Procrastination is not laziness
Procrastination is not laziness. In fact, it is very likely that you care a lot about the task you cannot get round starting or completing. You probably feel paralysed and/or powerless when you try to start or complete that task.
Procrastination is not just about managing your time differently or about feeling more motivated, which is what many people are told when they share their struggles with procrastination. It often affects people who are really good and may be extremely efficient in certain areas of their lives, but they may have that one thing or task they cannot get started or finished. It may also affect you during specific periods in your life more than others.
Why do we procrastinate?
There are a number of factors that increase the risk of procrastination in your life, although not all of them apply to everyone:
- Temperament: we are born with a specific temperament, which is a predisposition or inclination towards certain emotional and behavioural patterns. Qualities such as perfectionism, impulsivity, a tendency to worry, amongst others, can increase our chances of procrastination behaviour.
- Anxiety and depression: people who struggle with anxiety or depression may find it challenging to start or complete tasks, leading to procrastination.
- ADHD, autism and other neuro-differences: if you brain works differently to the majority of people around you, you may be more likely to struggle to start and complete a task without the support or information you need. For example, some people feel overwhelmed by a large task because of the number of decisions involved to get it done, by the amount of sensory information involved (listening, paying attention, conversations with people, etc.), or by a significant number of steps to complete the task.
- Task difficulty: you will be more likely to procrastinate on tasks that you find challenging or unpleasant. Or if there are certain aspects of a task that you do not know how to do well.
- Perceived lack of control: we are more likely to procrastinate when they feel like they don’t have control over a situation or when they feel overwhelmed.
- The number of distractions in your life: generally, you are more likely to procrastinate if you have a long list of things that you need to deal with, or if you tend to multitask. This affects most of us nowadays due to the constant stream of information we receive through social media, smartphones, emails, etc.
How do these factors lead to procrastination?
If procrastination affects your life, there are probably some underlying beliefs that you have learned through early and maybe more recent experiences in your life. Even if you have had an unremarkable childhood and adult, common experiences that we call ‘formative experiences’ in psychology, can have a significant impact on our perception of the world and our ability to cope with stress, both of which can lead to procrastination.
An underlying belief is like a rule our brain develops that we may or may not consciously be aware of. It is like a lens through which we see reality, and depending on the lens, it may give us a distorted view of a situation. For example, an underlying belief can be “I’m not good enough’ or “I can’t do it’.
If you struggle with procrastination, it is likely that some of the following underlying beliefs are influencing your thinking and feelings, even if you do not realise it:
- Fear of failure: you may feel that you are not capable of achieving your goals or that you will be judged by others if you fail.
- Perfectionism: perfectionistic tendencies can lead to avoiding tasks unless you know that you will do it perfectly. The pressure to achieve perfection can result in procrastination.
- Lack of control: you are more likely to procrastinate if you do not have the confidence that you can influence the outcome of a task, leading to a sense of hopelessness and a lack of motivation to even start.
- Avoidance: if you have had a previous negative experience with a similar task, it is more likely that you will feel the urge to avoid these types of tasks in the future.
- Lack of self-belief: difficult and negative experiences can lead to people doubting their abilities and worthiness, and thus, to believe that they are not good enough to undertake a task or challenge.
EMDR can help with procrastination
If you have repeatedly tried strategies to overcome procrastination and it did not resolve the problem, EMDR therapy may help. EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is a type of psychotherapy that is effective in treating a variety of psychological difficulties. While it was not specifically designed to treat procrastination, EMDR can help with procrastination by addressing the underlying beliefs that may be contributing to it in the following ways:
- EMDR can help to identify and process stuck and unhelpful beliefs that hold you back by targeting specific memories, thoughts and body sensations that contribute to the procrastination behaviour. This can be any formative event when the belief unhelpful belief developed. For example, being compared to a sibling and told that they are better than you or that you will never be able to achieve the same or being told as a child that any grades that are not the highest is not good enough or you did not worked hard enough, etc.
- EMDR can also help to develop new, positive beliefs about our capacity and expectations to replace rigid and unhelpful beliefs. For example, substituting beliefs such as ‘I’m going to let people down if it’s not perfect’ with beliefs such as ‘I can do it’ and ‘I’m doing it for myself’.
- EMDR can prepare you for future challenges that you will be facing by looking at those future situations or tasks and reducing the intensity of the paralysis we feel to take action and increasing our trust in our abilities and our trust in dealing with the situation if the outcome is not what we expected.
So, if you struggle with procrastination, you have repeatedly tried behavioural strategies and it has not worked, there is a chance that beliefs that have been developing throughout your life are the culprit. EMDR is one of the ways in which you can overcome procrastination.