Thinking of procrastination as an attempt at a solution could help

If we think of procrastination as an attempt at a solution, rather than the problem, a lot of space is opened up to figure out how to approach this.

Once again I’ve shot myself in the foot by procrastinating. I put off doing something until it was too late. I lost an opportunity for some work. This isn’t the first time that putting something off has cost me. It’s the biggest, though. This needs to stop. My wife is furious. I’m brushing it off to her, but I really feel like a loser who can’t get his act together. Any advice about how to stop this procrastination?

This might sound a bit weird, but let’s consider the possibility that procrastination is not the actual problem.

If we think of procrastination as an attempt at a solution, rather than the problem, a lot of space is opened up to figure out how to approach this.

Let’s look at some of the reasons that people put off doing things that are important to them:

  1. They don’t know how to do the task.
  2. The task is boring to them.
  3. There are other fun things that they would rather be doing.
  4. There is a worry that what they do will not be good enough.
  5. Rather than endure the discomfort produced by those (and other) reasons, procrastination can feel like an option, a way to avoid discomfort — that attempt at a solution I mentioned.

You don’t say what kept you from doing whatever you needed to do to get that work.

Looking at procrastination as an attempt at a solution, does it now make more sense to you? Were you trying to avoid the discomfort of asking for help, or the discomfort of doing something boring when there are so many more fun things to do?

Perhaps you recognize yourself in not doing some things because you worried that what you did wouldn’t be good enough. This can be an issue for people when they feel uncertain about their abilities. It is also an issue for many a “closet perfectionist” — a person who doesn’t start a task because they think it won’t be perfect.

It will be helpful for you to get clear about what kind of discomfort you were hoping to avoid by not doing the things you need to do. And then get up close and personal with this thought: There is often no way to avoid discomfort. Procrastination, while an attempt to avoid discomfort, only delays it and often increases it.

Possibly, it now feels like the discomfort of not getting that work might be greater than the discomfort of asking for help, or filling out the boring forms, or missing the fun that you had instead of doing what you needed to do. It’s likely even greater than the discomfort of hearing, “Sorry someone else was more qualified than you for the work.”

So, step one is to recognize that that you cannot avoid discomfort.

Step two is to be clear about the kind of discomfort you are trying to avoid. It can point the way to what you need to do next.

Step three is to take the next small step in the right direction. For example, if you don’t know how to do something, ask yourself how you can get more information. Don’t want to be bored? Consider telling yourself to work on what you need to for only 10 minutes. After that, you can stop until tomorrow or continue.

More fun things to do? Consider rescheduling your fun, or asking where will you get more of what you want. Will it be by having fun right now, or by reaping the benefits of doing what you need to do?

Worried that you won’t succeed or be perfect? Consider Michael Jordan or Wayne Gretzky. They missed every single one of the shots they didn’t take because they weren’t sure they would make them.

Google “procrastination” for other ideas. If the problem persists, consider speaking with a registered clinical counsellor. There are many therapeutic approaches that may be of help.

If you would like to ask a question of the counsellors, for a response in future columns, e-mail them at Consult a Counsellor is provided by the registered clinical counsellors at Pacific Therapy & Consulting: Nancy Bock, Diane Davies, Leslie Wells, Andrew Lochhead and Karen Turner. It appears every second Friday.


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