Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Waiting and delaying: Procrastination

I make a daily practice of procrastination.
I put off tasks I don’t want to do. I lie in bed and sleep until the last minute before I have to get up.
Recently, I was reading through old journals and discovered that I had some of the same goals five and six years ago that I still have today. Unmet goals. Goals I haven’t made much, if any, headway on.
There are things that I should do and want to do that would help my depression and my obsessive-compulsive disorder, things like exercising, getting on a regular sleep schedule, eating a healthier diet, doing more exposures, working more on my writing, getting more involved in my community.
I nap a lot. I usually take a long nap on Saturdays and Sundays. Sometimes I come home from work during the week and take a nap before dinner. I tell myself I’m tired.
But in reality, most of the time I am avoiding doing things, including moving towards goals that would not only help my depression and my OCD but also give me confidence and satisfaction.
I am so frustrated with myself.

What is procrastination?

There is a chapter called “Break a Procrastination-Depression Connection” in The Cognitive Behavioral Workbook for Depression: A Step by Step Program, second edition, by William J. Knaus, Ed.D. He says the following about procrastination:

“Procrastination can be a simple default reaction. You feel uncomfortable about an activity, so you avoid it. More often, procrastination is a complex process that coexists with distress conditions, such as anxiety and depression. You put off dealing with what you fear. You believe you are disabled by your mood. Uncertainty can trigger the discomfort-dodging feature of procrastination. If you view yourself as overwhelmed and unable to perform, you are likely to delay taking corrective actions. As a reaction to anxieties, a negative mood, uncertainty, and other unpleasant conditions, you do something different or nothing at all” (p. 58).

So what is a person to do?

Knaus gives lots of good advice. Cognitive changes are one way to address procrastination. You can change your perspective, he says: “To break this procrastination-depression connection, look for weak points in the connection. For example, if you have the energy to think depressing thoughts, you have the energy to think proactive thoughts, such as ‘I can slowly work my way up from under this malaise’” (p. 60).
He advocates taking actions that are “definable, purposeful, measurable, and achievable” (p. 60).
One way to do this is to use the procrastination flip technique, which is the process of doing the opposite of what procrastination thinking wants you to do.
For example, if you are putting off exercising, something you know could help your depression, you push yourself to go for a walk.
Emotive changes can be used to combat procrastination, too. “A combination of normal discomfort-dodging and depression can be like a double whammy. It will help if you accept that this combination goes with the territory. You are then more likely to feel tolerant of discomfort and more willing to allow yourself to start” (p. 61).
That connects with what my therapist told me about accepting my anxiety and the feelings it causes.
Thirdly, behavioral changes can be used against procrastination. Recognizing the diversions you take to avoid doing what is more important can help in coming up with an action plan. For example, an action plan to help you move beyond mindless diversions may be to do one small productive activity every day for five minutes at a set time.
Taking action is a key component of Knaus’ techniques. Taking action, even small actions, whether or not you feel like it, can help to fight procrastination.

So there are things I can do about my procrastination besides just complain about it and feel bad about it.
I can work to recognize the thoughts that lead to procrastination and talk back to the thoughts. I can accept that my depression and anxiety may make my procrastinating ways worse. I can take small actions every day to combat the problem.
I’m working on it.

Do you procrastinate? How do you get past it? Please share your ideas!

20 comments:

  1. Thank you for your post. It was helpful for me! I procrastinate with certain things that cause me immense anxiety. For example tax returns. I know that everyone hates tax returns, but my OCD makes me obscess over the potential for filling in something incorrectly and then subsequently getting in alot of trouble for - all irrational thoughts of course. The problem is that this procrastination just makes things worse as I will wake up every morning feeling extremely anxious about not having completed whichever task it is. I know that I just need to complete the task at hand, but it is a balance between which anxiety is worse - doing the task, or worrying about it not being done. Additionally, some other obscession/anxiety will likely just fill that spot when I wake up in the morning. :(

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    1. Thank you for your comment. I'm glad the post was helpful. I procrastinate over paying bills sometimes because I'm afraid I'll fill out the check incorrectly. You're right--the anxiety over procrastinating is worse than the anxiety of doing the task. I find that my anxiety drops when I go ahead and do the task.

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  2. Oh boy how I procrastinate! Ugh, I put off cleaning. And then when the house is littered with clutter, and piles of laundry, and dusty shelves it in return makes me feel even more nuttier, adds to depression. Why do I let it go for so long before cleaning in the house? I used to be the one who would NEVER ever go to bed unless the kitchen was fit and tidy.
    You're right about how if I were to just engage myself in the activity then yes, I do believe it would help my depression.

    Thanks Tina for this challenging post. I need to be more proactive in the things that I know would be helpful in reducing anxiety.
    Blessings, Deanna

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    1. Thank you, Deanna. It's a challenge to me, too! I procrastinate with so many things, including household chores, but I feel so much better when I go ahead and get things done. I need to be more proactive, too.

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  3. Ugh, procrastination is my middle name. This post is very timely for me. Right now, I am really, really struggling with getting out of bed every single day, I'm taking naps again all the time, and I'm not motivated to do ANYTHING. I don't know what is going on, but I'm really struggling at this moment. I definitely need to re-read your post and work on this stuff.

    Very well written post, Tina (and filled with really good info too)!

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    1. Thank you, Sunny. Sleeping is one of my favorite diversions. It's such a hard habit to break.

      I'm sorry you're having a rough time with the procrastination. It's so frustrating, isn't it? I know what I should do, even what I want to do, but I put it off. I definitely need to change my thinking patterns and my behavior.

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  4. You mean if I just ignore it, it won't go away?

    Darn :(

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    1. Believe me, Jen, I tried that . . . and tried that . . . but it didn't work! :-)

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  5. I don't procrastinate big things - I tend to like to tackle them. But I will procrastinate small things I don't like to do - like making a phone call.

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    1. Lisa, I need more of your attitude about the big things--just tackle them!

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  6. I love what Julia Cameron says about procrastination. She suggests that we call it by its right name: fear. We're afraid of failing, afraid of succeeding, afraid of facing something that we don't want to...so many fears!

    Cameron also suggests coaxing and bribery. For example, if I am putting off working on novel revisions, I will promise myself a reward at the end, some activity that I find pleasurable. And yes, sometimes I give myself chocolate! :)

    For me, the to-do list helps. If I'm going to work on something that's scary for me, I write it down the night before. If it's REALLY scary, I put down the time that I intend to work on it--both start and end time. It's really fun to cross those suckers off the list!

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    1. Nadine, You're right--procrastination boils down to fear. Fear of so many things.

      I used to make to-do lists and felt like I accomplished more. I think I need to get back to that. It's a good idea to put the time down on it, too--that makes it more of a mini-goal. Thank you for the suggestions!

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  7. Such a relief to read you battle with procrastination!
    I really should change my diet, do more exercise etc too.

    It helps me if I do not set the goals I want to achieve too high. And start with short periods at a time. And I make a list in my head of what I want to achieve each day. Not a too difficult or long list, so if I manage to do more I can add that as a bonus by the end of the day. That by itself does stimulate a lot already too as you have done more than you planned in that way, and it often works. Makes you think a lot more positive.

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    1. Klaaske, I like your idea of not setting goals too high--then when you do more, it's a positive outcome. I tend to overestimate what I "should" get done, and sometimes that defeats me before I even get started.

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  8. I also use lists, and for some reason, find great satisfaction in crossing things off it. I agree that the act of procrastinating is usually more anxiety-provoking than doing what you've been avoiding.......but I know when you get in that "funk" there are no easy answers. Good for you for being aware of the problem and trying to figure it all out.

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    1. Thank you, Janet. No, no easy answers, but you and others have offered good suggestions.

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  9. Ok, I am the weird one out, as I hardly ever procrastinate. I am almost the opposite in that if I know something has to be done I want to do it as soon as possible and get it out of the way. But the thing is, it sounds better than what it is and I wish I could be somewhere in the middle. For instance this spring I knew that I needed to clean all the windows and screens on the house and it was not something I was looking forward to at all, so I wanted to get it done and over with. So the first nice day, I did every single window in our house, in one day and I totally and not only did I wear myself out but I could hardly move the next day cause I was so sore. I will do that with taxes, sit up all night long till they are done and just exhaust myself. I start Christmas shopping in Oct. Really, it all makes me a very high-strung person and I am not happy that I cannot let things go once in away and relax. And once I start a project, I don't want to finish till I am done, if it kills me. There is middle ground right?
    I get tired easily too Tina. Sometimes I wonder if the SSRI I take makes me tired even though I've been on the same one for years.? I do find a walk wakes me up and gives me more energy and I am always glad that I put on my tennis shoes instead of giving in to a nap but I'm not working a full time job like you and when I did I was exhausted between my job, kids, house work and then OCD to boot. You have great self-awareness Tina and it seems to me you are accomplishing alot. I am so glad you blog because you are really inspiring to me.

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    1. Krystal Lynn, I wish I could find the middle ground, too, because I've had times in my life when I couldn't relax unless everything was done. My OCD wouldn't allow it. I think I went too far in the other direction partly as a rebellion.

      I get tired a lot, too. I'm sorry you have that problem, too. I don't ever feel like I'm accomplishing enough. I appreciate your kind words! Right back at you!

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  10. Hi Tina, I procrastinate all the time. Always putting off one thing after another. Getting out of bed, eating, studying, showering, every time I go out I delay it. I too, have many goals that over the years I've put off. I still want to achieve them, but I always put them off while I'm procrastinating on something else. Getting past it? That I haven't worked out yet. Susan :)

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  11. Wow. Great post!

    I have this procrastination problem too. I like what he said about "if you have the energy to think depressing thoughts, you have the energy to think proactive thoughts, such as ‘I can slowly work my way up from under this malaise’” (p. 60)

    I also like the idea of recognizing what is happening and why and pushing yourself to make small changes.

    Very inspiring post!

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