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What's stopping you?

Do you find yourself thinking about what you really want to do to improve your life and wellbeing but you never seem to be able to start to take action? You could be procrastinating; procrastination means ‘to defer action’ and can hold you back from making changes in your life.

What holds you back?

Procrastination is often a way of protecting yourself from experiencing an unpleasant emotional state, e.g., you prefer to watch television rather than going for a walk because exercising will mean exerting yourself and cause you pain rather than enjoyment. Then there is the ‘comfort of discomfort’ paradox – your current miserable or non-productive state is familiar and safe compared with the feared consequences of change and subsequent failure. Therefore, the statement ‘I’m happy as I am’, is not a statement of genuine contentment but a fear of being worse off if the change fails, therefore you stay as you are.

Causes of procrastination

Anxiety – based on perceived threats to self-esteem if you participate in the avoided task. E.g. if you try to stop smoking and then fail, you will be a failure so what’s the point in starting the process?

Low frustration tolerance (LFT) – your perceived inability to endure frustration, boredom, hard work, uncomfortable feelings, setbacks. E.g. ‘I can’t stand present pain for future gain’

Rebellion – a way of expressing your anger towards others by delaying important tasks – you want to get back at someone for being told what to do or how to behave.

Avoidance behaviours and rationalisations accompanying procrastination

  • ‘Armchair contemplation’ - contemplating doing the task for long periods of time.

  • Leave tasks until the last minute because you ‘do your best work under pressure’.

  • Convincing yourself that saying ‘I’ll do it tomorrow’ means the job is as good as done; tomorrow is a hazy point in the future and therefore you don’t need to worry about it.

  • A variation on the point above is making future action contingent upon present problem solving, e.g. ‘I’ll start doing some meditation when I’ve got more time to focus on it properly, I’ve just started a new job or I’ll be moving house soon’

  • Previously unimportant tasks suddenly become all important – displacement activities such as cleaning the cupboards instead of filling in a job application.

  • Pleasurable tasks are undertaken first as a way of encouraging yourself to eventually face the difficult task but the pleasure takes over and the difficulties are pushed into the background.

  • Creating the illusion of tackling the task. E.g. you make a list of what you need to do before you can start exercising like buying exercise clothes, phoning the gym etc. and then decide that’s enough for one day, you’ve made a start and can now turn to something more pleasurable.

  • Calling yourself lazy or useless gives yourself an excuse not to do anything.

  • Waiting to feel motivated before you start. Motivation doesn’t come first though – productive action does.

Tackling procrastination

Use visualisation: ‘How would you look and/or feel if you achieved this task/behaviour change?’ The answer is usually ‘fantastic’ but closing your eyes and visualising what this change would feel like and what would be better for you, either mentally or physically, can really help. Keep this imagined state in your mind as you work towards the changes you want to make.

In relation to the visualisation you create, develop something tangible that represents how things will be once you’ve changed your wellbeing state. This could be a mood board or a photo that represents what this future state will be like for you. Keep it in a prominent place where you will be forced to look at it every day.

Ask for help and support from a friend or family member. Telling someone about the changes you want to make and asking for support can help to keep you on track and the people supporting you can help to motivate you; they may even want to make the same changes for themselves and take action alongside you.

Writing down our goals make them real, concrete and focused. Including specific milestones and dates can also help. Write down the advantages and disadvantages of making this change in two columns. Look at the disadvantages and think of ways of reducing or minimising them. Then write down the advantages and disadvantages of not changing your behaviour. Then give yourself a score out of 10 in relation to how certain you are that you want to stay just as you are now.

As you begin to make changes, make a note of where you are at the beginning of working towards your change; what’s your score out of 10 for where you are now in terms of your change. For example, if your goal is to work 15 fewer hours per week by a certain date, are you at zero now? How does this figure change as you progress in working less? Keep some notes in a journal and notice what you are thinking and feeling each day, or every week, as your changes help you and make a difference to your life and wellbeing.

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