Why Do You Procrastinate?

Procrastination is an interesting topic to work with in therapy. A client is usually quite self-aware when they seek therapy for procrastination. They have tried many different tools to try to keep themselves “in line,” “on task,” or focused. Sometimes they are genuinely confused as to where their time goes, or why they find themselves drifting to email or random web searches.

True, we are usually aware of when we are procrastinating. My college bedroom was completely clean every time I sat down to write a paper. I’ll do almost anything to avoid folding laundry or emptying the dishwasher. And these are fairly unimportant tasks without much repercussion. What happens when you are self-employed and need to be entirely internally motivated?

First consider a few reasons why you might be procrastinating, and see if any of the solutions might work for you:

You haven’t clearly defined what you’re doing. Do you avoid an item on your to-do list even though it’s been there for days or weeks? Try to break it down only to the very next step. For example, “get in shape” becomes “pack running shoes for work”. “Write econ paper” becomes “write down specific terms to query or articles to read.” “Fix bathtub” becomes “Look at Yelp and choose a plumber to call.”

You have no idea what you hope to accomplish when you begin. We usually procrastinate until we have just enough time to not attend to the undesirable task. Try estimating the amount of time for that first task that you’ve just defined. For example, I had a client once who routinely avoided doing the dishes until one time he decided to time it. Knowing that it took him 12 minutes start to finish even with a full sink made the task doable.

You have magical thinking. There is that little voice inside all of us that says, “You don’t really need to do that now. Just watch another episode on TV and then you can start it.” This voice will convince you that almost anything is possible in the future and that now is not the time. Try coming up with some challenges to this voice in advance. (Some people keep them on post-its on their computer; I also teach cognitive thought charts to control this voice once and for all). What can you say back to this voice that is determined to sabotage your time line, business goals, and final paper? Tell it to go away.

You are overworked. Your procrastination might be necessary down time that you are not allowing yourself! It is very difficult and possibly even inefficient to concentrate at a high level for more than 90 minutes. Many high achievers like college students and the self-employed think more is better. When you don’t build in some allowed diddling time, or make plans to leave your desk and meet a friend, your brain tries to make this happen and procrastination is one of its tools. Try allowing yourself some down time and scheduled breaks and see if it isn’t easier to focus afterwards.

For procrastination that doesn’t improve with dedicated techniques, you might consider looking at the symptoms of Attention Deficit Disorder, which affects adults too.

The Number One Thing That Will Make Your Relationship Better

Couples therapists have a variety of approaches, but the best ones center around an important principle: giving up the fantasy of changing your partner and instead clarifying your priorities and next actions. Let me explain why and what this looks like.

One of our jobs in a partnership is to state thoughts and feelings clearly. It is NOT our job to make someone else think or feel the same way. Couples engage in the same argument again and again because each partner keeps doing the same behavior and trying to change the other.  When we try to change others, we often get caught up in blaming and lose track of what’s important to us.

Have an independent and clear view of what you want

Instead of focusing on winning an argument, or the choices your partner is making, put your worry energy into your own problems. Translate your anger into clear, non-blaming statements about your own self. Clarify your own priorities and see what your next action might be. The goal is to break a pattern and develop a stronger sense of self.

Chronic anger and bitterness is a red flag to strengthen the “I” in the relationship. Re-examine yourself with a view towards discovering what you think, feel, and want. Own your problems and let your partner own his.

It is easy to lose confidence when your choices are not met with your partner’s approval. We are so used to allowing others to approve or reject even small decisions. Although it is important to accept influence from someone important in your life, when it comes to chronic arguments — perpetual problems — it is important to take up your own cause. Carve out a clear and separate “I” and enjoy intimacy and aloneness.

What are some of the benefits to this change?

  • You get what you want more often — and you REALLY clarify what that is because you are in control of your choices and outcomes, not what someone else is or isn’t doing.
  • You free yourself from controlling another person and let them sort out their own problems.
  • You greatly decrease bickering and resentment in your relationship.
  • Your partner is also relieved of meddling in your life and you can focus on more positive things in your relationship.

We can help you understand or implement these concepts! Come in on your own or as a couple for a few sessions so we can help you apply this to your own life situations.

The Flip Side Of Your Problems: Some Surprising Benefits

the beautiful lotus usually grows out of muck

When discussing perceived “flaws” in counseling, my clients are often surprised to discover that the very things the dislike about themselves can be reframed as beneficial in some way. Therefore, coming to my office gives a client a chance to see himself from a new perspective. This doesn’t mean they always agree with my viewpoint, but as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, being able to see yourself in a compassionate manner is always the first step towards behavior change.

When seeking out solutions to problems, it is always worth at least noting that most problems have some benefits to them as well. In therapy we call these secondary gains.

Here are some upsides to common complaints brought to individual counseling:

  • The Upside of Anger: A client might feel worried that their anger is uncontrollable, but the positive side to feeling anger is just that – the client is actually feeling something and can therefore DO something productive with that anger. Anger can relieve stress and prevent runaway anxiety. Anger gives a therapist a lot of opportunity to help a client.
  • The Upside of Loneliness: A client struggling with loneliness has already advanced past many of us who fill our days trying to prevent this feeling; they are experiencing something we fear most. A lonely client seeking companionship has already been figuring out how to structure his day, soothe his quietest moments, and engage in solo activities. Plus, a client who has learned how to live through loneliness can be well prepared to be an independent and self-sufficient partner. A lonely client gives the therapist a chance to help them build his life around his most permanent relationship: the one with himself.
  • The Upside of Anxiety: An anxious client wants to soothe the physical feelings that accompany anxiety. What the client doesn’t realize is that the flip side to his anxiety is the concerted effort his brain is making to soothe him. The client is tuned into life and cares about something; otherwise, anxiety would not be present. Therefore, we can reframe anxiety as a normal response to something that has just gotten blown out of proportion. Anxiety is an extreme measure of self-care.
  • The Upside of Depression: Clients who have worst-case scenario thoughts about their lives are usually very good at predicting and overcoming potential obstacles. This can turn anxiety and brooding into action, which is empowering. A depressed client always has positive aspects to his life that he has been downplaying or not tapping into. This is one reason why depression is so difficult to tackle without professional help; there are immense blind spots with regards to positive qualities that a therapist can help the client see and use.

Solution-Focused therapy, in my opinion, is better than any other therapy when it comes to helping a client reframe their problems and see opportunity and choice.