Have you ever postponed a task and promised yourself to do it the next day, only to put it off again and again? Everyone has at some point in their life.
We all procrastinate at times. We put off tasks and give in to distractions easily.
But when does it become extreme and even chronic procrastination? And how can you break free from this vicious cycle that ruins so many people’s lives?
Common tips for dealing with procrastination won’t help someone who is a chronic procrastinator.
You need to reprogram your mind. Let’s look at how.
What Is Chronic Procrastination?
Dr. Joseph Ferrari, a leading expert in the study of procrastination, says, “Everyone procrastinates but not everyone is a procrastinator.”
When you put off a task once off, we can say this is situational procrastination. When the frequency is more often, you procrastinate for longer periods, and are aware of the negative consequences, we can say this is extreme and even severe procrastination. This depends on the degrees of the above.
When you start putting off your important tasks daily and continuously for a few months, this is habitual and becomes chronic procrastination. When your work promotion or results are undermined and procrastination stops you from functioning normally, this can lead to feelings of guilt and shame, limiting beliefs, and depression.
When it becomes part of “who you are”—like a negative identity that you cannot separate from—it is chronic.
Are You a Chronic Procrastinator?
- Do you procrastinate daily, not only in your work but in your personal life, too?
- Is your sleep, health, self-esteem, and self-identity negatively affected?
- Do you continue to procrastinate even when there are severe negative consequences over and over?
Most people suffer when they are habitual procrastinators and in a bad emotional state. So, why is it so hard to stop procrastinating if we suffer so much?
If it was so easy to just take action with so much advice out there, why are more and more people experiencing chronic procrastination?
There is a wealth of information out there, but we are not often working on the root cause of the problem. There is more advice on situational procrastination, and chronic procrastination is not an overnight change. It requires a change in your mindset and behavior.
To deal with chronic procrastination effectively, it is important to separate the symptom from the problem. The problem is not procrastination. It is a symptom of the problem as we know it.
Below are the most common causes of chronic procrastination with three tips on what you can do to break your patterns and create the change you desire. If possible, I always recommend getting professional help first.
How Can You Find the Root Cause?
The cause of your chronic procrastination might not be that obvious to you at first. Remember that you want to get to the root of the problem, not work on the symptoms for real change.
Here’s how you can find the root cause of your procrastination behavior:
- Get into a quiet space, clear your mind and body, and get relaxed.
- Think about the things you put off, and ask yourself questions such as: What is the reason I am procrastinating on this task? Write down the answer.
- Looking at your answer, ask yourself, what is the reason I ____? (This is your answer.)
- Keep digging by asking yourself, “What is the reason?” The cause is hidden under the symptom. You will know the real answer because it will resonate with you. There might be a few reasons why.
- Write them down, and then take a step back. Look at your answer. Is it clear? Does it relate to any of the points above? Or maybe something else is preventing you?
- You know why you are holding yourself back, you just need to create the space and ask the right questions and gain insights to see it. Don’t judge yourself through this process. That is key.
The Root of the Challenge and How to Overcome It
1. ADHD Chronic Procrastination
This isn’t a condition, but it has been associated with conditions such as anxiety, depression, and ADHD. Procrastination is not a symptom of ADHD, but it can result from it.
For example, ADHD procrastination happens when you are feeling disorganized or easily distracted when you’re unable to prioritize anything. You start to feel overwhelmed, and this leads to procrastination.
- Get a realistic sense of time, and create more awareness around how long things take. This will help you to not only show up on time but also get better at estimating how long things take to support you in better time management overall.
- Set deadlines and use the Pomodoro technique to help you to focus and get things done.
- Focus on completing one task at a time and remember not to overwhelm yourself by thinking of everything you have to do and attempting to do it all in a short period.
2. Emotional Distress
Like ADHD, anxiety and depression can lead to chronic procrastination. When you have anxiety, your mind is your worst energy and tends to focus on everything that can go wrong, and it’s constantly worrying about what you need to do and avoid.
When you are feeling down, you have no energy to act. You feel bad about yourself and life overall, and finding the motivation or inspiration to do something can almost be impossible.
- Start focusing on what can go right. Don’t focus on the things that will make you feel bad. If you focus on the outcome that you want instead and why you want it, it will be easier.
- Challenge your thoughts. Use the Byron Katie technique. Just because we think something, it doesn’t mean it’s true. A thought is a thought. However, thoughts create emotions—emotions that help us take action or hold us back. If we can change our thoughts, we can change how we feel and change how we act.
- Do a fear-setting exercise from Tim Ferris, associate more pain with taking no action, and get motivated by the purpose to take action and the pleasure of how you will feel and what you will achieve.
Do you have a belief that making a mistake is unacceptable? When you feel you need to do everything perfectly to the point that you are anxious about starting the task, you will hold yourself back repeatedly.
Perfectionism comes from beliefs such as, “if I do this and it’s not perfect, it will be a disaster.”
- Shift your perspective and belief, and start to strengthen new beliefs, such as, “I can and will make mistakes because I am human, and I can still be very successful.” You need to make mistakes to be more successful, learn, grow and enjoy the ride. That is what life is about.
- Separate yourself from the outcome. Take failure at a goal as a goal failure and not as a personal failure.
- Start doing things that you might not be so good at or that you don’t care about. This will help you to get used to letting go and doing things you are not perfect at, proving your fears wrong.
4. Low Self-Esteem
If you consistently doubt yourself or have limiting beliefs, such that you can never finish anything or that there is no point in starting because you won’t achieve success, a lot of resistance will come up when you want to do something.
The irony is that the more you procrastinate, the more you lower your self-esteem.
- Ask yourself, “What do I believe about myself, about what I’m doing, the outcome of what I am doing, and my ability to do it?” Write down all of the beliefs that come to mind. Looking at them, are they holding you back? What do you need to start believing about yourself instead? Learn how to condition new beliefs, learn how to love yourself again, believe in yourself, and become your best champion in life.
- Build your self-confidence by doing small things that you fear, and show yourself you can do it. This is one of the best ways to build our self-esteem.
- Do cognitive exercises to improve your self-esteem, do exercises that build self-love, and watch the language you use—this becomes your truth. Use language that lifts yourself and doesn’t take you down.
5. How You Grew Up
Chronic procrastination is more nurture than nature. You are influenced by your education, your attitudes, how strict or relaxed your parents were, and what they taught you, such as self-discipline.
This creates habits and behavior that can be counterproductive when you are an adult.
- Learn self-discipline and how to act when you need to. Self-discipline is a muscle that needs to be strengthened and trained.
- Focus on the rewards, and learn how to break your pattern when you are procrastinating. Understand what triggers you, how to prevent it, and what you can do to motivate yourself in the moment to keep going.
- Learn how to influence your emotions and behavior positively with CBT Techniques. You cannot wait to feel good anymore to take action. You have to learn how to get yourself to feel good to take action or simply how to act. Often, motivation comes after.
Lastly, when you are hard on yourself, you will procrastinate more. Learn how to be more compassionate with yourself overall. Let the past go, stop reinforcing it by believing the future is going to be the same, forgive yourself, and commit to a new future.
Don’t let procrastination take over your life and steal your happiness and success. You’ve only got one!