Procrastination: How to cut it out… (if you can get round to it)

I remember as a child, like most young people, really not wanting to do some things or engage in certain activities. The stock response from my parents and in fact all the adults around me at that time was that this was due to probable laziness, unwillingness, and generally not wishing to ‘put my back into things’ that were clearly good for me.

The outcome of this was that I grew up like many people believing that procrastination was due to some kind of character or behavioural deficit that needed to be overcome to be the fully worthwhile person that I was supposed to be. It’s hardly surprising, then, that on top of not actually doing some of the things that would have been useful for me, I ended up also feeling down on myself about these various failures. This frame of reference did not in any way recognise the very many things that I did enthusiastically and in fact excelled in. Like most people, I carried this dismal understanding into adulthood.

It remains true as adults that there are activities, tasks, and mundane chores that we know full well should be done and yet will find every reason on earth to avoid getting started on. This can be extremely frustrating! So, what to do about it?

Conventional Solutions to Procrastination

The most useful conventional solutions have been variously derived from the no-nonsense approach of Dr Albert Ellis, creator of Rational Emotional Behaviour Therapy (REBT) and a grandfather to Cognitive Behaviour Therapy.  I trained with Dr Ellis in New York in the 1990s and his clarity of thought and directness was an inspiration.

To summarise Dr Ellis’ approach in all things, how we feel and behave begins with what we’re telling ourselves, our beliefs if you like. He would say the behaviour of procrastination is borne out of telling ourselves such things as “I don’t want to do this, I really shouldn’t have to”, “this is so difficult and boring I really can’t stand the thought of it”, and “I should enjoy anything I have to do….and this I don’t!”.

With these kinds of beliefs going round our heads it’s hardly surprising that we delay, sometimes indefinitely, the tasks that we have in mind. 

He would argue that we should change what we’re telling ourselves to something more useful such as “I may not enjoy doing this task but I can stand it.” “It’s preferable that I enjoy an occupation but it’s not crucial” And “there is no reason why I must perform this task but it would be highly useful if I did.”  According to him, constant repetition of these rational beliefs will lead to behavioural change.  All well and good, but suppose you fully accept them, repeat them, and yet still don’t get off the couch?

The problem here is that thinking is a very inefficient way of influencing feeling, it can work in the long term, but it’s a struggle because two completely different areas of the brain are going head-to-head.  This dissonance has never been fully acknowledged by CBT.

My recommendation is that there is plenty of room for adjusting your thinking to more rational, useful beliefs, but before you engage in the process, try my app Ed can Help…

How can your app help me to stop procrastinating?

The strange mechanistic sound of the app works with a direct effect on feeling. This is crucial, because procrastination is not caused by laziness or indifference, (someone tell my parents!) it’s caused by the activation of imagination: without realizing it, you associate or imagine how (rubbish) you will feel when doing task X, and your brain quite understandably decides to go into reverse.  This is the process which you can correct with sound therapy.  Rub out the imaginary negative feelings standing in your way, and off you go.

The process is simple: while listening, pull up as vividly as you can all the negative feelings that you have about the task.  What are they? Frustration, resentment, even anger?  Dig deep and explore what you feel, other similar experiences, situations, and people.  As you do so you will notice 3 things:

  • Related experiences pop up.
  • Present times negative feelings will reduce.
  • Helpful thoughts and perspectives will begin to emerge.

When you are ready, your brain will most likely tell you that you may as well just find your kit bag or begin writing the report.

To me, this feels like a far easier way to go rather than just plugging away at thinking, and dare I say motivational affirmations!  We may as well go with the fact that if we correct how we feel first, helpful thinking becomes so much easier. You can also spend 20 minutes positively daydreaming while listening to the sound, thinking about how good you’ll feel when you’ve achieved your goal. The sound always scrubs down problem feelings and strengthens positive ones.  Give it a go! 

PS: One last tip:

When you’ve found your groove working on the feelings holding you back, you may still need a behavioural push in the right direction.  For me the ‘10 minute rule’ works very well: Strike a bargain with yourself that regardless of how you feel or anything else, you will begin your task and do it for 10 minutes.  At the end of that time, you have full permission to stop if you wish to. This takes the unpleasant feeling of compulsion out of the equation, it’s a fair deal you strike with yourself.

10 minutes is just about enough to ‘prime’ your brain and most brains decide that they may as well do a bit more, and then a bit more…..

It works for me, and hopefully for you too! Let me know!

See you in the gym!  Edward