Are you a chronic procrastinator? 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 done this 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?

Dr Joseph Ferrari, a leading expert in the study of procrastination so brilliantly says – “Everyone procrastinates, but not everyone is a procrastinator.” 

Common tips for dealing with procrastination won’t help someone whose problem is chronic, you need to reprogram your mind. 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 of time 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.

But 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 yourself from, it is chronic.|

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?

Here are the most common causes of chronic procrastination with tips on what you can do to break your patterns and create the change you desire.  If possible, getting professional help is always recommended.

Common Causes and What You Can Do To Help Yourself

Most people suffer when they are habitual procrastinators, and this affects their emotional state badly.  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, which however fails to address the root cause of the problem. There is more advice on situational procrastination than insights on chronic procrastination, which requires more work than can be achieved overnight.

In order to deal with chronic procrastination effectively, it is important to separate the symptom from the problem. Procrastination is the symptom that you notice, because of an underlying problem.

1 – ADHD Chronic procrastination

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 are not able to prioritize anything then you start to feel overwhelmed, and this leads to procrastination.

What can you do?

Get a realistic sense of time

  • Create more awareness around how long things take. This will help you to not only show up on time but to get better at estimating how long things take in order to support you in better time management overall.
  • Set deadlines and use the Pomodoro technique to help you focus and get things done.
  • Don’t multitask, this will only create more distraction and procrastination. Rather focus on completing one task at a time and remember not to overwhelm yourself by thinking of everything you have to do and then attempt to do it all in a short period of time.

2. Emotional Distress

Like ADHD, anxiety, and depression can lead to chronic procrastination.  When you are anxious, your mind is your worst enemy and tends to focus on everything that can go wrong and you are constantly worrying about what you need to do or 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 be almost impossible.

What can you do?

Start focusing on what can go right instead of what can go wrong.

  • Don’t focus on the things that will make you feel bad. If you focus on the outcome that you want instead, and the reasons for wanting it, it will be easier.
  • Challenge your thoughts by using the Byron Katie technique, which is based on asking four basic questions to challenge your thoughts. Just because we think something, it doesn’t mean it’s true. However, thoughts create 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, in which you associate more pain with inaction and get motivated by your purpose to take action.  

3. Perfectionism

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 over and over again. Perfectionism comes from beliefs such as, ‘If I do this and it’s not perfect, it will be a disaster’.

What can you do?

Shift your perspective and belief.

  • Start to strengthen new beliefs such as, ‘I can and will make mistakes because I am human, but I can still be very successful.’
  • You need to make mistakes to learn from them.  Separate yourself from the outcome, don’t take failure personally.  
    Break the cycle.
  • Start doing things that you might not be so good at, or that you don’t really care about so that you can let go and it becomes to do the things you are not perfect at.

4. Low Self Esteem

If you consistently doubt yourself or have limiting beliefs such as that you are unable to finish anything, or that there is no point in starting because you won’t achieve success, resistance will come up. The irony is that the more you procrastinate, the more you lower your self-esteem.

What can you do?

Question yourself

  • What do you believe about yourself and your ability to achieve what you want?
  • Write down your beliefs
    Are they holding you back? What do you need to start believing about yourself instead?
  • Build your self-confidence by doing small things that you fear to show yourself that you can do it.
  • Do cognitive exercises to improve your self-esteem.

5.  How you grew up

Chronic procrastination is more nurture than nature. How you were educated informs your attitudes. Nobody was born a procrastinator!

What can you do? 

Learn self-discipline

  • How to act when you need do. Self-discipline is a muscle that needs to be strengthened or exercised.
  • Focus on the rewards, learn how to break your negative patterns when you are procrastinating.
  • Take control of your emotions and mindset. The only thing we can control is ourselves so learn from the masters how to increase your emotional intelligence.
  • Learn how to influence your emotions and behavior positively with CBT Techniques. You cannot wait to feel motivated to act, rather learn how to get yourself motivated.

The cause of your chronic procrastination might not be that obvious to you at first, but remember you want to get to the root cause of the problem and not only work on the symptoms for real change.

How can you find the root cause to your chronic procrastination?

  • Get into a quiet space, clear your mind and body, 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, Why?  You will know the true answer because it will resonate with you. There might be more than one reason, so write all of them down and then take a step back.
  • Look at your answers, is it clear?  Does it relate to any of the points above or maybe something else is preventing you from taking action?

You know why you are holding yourself back, you just need to create the space and ask the right questions and gain insights to find out the reasons. It is important not to judge yourself through this process. If you judge yourself, you cannot influence yourself.

Last words for the chronic procrastinator – When you are hard on yourself, you will procrastinate more, so learn how to be more compassionate with yourself overall. Let the past go, stop believing the future is going to be the same as the past, forgive yourself, and commit to a new future.

Don’t hesitate to reach out if you need!

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