How often do you put off what you need to do?
Shelve it. Avoid it. Out of sight, out of mind.
Procrastination is an everyday occurance. We put off things that we just can’t commit immediate attention to. Like credit, we will delay payment until the end of the month!
It is a psychological strategy. Procrastination serves as a coping mechanism for avoiding stress and anxiety due to overcommitting one’s self. Procrastination also serves as a way of avoiding self-critical thinking.
But procrastination is like a smoldering fire that you know you will have to put out. Most of the time, we wait until the fire is blazing before we turn our attention and efforts to taking care of it!
So what is the cost of procrastination?
Increased anxiety, increased stress, increased self-criticism, and lower self-esteem are the costs. And then to avoid these feelings, people will often set extremely high expectations for themselves. These behaviors become a cycle of avoidance and over-achievement. Procrastination can feel like the dark side and lost rhythm of perfectionism.
I work with many clients that have perfectionistic tendencies. These tendencies are useful to a degree. These clients tend to achieve successful outcomes at work and in their lives. Positive strivings are the healthy side of perfectionism.
But perfectionism is volatile. While there is an upside, the downside is that our efforts for achievement can be driven by a need to avoid criticism. If you achieve enough, you are above reproach.
But we tend to be more critical and harder upon ourselves to avoid criticism from others.
For example, an extraordinary amount of effort and energy are put into the tasks we undertake. Especially at work. We want our products to be the best, most polished versions of what we can do. And we work hard, regularly, to the point of exhaustion.
How many times have you forgotten to eat, exercise, or sleep to get a project done? How many times have you told yourself you are a failure if you don’t complete a project?
When did you learn to do that?
As a result, there is further accompanying stress, anxiety, and hyper-arousal. Fatigue and exhaustion invariably set in. In an effort to over-ride these symptoms, we may use substances or motivate ourselves in unhealthy ways. While your project may be completed, you are depleted!
Then we crash.
To avoid other responsibilities because we have little energy left to deal with them, we will procrastinate. Then we feel bad about ourselves for avoiding something else and we may become self-critical again. This can lead to thoughts and beliefs of increasingly lower self-esteem. The cycle continues.
Perfectionistic concern is the need or want to be unassailable in the face of critique. This tends to lead to behaviors which paradoxically create and maintain an ever-escalating self-critical cycle. To avoid this negative self-criticism, people will often procrastinate. This leads to repetitive thoughts and behaviors that are seemingly enjoyable, like distractions.
Distractions are often pleasurable behaviors which are positive and healthy to a degree related to the overall balance of other needs. But repetition can disrupt the balance of needs. And procrastination, through repetition, tends to lessen the degree of joy and pleasure of distraction due to guilty feelings of avoidance.
And procrastination and repetitive distractions can potentially become compulsive.
Procrastination, perfectionism, and self-criticism need limits. Limit-setting, like goal-setting, requires regular practice and realistic expectations. Maintaining healthy habits including regular diet, exercise, rest, and mindfulness or spiritual practices can help reduce the negative effects of our inner self-critic.
If you are struggling with self-criticism, perfectionism, and procrastination, individual therapy can help. Cognitive behavioral therapy can help identify and alleviate patterns of negative beliefs about oneself that perpetuate the repetitious cycles avoidance and self-criticism.
You are loveable and good enough just because you are!