Are We Our Own Worst Enemy?

by Gail Schuster, LCSW

Often, we have heard this phrase, causing us to pause and think about our actions (or lack thereof). We all know the nagging feeling of needing to take care of a specific task but continually putting it on the back-burner to “save for later.” The pressure leads to anxiety and dread, sometimes even depression, and we become even less able to move forward. Before we know it, we are in full-blown procrastination mode. We vow not to let this happen again…but we do.

Procrastination: Why do we do it and can we stop it?
According to a 2017 post on the website psychologytoday.com “Everyone puts things off until the last minute sometimes, but procrastinators chronically avoid difficult tasks and deliberately look for distractions.” It is a learned behavior and reflects our struggle with self-control. We say things to ourselves like, “I’ll feel like doing it tomorrow,” “I don’t need to do that now,” or “I get things done better when I’m under pressure to do them.” When procrastination takes precedence over achieving goals it begins an emotional downward spiral that deters future efforts to get things done. Procrastination can destroy achievement and create havoc in one’s life if it becomes a repetitive pattern (e.g., not paying bills promptly resulting in late fees or disruption of services; delayed replies leading to missed opportunities to participate in activities; filing income taxes late or not at all can lead to legal or financial trouble; missing deadlines at work can lead to failure to be promoted or worse, losing a job).

A study conducted by Timothy Pychyl, a professor who studies procrastination at Carleton University, in Ottawa, demonstrated that one of the most effective strategies procrastinators can use is to forgive themselves for procrastinating. This minimizes negative feelings and makes it easier for a procrastinator to accomplish the goal, with less delay going forward. The study also concluded that you don’t have to feel like doing something to get it done. Break tasks into smaller actions and tackle one piece at a time. It has been said that procrastinators “don’t have a time-management problem, what they have is an emotion-management problem. They have to learn that you don’t feel good all the time, and you’ve got to get on with it.”

Tim Urban, a blogger on procrastination, sums it up like this:
“No one builds a house. They lay one brick again and again and the end result is a house. Procrastinators are great visionaries — they love to fantasize about the beautiful mansion they will one day have built — but what they need to be are gritty construction workers, who methodically lay one brick after the other, day after day, without giving up, until a house is built.”

You can make the change. Forgive yourself for procrastinating and then begin tackling those tasks one small step at a time.

If procrastination or other issues are negatively affecting your life, a CJFS Licensed Clinical Social Worker may be able to help you find solutions.
To arrange a consultation, email Stu Jaffe at stu@cjfsbham.org or call (205) 879-3438. CJFS proudly serves people of all ages, religions, races and income levels.