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Procrastination – Breaking the Cycle

woman sitting on the floor reading from a book while typing info into a laptop

By Jaylia Rentfro, LMFT Procrastination – to decide, for no valid reason to delay or not complete a task or goal you’ve committed to, and instead do something of lesser importance, despite there being negative consequences to not following through on the original task or goal. We’ve all done it to some degree. We sit down to complete a task and the next thing we know we have spent an hour on Pinterest, loaded the dishwasher, picked up the dirty clothes, organized the silverware drawer and remembered to set the trash out. While some of these tasks seem important, once evening comes and the original task is unfinished, anxiety and shame go up, motivation and productivity go down. Sound familiar? Or, we know we need to get some work done but end up watching YouTube videos about feral cats, which leads to finding all the Will Ferrell movies on Netflix. You know, because they sound the same. So we can be procrastinators that accomplish things or do useless things, but the bottom line is that either way, we are not reaching our goals. Procrastination is used as a way to cope with negative core beliefs and emotions associated with the task. Fear of failure, low self-confidence, and pleasure-seeking are a few reasons that people engage in this behavior. Our first activity of this 4-part series is to help you identify your procrastination cycle.

Identify a Task

Choose something that you know you typically procrastinate. We procrastinate in multiple areas of life including work, household, education, health, family, spirituality, etc. Once you have identified a task, write it down.

Beliefs, Assumptions, Emotions

Now, begin to prepare for the task. This will include thinking about the task, planning for the task, and possibly even beginning it. Notice your thoughts as you get started. Try and identify beliefs and assumptions that are keeping you stuck. Examples might include “I shouldn’t have to be inside on a beautiful day like this. “ If I can’t get this done perfectly, then I may as well not do it at all.” “I have so much to do…everywhere I look there are things that need my attention and they all need to be done right now.” “I don’t know where to even begin. Other people don’t have this problem getting things done.” As you begin to identify your own dialog, notice the emotions that come up. Where do you notice them in your body. For example, if you identify anxiety, you might notice it in your shoulders or jaw.

Action…or Re-action?

Once you have identified a few core beliefs and an emotion or two, what do you typically do next? Do you continue to work on the task? If so, what happens in your internal dialog? We may begin to start setting the stage for a procrastination activity. It might sound like “I just need to unwind a bit so I can focus. I’ll just check Facebook for a bit.”, or, “My boss is never going to like my work anyway so I may as well watch the game.” These are justification or rationalization statements and they are what we use to tell ourselves it is ok to deviate from the task. If we can tolerate uncomfortable emotions we may keep working on the task for a bit. If not, we react to the discomfort by engaging in procrastination activity. These activities could be pleasurable tasks, lower priority tasks, and/or socializing, all with the intention to distract you from the task at hand.


All behavior has consequences, but you likely would not still be reading this if you had not experienced some type of procrastination consequence before. It’s important to identify both the negative consequences and the positive consequences of the procrastination activity. When asked about positive consequences of the procrastination activity, clients often state that there aren’t any, but the reality is that procrastination helped you avoid a difficult feeling and some procrastination activities are fun, so we have to be honest about that pay-off or we will be more prone to procrastinate again in the future. Once you have identified beliefs, emotions, tolerance for discomfort and how you relieve it, and the consequences, you will have a basic procrastination cycle. Tune in next week to learn how to challenge the beliefs that are keeping you stuck. References