Thursday, 29 March 2012

Putting Things off!

We are doing some really interesting work on treatment for anxiety and depression and recently we have been looking at safety behaviours - the sort of strategies people use to cope with their rising anxiety levels.  These ‘safety behaviours’ work in the short term by lowering the anxiety levels but cause problems in the long term because the root problem has not been dealt  thus increasing the underlying worry and anxiety. Recognition of a feeling of ‘stuckness’ or of a vicious cycle being played over and over, is often the reason given by a person coming to counselling.

This subject interests me because I am finding myself really procrastinating over the last pieces of work needed to complete my MSc.  I am managing to find everything else to do to avoid doing getting stuck into working properly on my Personal Development Project – my final 8000 word piece in which I have so little interest or engagement. 

....but I am not the only one struggling!  In a straw poll in the Enquiry Unit these are some of the ways my colleagues find to distract, avoid and put off the important:
  • Moan to as many people as possible to get lots of sympathy for the horrors of the task
  • Read the horoscopes of all the people you know and try to work out how it may affect your life as well
  • When the dog looks at me like that I just have to take him for a walk immediately
  • The builder hides my stuff and thinks it’s funny
  • Adhere to the motto “Tidy space – tidy mind” and hang up all the clothes left lying around in the spare room
  • Eat – just anything as long as it talks a long time to prepare
  • Facebook updating becomes a priority
  • Planning the next holiday consumes hours of comparing prices, hotel facilities and local weather patterns
  • While having the radio on in the background, if a new song comes on, I must do internet research for the full lyrics and history
  • It’s time for the gym – now!
  • Rearrange the bookshelves.  This could be by alphabetical order,  genre, spine colour, scaled from favourites to least favourites, size - tallest to smallest

Arranging books by design

Arranging books by colour
  • Ditto for DVD collection 
  • Choose a book completely different to the one you were meant to read then get so engrossed you need to finish it
  • Make lots of unnecessary cakes every day for colleagues in the enquiry unit including spending extra time to ice and decorate them 
  • Cleaning the most unnecessary places that would never be cleaned otherwise eg the back of the wardrobe, skirting boards or the oven.

Why do we procrastinate?  T Powell (2000) writes that it ‘often amounts to deliberately avoiding having to confront our fears.  Proscrastination flourishes in two optimal conditions.  First: when the task is not urgent – we do not have to do it right now- there is time to do it in te future.  Second: when there is something more pleasurable to do now.  Procrastination is usually about putting pleasure before pain’.

He gives seven reasons for it:

  1. Lack of a sense of Mastery:  You believe that successful people achieve their goals easily – without all your doubts and frustrations so instead of sticking with it, you give up in despair.  Because successful people have this sense of mastery and believe that there will be a tough and frustrating struggle to achieve their goals, when they meet challenges, they keep going because they expect them. 
  2.  Assumption that you have to be in the mood: Procrastinators think that they have to be in a particular mood to tackle a task.  Actually there are some things for which you will never be in the mood.  Successful people tend to put action above motivation and find that once they get going the sense of accomplishment spurs them on to do more. 
  3. Fear of failure: Leaving the task to the last minute gives you the excuse to say” I didn’t have time to do it properly” thus protecting you from the reality of realising that your best effort is not good enough.  If you are a perfectionist, you may think that you don’t want to start unless you can do it properly (read ‘perfectly’) otherwise you will feel like a failure. 
  4.  Fear of rejection or intimacy: You may put off inviting people around or making that phone call to avoid the possibility of being rejected. By procrastinating you can keep a safe emotional distance to avoid revealing yourself to others. 
  5. Fear of Success: If you do it well, you may draw attention to yourself or create more work for yourself. 
  6. Getting back at somebody: If you are feeling bossed around or coerced into doing something you by procrastinating you are indirectly expressing your anger and rebellion 
  7. Lack of commitment: It could be you simply don’t consider the task important enough to bother with or else you may think you would prefer to do something else more pleasant or interesting.

Beneath some of these reasons that may seem rather superficial at first may be quite deep rooted beliefs we hold about ourselves that drive our actions – or in this case inaction. If the habit of procrastination is so serious that it causes life to become unbearably stressful, and /or relationships seriously affected, it may be time to explore it in more depth with professional help and support.  The student counselling service and the mentorship programme may be able to help.

In researching procrastination as a way of not doing my project, I found some wonderful web sites. These are two of them.

Structured Procrastination is a beautifully written tongue in cheek essay written by quite a high achieving procrastinator who started his piece with the following quote:
``. . . anyone can do any amount of work, provided it isn't the work he is supposed to be doing at that moment." -- Robert Benchley, in Chips off the Old Benchley, 1949

When you are already feeling anxious about impending deadlines, guilty that you are wasting so much time and rubbish because you are depriving yourself of doing lovely things ‘until that blasted paper is written’, it doesn’t help to have people saying ‘Just sit down and do it.  I don’t know what your problem is.’  This next site is a lovely gentle explanatory article that may help you understand what your particular difficulties are and help you feel less of a horrible person!


Procrastinator cartoon:

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