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How to Stop Procrastination from Stopping you Creating the Life you Want

Most of us are guilty of procrastination at some time in our life. If you stopped to think about how much time was spent ‘avoiding doing’ you’d probably all gasp in horror. I admittedly while away what should be productive time, indulging in crossword puzzles and losing myself in the trees across the street. I justify this by saying I am meditating. But do I really believe this?

The fact is that it is not always easy to stay focused, motivated and enthused to do the things you like, and it may almost seem impossible to tackle those tasks that trigger negative thoughts and patterns and produce procrastination.

So Why Do you Procrastinate?


The mindsets you hold account for a lot of the time spent doing everything but the task at hand. Your beliefs are the keys that either ignite motivation and override procrastination, or stall you and stop you from taking action to create the life you want.

Your mind is a powerful tool that can generate a whole range of self doubting self talk that can immobilise you. Consider:

  • Perfectionism – This mindset goes something like this: “If I can’t be perfect in doing this task then I won’t do it all.” You refuse to settle for anything but the ultimate so accept doing nothing.
  • Fear of Failure – You may fail at an undertaking and you may view this ‘lack of success’ as a personal defeat. It is safer to do nothing than to experience this humiliation.
  • Overwhelmed – This attitude has you seeing everything as too difficult and too hard. To complete the task would take too much time and effort, and this is all too daunting for you.You are exhausted at the prospect of what lies ahead and so initiate no action.
  • Fear of Disapproval – This belief stops you from starting projects and tasks as you feel that no matter what you do you will be criticised and rejected for your efforts, particularly if you make a mistake.
  • I’m Not…….Enough – Such a thought has you labelling yourself as not ‘smart enough’, ‘clever enough’, ‘rich enough’, ‘good looking enough’ …… to undertake any actions. Your self doubt about your personal attributes is so overwhelming that you end up sitting in procrastination scared that you may prove your labels to be correct.
  • Fear of Success – With such a view you believe that if you are successful you will have to live up to people’s expectations of future success, which you won’t be able to do. Consequently you fear that you will be viewed as a loser and will be rejected.

Just Not Interested

Sometimes there isn’t a complicated or deep seated belief that intimidates you to the point of procrastination. Sometimes the fact is that you are just not interested. You are quite happy with the way things are, and are not really motivated to do anything different. Perhaps there are projects that sound interesting and you might make a start at them, but you procrastinate as there is no rush and no real drive to start.

Dislike of Change

Procrastination may be a ‘lifesaver’ if you dislike change and will do almost anything to avoid it. Your reasoning goes, if you fail to start projects or stall on undertaking new ventures and directions, then you may be able to slow down the pace of change. You can never stop change as it is inevitable but at least you can minimise its impact.

If you have no desire to move out of your comfort zone and are afraid that new initiatives will disrupt your status quo then procrastination is your friend.

Situational Obstacles

Sometimes you have what you consider to be a legitimate excuse for procrastinating. You can’t start a project till you have certain supplies. There may not be enough money to complete a task the way you would like. Certain people are not on board and you can’t start the venture till they are. It is important to wait until the children are out of University before you can start doing what you want.

Some of these obstacles are probably reasonable reasons for you to procrastinate a little. What you need to determine is whether these obstacles are actually genuine, or are they excuses to hold you back from moving forward. If they are legitimate can you manoeuvre around then so as to start your tasks, and if they are excuses what are the real reasons for procrastination? Are they linked to the ones we have mentioned above?

What Happens when you Procrastinate?

Most of the time procrastination can be viewed as a negative influence. If you are frozen in inertia and you cannot take steps to move forward on your desired path, you may never live the life you want.

If this is the case it is quite possible that you become susceptible to depression, anxiety and minor mental disorders. Part of you wants to take action and break through the walls of procrastination, while another part hides away fearful of the change your actions could bring. This internal struggle not only impacts on your physical and mental well being, but it may generate problems in your personal relationships, your work environment, your financial situation and any other aspect of your life.

In the worst case scenario procrastination can create a general unease that takes over your life. It can zap your energy and leave you drained of any motivation to take steps to fulfill your potential.

If you are involved in projects, tasks, ventures, or any other activities involving others, and you procrastinate on carrying through on your responsibilities, then it is possible that you could be impeding someone else from moving forward in their life. In such situations your lack of enthusiasm, motivation and general entropy impacts on others not only through your disregard for your responsibilities, but also by your negative modelling influence.

From what we have said procrastination is certainly a state to avoid. However despite all the evidence emphasising the negative repercussions of procrastinating there may be one redeeming feature to consider before passing a final judgment. Procrastination may be useful if it gives you time to stop and think about what you are doing or planning to do. It may provide the necessary breather before making a crucial decision. A short period of procrastination may lighten the urgency of an action and encourage clear thinking.

If this is the case, yes, you may have a legitimate claim for procrastination. However if this is merely a cover up and an excuse for not taking responsibility in your life, then maybe you may want to do something about it!

Steps to Do Away with Procrastination

Eradicate Dysfunctional Thinking

Whenever a self-doubting, negative thought enters your mind and inhibits motivation for a specific task- write it down.

Some of the automatic thoughts that float through your mind could be classified as:

  • All-or-Nothing Thinking: Everything is viewed as black or white and if you can’t perform perfectly then you view yourself as a failure. Perfectionism brings on procrastination.
  • Overgeneralisation: If you have performed poorly once then this becomes a pattern for a continuous never ending poor performance. Procrastinating prevents these feelings of defeat from emerging.
  • Disqualifying the positive: You refuse to accept any positive experiences and explain them as not really being important and merely lucky happenings. Your focus on the negative discourages you from taking any actions.
  • Catastrophising: You look at the world through ‘what if’ glasses and enumerate all the possible bad things that can happen. To avoid anything horrible happening you do nothing.
  • Labelling: When you label yourself as a ‘loser’ or ‘useless’ you feel incompetent and incapable of undertaking any tasks and hence procrastination can sit quite comfortably with you.

Once you have noted your dysfunctional thoughts and perhaps have even classified them, you can then take steps to substitute these negative thoughts with more productive ones.

For example a problematic thought such as: “I’ll never get this job so why bother filling in the application”, can lead you waiting till the last minute to complete the form, or not complete it at all. If this thought is changed to: “I’ve gotten jobs I’ve wanted before, so I might as well try”,  you can then take action to get what you want.

Rebutting the But

When procrastinating you often give yourself excuses for avoiding things. You may say, “I could do that report, but I’m not in the mood.” Rebutting the ‘but’ helps you move out of procrastination and into action. You respond to your ‘but’ statement with a comeback something like: “I’ll get into the mood once I start.”

Consider another ‘but’ comment: “I want to write this paper, but I’m not good enough.” The rebuttal reads: “The sooner I start researching this paper the sooner I’ll know the facts and the better I’ll feel.” Each ‘but’ statement is diffused by a realistic rebuttal. Every excuse you may have is nullified and there are no longer any valid reasons to procrastinate.

Explore your ‘Can’ts’

Your self defeating thoughts often leave you believing that you ‘can’t’ do something and that you are too inadequate and incompetent to take action to fulfill your wants. This exercise requires you to query and test the truth of your ‘cant’s’ so as to loosen the hold they have on you.

You may ask your self the following questions: “Where is the evidence that supports this belief?” “Are there examples of when your ‘can’t’ was actually a ‘can’ and you were able to overcome procrastination and complete the tasks at hand?” “Do your friends think that you are competent and capable of achieving your objectives?” “What do you benefit by thinking such negative thoughts about yourself?” “If your ‘can’t’ is stopping you from having the life you want, why do you still give it such power?”

Hopefully your answers to these questions will help discredit your ‘can’t’ statements and you will be able to transform each ‘can’t’ into a ‘can’. For example, “I can’t ask her out as she will reject me,” becomes, “I can ask her out and if she rejects me I can cope.” and “I can’t go to Uni as I will feel overwhelmed,” becomes, “I can go to Uni. I will take one step at a time and will be able to cope.”

As each ‘can’t’ becomes a ‘can’ you move through the walls of procrastination and move closer to satisfying your ‘want’s’.

Explore the Advantages and Disadvantages

If there is a task that you are hesitating to start and hence are stuck in procrastination, you can simply list the advantages and disadvantages of the activity to help you think in the terms of what you want to gain by doing the task. If the positive consequences of taking action clearly outweigh the negatives then you may be motivated to stop procrastinating.

Take it a Step at a Time

If the magnitude of a task is overwhelming and stopping you from even starting, consider breaking the task down into little steps and do them one at a time. When working on tedious tasks give yourself breaks and allow your mind to wander. If particularly burdened by a task decide how much time you will devote to a particular job and stop at the end of the allotted time and do something else.

These strategies may provide a necessary balance to avoid being overwhelmed and immobilised into procrastination.

Make a Commitment to Another

As procrastination stops you from taking steps to achieve objectives and goals it may be beneficial to get the help of others. When you start a new project or endeavour you may have promised yourself that you will not procrastinate and will take action to reach designated outcomes. However you find yourself creating reasons not to start or complete your tasks, and without too much concern you break your promise to yourself.

If however you make a commitment to a person of significance in your life, it may not be that easy to break your promise. A commitment to one’s self may be helpful but the commitment you make to another person is usually more powerful. Such a commitment may pull you through the walls of procrastination.

Stay Away From De Motivators

De motivators are people, places and things that irritate you and sap your energy. In order to stay focused and on track to complete tasks and goals you need to have the energy for carry through. You probably are aware of some of your de motivators. For example they may be a family member or work colleague that questions your ability. Such a person has nothing positive or encouraging to say and can help create a dysfunctional mind set, or at the very least they may encourage your own negative thinking. After a brief chat with such a de motivator you have no energy to spare and find yourself in a lethargic stupor.

There are certain places that you may frequent that remind you of unpleasant past experiences. They stir up unhealthy emotions and it takes all your reserve to deal with these past memories. You are left feeling deflated with no motivation or desire to start or work on any projects.

Knowing what triggers unwanted thoughts and feelings is the first step in taking action to avoid de motivators. Obviously if you can evade these negative prompts that is the best outcome. However sometimes we have to associate with people who de energise us and sometimes it is impossible to avoid unfavourable places. On such occasions being aware of the negative impact these sources have on you is the first step in dealing with them effectively. Affirmations and debriefing with friends may help you minimise their harmful effects. Modifying your thinking and practicing rituals are other strategies to consider.

What is important is that you prevent yourself from being de motivated and hence vulnerable to procrastination.

An Old Fashioned Pep Talk

There is nothing better than a spirited pep talk to motivate energy and move away from procrastination. A pep talk can often be the best way to shift a ‘can’t do’ attitude into a ‘can do’ one. All those negative mind sets, creeping fears and limp excuses crumble away at the cheering sound of a pep talk.

The pep talk is what you want it to be. It may be a short monologue listing all your attributes and the reasons for you to take action. Or it may be a simple affirmation that inspires you.

When you feel your energy sliding and motivation dwindling as you head into procrastination, a pep talk may save you and pull you forward out of inertia.

Daily Diary

Writing in a diary provides you with an overview of the day’s events. At the start of the day you may write down all the activities that you would like to accomplish. And as the day unfolds you can record how you are doing in reaching your goals, any concerns you may have regarding your designated tasks, and any thoughts that pop up and lead to procrastination.

At the end of the day you can review your notes and assess how well you did in mastering your challenges. You can note any thought patterns that emerged and threatened your performance, and with this knowledge you can take steps to modify any dysfunctional thinking. As well if any practical impediments were noted that impacted on progress you can take appropriate actions to remove them.

The information from your diary can provide you with empowering insights which can eventually move you out of procrastination into action.

As we have seen there are the odd occasions when procrastination can be helpful, but there is a lot more evidence of its harmful effects. If procrastination stalls you on your way to creating the life you want, then you may want to consider doing something about it.


1 comment so far ↓

#1 Elaine on 02.07.11 at 10:24 am

I am procrastinating about finishing my counselling course. You provide such straight forward explanations that I now feel I can never give the information that you can….further cause for procrastination…lol.
You are inspirational!
Thank you so much.