When doing my Master’s level practicum I tried to run a group about procrastination. It was amusing to me at the time that what ended up happening was nobody came! Some had registered for the course but then said they forgot about it, or would get around to it another time. This event gave me pause and, ten years later, I have had a lot of time to observe and reflect on the behaviour of procrastination.
Many people equate procrastination with laziness or lack of motivation. In observing those who struggle with procrastination I have come to disagree. People who struggle with procrastination have energy, enthusiasm, and drive, just typically in other areas but they may struggle with certain tasks or situations. For instance, I have clients who procrastinate doing their tax returns, having an uncomfortable conversation, or making their bed but are quite successful and energetic in other parts of their lives.
My experience over the past decade of working with people who have Addiction has led me to a different perspective of procrastination. Today I view procrastination as avoidance and escape of reality. For people who struggle with Addiction, procrastination tends to happen more frequently and with life events that are higher stakes, but everyone has elements of addictive thinking, which can also support procrastination. Avoidance either protects the brain from an uncomfortable feeling or reality, or it creates discomfort which then further drives a need for escape, reward, and/or relief (and it can do both simultaneously).
If you find yourself struggling with procrastination, I would recommend that you check-in with your feelings about the task, situation, or person you are avoiding. Being able to identify, release, and process feelings can help clarify the necessary action for moving forward. It can also reduce internal obstacles, such as shame or fear, that are getting in the way.
Another thing I would recommend when you are procrastinating is to revisit the task and your plan. Sometimes our brain takes on more than it needs to or is capable of realistically doing, which sets us up to feel overwhelmed, inadequate, and dis-empowered. Break down the task, take it one realistic piece at a time, rather than taking on too much.
Also, when in doubt, ask for help. Often procrastination happens when we feel incapable or unsure of what we need to be doing or how to do it. Rather than struggling on your own and suffering in silence, ask a neutral person who is knowledgeable in that area or a support who can be there with you.
Procrastination is not the result of a “weak” or “lazy” person, it is something that can happen to any of us if we feel overwhelmed, shameful, pressured, self-doubt, or insecure. Taking steps to process feelings, be realistic, and ask for help can support you in moving away from avoidance and towards action.
By Paige Abbott, Registered Psychology
Holistic Psychology Calgary