“Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task.” ~William James
I am sure that each of us can relate, at some time or other, to the above quote. We know we have to do something but we just avoid getting to it or completing it. We may avoid even letting ourselves think about it consciously, but it still sits there – in the back of our mind making its presence known. And in our effort to avoid thinking about it and keep it out of our conscious thinking, we use energy. It weighs on us and pesters us regardless of whether we really let ourselves acknowledge it, thereby, impacting our energy level, our mood and our day.
Procrastination is defined as the act of replacing high-priority actions with tasks of low-priority, and thus putting off important tasks to a later time. There are different levels of procrastination. For some people it may be more of an internal problem than something everyone around you notices. But you know that the subtle procrastination that plagues you affects your productivity and your self esteem. For others, procrastination is very persistent and becomes extremely disruptive to daily life, almost debilitating. And when procrastination does become a big problem in your life, it also can snowball becoming even bigger. Procrastinating can result in stress as the unfinished task weighs heavy, then comes a sense of guilt along with feeling an impending crisis which further brings on more paralysis debilitating you even more. Social disapproval then gets layered on top of it due to the judgment that happens when you are not meeting responsibilities or commitments. And all of these feelings combined promote further procrastination.
There are different theories around the reason for procrastination. It may that a person has difficulty with organizing thoughts and actions so just keeping on task to complete a plan of action is difficult. Tasks may feel overwhelming and too difficult to conquer with the belief that the task can’t be accomplished so why even try. Not doing the task may be a way of expressing anger towards someone in a passive-aggressive style (not being direct but getting “even” anyway). Or another passive-aggressive behavior may be rebellion against routine and schedules. Procrastination may be fueled by fear of disapproval. Psychologically, procrastination may be connected with a person having issues of anxiety, a low sense of self-worth, and a self-defeating way of thinking. It can be connected to a lack of self-confidence, disliking the task, and impulsiveness.
Much of the literature stems around procrastination being an impulse issue and difficulty with emotional regulation. This amounts to someone just not wanting to do what they need to do, so they don’t do it. They put it off. They do not make themselves do it because they don’t want to do it. And although this can make the procrastinator feel further shame, it needs to be noted, that this is a brain issue.
If we look at the brain and how and where procrastination shows up, research shows the physiological roots mostly surround the function of the prefrontal cortex. This is consistent with procrastination being strongly related to impulsiveness. The prefrontal cortex is the area of the brain that is responsible for the executive brain functions. This is the area that tasks such as planning, impulse control, and attention are steered. If we have damaged or low activation in this area we have difficulty in filtering out distractions. This results in difficulty organizing, staying on and following through with tasks. This is similar to what is seen in the brain with Attention Deficit Disorder. High alpha-theta brain waves often show up in the EEG of the brain. These are slow brain waves that need to be sped up to work better.
There are many tools that you can use to decrease the procrastination cycle. For patterns that cause some stress but are still manageable, work on two steps. First do the most important task first. Do the hardest and most important thing first thing in the morning. Make it a rule and stick to it. Remember that procrastination is about impulse control. You may not want to do it, but do it anyway. Notice how much better you feel for doing it. Secondly, remember how you eat an elephant – one bite at a time. Split overwhelming tasks into small action steps. Focus on the first step and nothing else. Stick to it until it is done and then move on to the next step.
If your procrastination is bigger than this there are other options but it is all doable. It will take relearning patterns that you have created. This can be done with highly structured cognitive behavioral therapy. If you are struggling with a belief system that includes messages that you can’t do it, or your work isn’t good enough, then you need to do some cognitive work in shifting your thoughts. Another treatment option is to do hypnotherapy which will help you access your beliefs and life scripts and help to restructure those beliefs on the unconscious level. This will help you in promoting patterns that work better in your life. And even yet, another treatment option is to look at neurofeedback treatment. This zero’s in on changing the brain to work more optimally through training the brain. So through training the brain you would work to increase the low activation areas in the brain. This would help you organize, focus and follow through on tasks. There are options and lots of hope. You just have to be willing to walk through it to come out the other side. We have professionals here that can support and guide you in conquering this. Give us a call at 308-382-5297 Ext 100.
Tags: Procrastination, unfinished tasks are energy leaks, unfinished tasks weigh on us
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Janie Pfeifer Watson
Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker
Licensed Independent Mental Health Practitioner
- Janie Pfeifer Watson, LICSW, is the founder and director of Wholeness Healing Center, a mental health practice in Grand Island, Nebraska with remote sites in Broken Bow and Kearney. Her expertise encompasses a broad range of areas, including depression, anxiety, attachment and bonding, coaching, couples work, mindfulness, trauma, and grief. She views therapy as an opportunity to learn more about yourself as you step more into being your authentic self. From her perspective this is part of the spiritual journey; on this journey, she serves as a mirror for her clients as they get to know themselves—and, ultimately, to love themselves.
LATEST ARTICLES BY Janie Pfeifer Watson
Sign up to receive the latest mental health tips and inspiration