Every issue, psychologist Esther Ghijsen answers an urgent question. This month:
Vincent (28) Whenever there is something important that needs taking care of, I become this frantic freak who can’t resist checking their phone, logging onto Facebook, rearranging books into alphabetical order – anything to avoid getting the job done. In other words: I am a procrastinator. What can I do about this?
Procrastination is a common behavior in 95 percent of people ( Ellis & Knaus, 1977) and in 15 to 20 percent of that group it can be considered chronic and problematic (Harriot & Ferrari, 1996). Recent research shows that men are more likely to procrastinate than women, that procrastinators tend to be less educated, and that their marriages are more likely to fall apart.
Considering procrastination has little benefit, why is it such a common way of behaving? One of the possible causes is performance anxiety. Being afraid you will never get that job discourages you from sending out your resume, while worrying about your grades makes you not want to study for that exam. In other cases, perfectionism is the root of the problem: setting standards for yourself that you will never be able to meet – and therefore don’t even bother. And then there are those who are just plain lazy; lacking the discipline to force themselves to take care of their tasks.
So how can you best deal with this? Not surprisingly, you start by making a plan, because without this your procrastination has actually already begun. Make sure this plan is manageable, if necessary you can chop it up into smaller pieces. Also, inform your friends and family, as this will help you to motivate yourself – no one likes to be considered a failure by others. Second, you block yourself from all possible distractions, meaning you turn off your phone and computer, but also make sure the room you’ll be working in is clean and tidy.
Try to eliminate negative thoughts as much as possible by visualizing the end result of your task; the moment you actually submit your thesis or receive a callback about your job application. Promise yourself some kind of reward for when it is completed and acknowledge your successes – even if they were not as big as you hoped.
Last, research (Wohl, Pychyl and Bennett, 2010) shows that the ability to forgive yourself for procrastinating helps you doing better next time. So if you have wasted another day getting tangled up in playing Farmville, don’t be too hard on yourself. After all, there’s always tomorrow.
Wohl, M., Pychyl, T., & Bennett, S. (2010). I forgive myself, now I can study: How self-forgiveness for procrastinating can reduce future procrastination Personality and Individual Differences, 48 (7), 803-808 DOI: 10.1016/j.paid.2010.01.029
Psychologist Esther Ghijsen runs her own practice in Amsterdam, named SuccesPsychologie, offering both therapy and coaching. She aims to help her clients reach certain goals by building upon their own strengths and qualities .
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