Janet Whitney, MA, MFT

Theravive Counseling


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Procrastination is actually fear in disguise. It may be fear that one does not have enough of some resource such as time, energy, ability to concentrate, information, knowledge, skills, or talent. If one feels like they are missing any or all of the above, action becomes difficult. Physical and mental paralysis sets in and the goal or accomplishment that is desired becomes another on the list of "things that I will not get done”. Procrastination is a learned behavior. Little children who have been allowed to thrive and explore naturally reach out and put their dreams into action. They taste the sand and take off their clothes and play with finger paints even though they are messy. If the child is told “no” or punished for exploration of the environment, that child begins to inhibit their natural tendencies of experimentation. If that same child is taught that making a mistake is “bad”, he or she will begin to think twice about extending their comfort zones and developing new skills by trying new behaviors. Almost every new behavior takes practice. Even psychotherapists, who are self -employed, have practices. Accepting mistakes and that they are learning curves to new skills and behaviors allows individuals to broaden their world and their dreams.

Since procrastination is a learned behavior, it can be unlearned. There are tools and techniques to reduce the habit of procrastination. One is called the “5 minute rule”. A person feeling stuck can be motivated to do almost anything for 5 minutes. For example: take the task of doing taxes. It can feel daunting, boring and tedious at best. It usually feels like it will take the whole day to get the facts and figures organized to the point where they can be given to an accountant or completed independently. Imagine convincing the person or ourselves that “ let’s just work on the taxes for 5 minutes” In almost every case the just getting started propels the individual into action and a majority of the work can be finished in a couple of hours. It is the first step that stops people in most cases. Another example is exercise. Thinking about running for an hour can seem tough. Encouraging your client or yourself to run for 5 minutes is easy. Again, usually once someone is out the door, 5 minutes becomes a half hour or an hour of exercise. It is a tool to fool the brain into avoiding the negative thoughts that pop up when tackling difficult or boring tasks. Our abilities and even more so, the abilities of our clients to self-sabotage is powerful. It is the unconscious mind that can control our habits whether they are positive or negative habits. Procrastination is a negative habit.

Another tool is having a daily accountability partner. This technique can work exceptionally well. It is a tool used by many successful people. Each weekday, the two people email or call each other to list their 5 top priorities for the day. The following day they report, encourage and give feedback to their partners on the success of those 5 priorities. It is best to pick someone less familiar, as a partner. Good friends or co-workers have a tendency to let each other off the hook. By establishing and reporting on the day’s priorities, individuals begin to sense progress and overcome procrastination because of not wanting to “ let their partner down”. It is well known that an exercise partner increases the chances of having a successful exercise routine because of the sense of obligation each partner has to be responsible to each other. The same holds true for goals and reporting to another person. The success rate increases when there is an expectation of accountability. Included in the 5 priorities can be self-improvement goals of being grateful each night for the day’s blessings or being loving and kind to oneself. It is a way to change thinking along with accomplishing dreams and goals.

It is well known in the field of psychology that for every negative thought, action or statement a person receives it takes many more positive thoughts or experiences to counter act the effects of those negative experiences. Negative and fearful thinking is bringing clients into psychotherapy at a higher rate then previous decades. Symptoms of anxiety and fear are increasing more then the rates of symptoms of depression. Worry, negative thinking and fearful thoughts are again learned behaviors. The good news here is that these ways of thinking can be unlearned. “Stop thoughts” is a technique where the individual who is stuck with worry and negativity actually says out loud or to themselves “stop”. Sometimes therapists recommend using rubber bands around wrists and snapping them when the person is feeling consumed with worry or negative thoughts. Any way to begin the awareness of the self-defeating behavior of worry is helpful. Next the negative energy needs to be replaced with a positive idea, a goal or an affirmation. Having clients come up with several statements that are positive in nature about themselves is essential. Once they are comfortable with the positive statements in reference to themselves, they need to find time to repeat these statements to themselves. They need to be encouraged to say these statements out loud or repeat them silently in their head. while driving, working out, trying to fall asleep or at any time that worry or negative thinking enters their mind. The body and mind begins to relax and become more open when positive thoughts come into consciousness. As the body and mind relaxes, creativity, a sense of well being and renewed strength come forward. Thus procrastination is no longer necessary. The drive to move forward gets more intense and the feeling for the need for safety subsides.

The fourth technique that helps to eliminate procrastination is establishing a sense or practice of gratitude. The Law of Attraction is real. Whatever a client focuses his or her thinking upon is what they will bring into their lives. If bills, debt, ill health, a sense of doom is clouding their thinking, more of those types of experiences are likely to occur. If we can teach our clients a sense of gratitude for anything good in their lives, more positive experiences are likely to come towards them. It may start with gratitude for the day, for friends, for a job or for someone who loves them or has loved them. For some clients it will be easier to go into memories from the past to find gratitude because their present day troubles have begun to consume them. Once a pattern of gratitude can be started, it is important to find things in daily life to feel grateful about. A state of gratitude emits positive energy from the person and new people and experiences are more likely to be attracted to them.

Energy is important to read when working with clients. Their words don’t always match with their energy. The personal masks that our clients can hide behind may feel real to them but reading body language can be valuable feedback. If your intuition contradicts the words the client is saying, he or she deserves that feedback. Clients can be very gifted individuals that have been temporarily damaged by life’s experiences. It is our job to see their light and to revel it to them so that they can follow their dreams to the very best of their abilities. Helping them to reframe their dark sides so that that energy can be released for the good for themselves and for others is one of our main purposes for being therapists. If we can be the non-judgmental parent and provide an atmosphere of caring and belief, most clients can out grow procrastination and begin to thrive.

Goal setting, dream lists and establishing what their main priorities are in life can help people make better and healthier decisions. Sometimes procrastination occurs because there is a battle taking place within the person. They are so conditioned to please others that they can’t even hear their own voice. Exercises that help them get to really know and understand themselves are essential. Dreams and goals need to cover all aspects of their lives in order to have balance and clarity. Have them write down their spiritual, educational, career, family, social, health, appearance, financial, adventure and fun goals. This may be the first time they have been encouraged to take the blocks away from their desires and goals. When the world begins to feel like it is full of possibilities instead of limitations, the human spirit can soar to new heights.

In conclusion, use the above techniques to unblock creativity and positive energy for the success of your clients. As psychotherapists we need to make sure we are doing the same for ourselves. The role modeling we provide is enormous and the responsibility we have to make sure fear and limitations are not ruling our lives is paramount to becoming an effective therapist and to stimulate a change for our clients, their families and our communities. Eliminating our own behavior of procrastination is the best way to model positive behaviors.

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