“I’m just lazy.”
“I just don’t want to do it.”
“I don’t know why I don’t get things done.”
These are common statements I hear when counseling people who procrastinate. Procrastination is often misunderstood, and it is often labeled as laziness. Many people do not realize why they procrastinate. Here’s what often happens during a typical cycle of procrastination:
Procrastination occurs when the task seems overwhelming and stressful. People avoid the task, and they experience immediate relief. When they think of approaching the task again, they become more anxious. Avoiding the task again produces a feeling of relief. This feeling of relief occurs each time the person avoids the task. This relief is a positive reinforcement for the procrastination behavior. The longer a person procrastinates, the more difficult it becomes to take care of the task. Procrastination also reinforces a person’s belief that they cannot handle the task because it is too big or stressful.
How can people stop this destructive cycle? The answer involves gaining awareness of thoughts and feelings that cause procrastination. For example, Jill had been avoiding writing her English paper. When she thought about writing it, she felt anxious and irritated. After reflecting on her thoughts, Jill recognized she was having the following thoughts:
I’m going to fail this anyway.
I’m a terrible writer
This is going to take way too long.
By avoiding writing the paper, Jill was able to temporarily avoid her unpleasant thoughts and her feelings of anxiety. Jill began to work with her counselor to battle these negative thoughts. Through counseling, she gained self-confidence and realized she could succeed, and that she did have writing skills. She also learned how to break the task down into smaller pieces so that it felt less overwhelming.
Think about your own life. What tasks do you routinely avoid? What negative thoughts do you have about such tasks? Challenge these thoughts by coming up with evidence that does not support these negative thoughts. Talk to friends about these negative thoughts to help you gain perspective. If you’re still struggling, consider talking to a counselor. Procrastination may be a symptom of low self-confidence. Psychologists routinely help people improve their self-confidence so that they may lead happier, more productive lives.