Do you put things off? Us, too. But don't put off reading this article -- it just might change your life.
Dr. Michelle Golland: I have been procrastinating writing this article all day! I of course did other things instead, like the dishes, organize my daughter's Barbies, and surf the Internet. All things which are clearly less important than writing this piece on procrastination. Or are they?
So here I finally begin: why do people procrastinate, and what can we do if it is a serious problem in our lives?
According to Joseph R. Ferrari, Ph.D., and Timothy A. Pychyl, Ph.D., 20% of people identify themselves as chronic procrastinators. For these people, procrastination is a lifestyle that has become all encompassing. They don't pay bills, they don't buy tickets when they really wanted to go to a concert, and they shop for Christmas gifts on Christmas Eve.
Procrastinators are made, not born. It is a behavior that can be learned in the family but not really directly. It seems having a harsh and controlling parental figure keeps children from learning how to regulate themselves. The children don't internalize their own intentions, and therefore don't act upon them unless given a harsh reality vis-a-vis the critical parent. These future procrastinators also don't learn to trust their own judgment and fear the outcome will not be correct, so rather than make the decision, they simply stay in the limbo state of procrastination. I see this with a client who has been shopping for a car for months but fears making the "wrong" decision. He believes that once he picks one, he will come to find out that there is a "better" one and will feel angry and disappointed. So to avoid this future disappointment, he keeps shopping for cars.
Procrastinators tell lies to themselves like, "I work better under pressure," or "I will be in the mood tomorrow to work on that project." Procrastinators simply squander their resources, and in truth don't work better under pressure, but have no choice and most likely would do much better work had they addressed their issue of putting things off. Procrastinators actively look for distractions to avoid the task at hand. With all the technology today, checking e-mail or surfing the net easily accomplishes this.
Dr. Ferrari identifies three basic types of procrastinators:
• Arousal Types: These people want the rush of euphoria for accomplishing a task under intense time pressure.
• Avoiders: These people may be avoiding the fear of failure or even the fear of success. They are very concerned with what others think of them and would rather others think they lack effort rather than ability.
• Decisional: These procrastinators can't seem to make a decision. Not making the decision absolves them of responsibility for the outcome of the events.
How to stop procrastinating
The most common reason that people put things off is out of fear. Fear of not doing a good job, fear of one's ability, or simply fear of one's decision skills and not trusting yourself and your actions. It can be helpful to try to get to the essence of your procrastination and get past the excuses. These questions may help you have a deeper understanding of what is truly behind your putting-off behavior.
What if I do it wrong?
This can be an understandable concern. If something is done wrong, it can be expensive or a big hassle to repair. If this is your concern, you have three choices:
• Learn how to do it
• Hire someone to do it
• Let it go
What if I fail?
Okay, so what will actually happen if you fail? Will someone die? Will you die? We tell ourselves big stories that never seem to come true anyway. Think back to when you did something you were afraid of and it turned out just fine. Remember even if you fail, you will have learned something along the way.
What if I make the wrong decision?
Remember life is never so black and white but more like shades of gray. There are rarely right or wrong answers; it is usually more about what is best for the people in this particular situation, or for myself in this situation. There are rarely 100 percents in life, but assess what feels like the correct decision for you at this time. Truthfully there is mostly more than one right answer to many of life's dilemmas. So simply choose and see what happens.
Procrastination can also be in part due to a lack of passion or motivation for the task. We must build in the motivation for, say, doing the laundry or washing the dishes. For example, it will feel good to have clean clothes and not trip all over them in our bedroom. Here are some tips when dealing with this type of procrastination:
1) Write down all your goals for the next day the previous night. Make these small, reasonable chunks, such as clean out dresser, not clean out entire closet and begin children's closets too!
2) Turn of all electronic communication devices. Just use what you need to finish the task at hand if any at all.
3) Set a weekly schedule of tasks and don't stop until you have finished them one by one. Again, make sure these are reasonable goals, not ones that will feel so overwhelming that you will choose to not start at all.
As Martin Luther King so eloquently said, "You don't have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step." So get walkin'!
|Dr. Michelle Golland is a USC graduate and a licensed Clinical Psychologist (PSY#16974). She works with adults, teens and is an expert in the field of marriage and relationships. Dr. Michelle Golland has given her expert advice on CNN, HLN, MSNBC, ABC, and Fox news. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two wonderfully exhausting children.|