense of passing time and the value of that time, together with effective planning strategies can be helpful.
This type of procrastinator lets the next shiny or glittery object (really, or metaphorically) distract them from the task at hand. This can happen at any stage from pre-commencement of the task at hand, all the way through to just before completion. If you are this type of procrastinator, then it can be helpful to keep a running list of things you want to do. Each new topic gets added to the list, and the list can be reviewed when each new task has been completed.
How to avoid procrastinating
Interestingly, people tend to regret what they haven’t done more that what they have done. There are a number of possible ways to help people move beyond procrastination, starting with accountability; taking ownership of your thoughts, feelings and behaviours (or non-behaviours), whatever they are. This can then be followed by addressing behaviours and habits, and adopting both cognitive and emotional strategies. However, there needs to be a desire to change. If the procrastinator is receiving positive benefits from their actions, they are less motivated to adapt their behaviour.
Behavioural procrastination solutions
Procrastinating will likely have a habitual component and, as such, is accessible to change, if the desire to change is present and the individual is willing to challenge their comfort zone, regardless of whether someone is more influenced externally or internally by their Locus of Control.
A behavioural approach can start with promoting self-awareness and becoming able to recognise signs of procrastination, together with addressing avoidance, including making distractions inconvenient, or, where appropriate, completely eliminating distractions.
You are then able to move on to developing positive habits, including work on self-discipline, motivation, planning and time management. It can be helpful at this stage to explore your core values and how you engage with action and with change whilst being congruent with your own needs.
Whilst just knowing there is another way may be a good start, to be truly effective, such strategies needs to become a habit and focused around your own reward system. For example, it can be more helpful to set a start date, not just an end date for tasks, together with a simple to do list (max, 5), with small bite-sized chunks of work. As the brain seeks rewards, short-term positives and gains are then more attractive than doing something negative (when you have made distractions unpleasant). Ticking things off your to-do list will help to create that positive new habit!
Cognitive procrastination solutions
It can help to identify and then challenge faulty beliefs and faulty thinking strategies, such as that you need to feel motivated, inspired, pressured, or another emotion to complete a task. Another faulty belief may be that you need last minute pressure to do your best work (whereas in a stress state – fight or flight – you are actually less able to think clearly). It might even be that you know other tasks will be easier and somehow the task that needs to be done will be easier later. By challenging those beliefs, looking for evidence to support them and then seeking alternative ways of thinking, you can start to change how you perceive new situations and having not only a more positive mindset, but also more positive language and self-talk.
Emotional procrastination solutions
When working with emotional solutions, addressing fear is important, whether this is a fear of making a mistake, a fear or success, or any of a number of other concerns. Once these emotions have been identified and discussed, a sense of curiosity can be developed, together with self-compassion (treating yourself kindly). This reduces psychological stress, boosts motivation and self-worth and increases positive emotions like optimism and comfort.
So, as you can see, drawing from hypnotherapy gives you many different ways to reduce procrastination. If you’d like help from one of our own hypnotherapists in order to further reduce your procrastination, get in touch with us, we’re here to help. If you’re a hypnotist/hypnotherapist yourself and you’re procrastinating about your business, we offer hypnosis mentoring and supervision – this is a great option to move your career forwards!
We hope you’ve enjoyed this blog on a hypnotic approach to dealing with procrastination, and if you have any more questions about this topic, or anything else for that matter, do please get in touch, because we’re always happy to help!
– written by Dr Kate Beaven-Marks