procrastination 101“Maybe I’ll be more in the mood to read that Daily Zen post about procrastination tomorrow. I just don’t feel up for it today.”

Now, now, don’t be like that. There will be a new post tomorrow, and another one the day after that, and then another – you’ll never get caught up. And the further you fall behind, the more you’ll worry about not catching up, which will make catching up seem all the more difficult and worrisome, and you’ll put it off again because you’re just too worried about it. It’s a nasty little cycle, isn’t it?

Say hello to procrastination, one of anxiety’s ugly cousins that just hang around waiting for you to fall under their spell. Your anxiety will cause you to procrastinate, and the procrastination will lead to more anxiety. It’s as though you’re stuck in an old car that only gets two awful radio stations – one bad song causes you to switch off and the station you switch to is playing an even worse tune. It’s a no win situation.

So what can we do to break the cycle?

Dr. David Burns offers several solutions that are worth trying in his book, “When Panic Attacks”. First, try writing down an activity that offers you the potential of pleasure, learning or personal growth. Then write down who you’re doing this activity with. If you’re going to be alone, write “self,” as a reminder that you’re never really alone, since you’re always with yourself. Next, make a prediction (from a low of 0 to a high of 100) as to how much satisfaction you think this activity will provide. When you’ve completed the activity, give the activity an actual satisfaction score.

After doing this for several activities, you can start looking at your chart for patterns. Many people find that actual experiences are more satisfying than what they had anticipated. This can motivate you to try more activities. You can also check to see whether activities are more satisfying alone or in a group. Some people are surprised to find they enjoy doing things more when they’re alone. The last thing this exercise shows us is that we don’t have to do spectacular things to find satisfaction – we can often find it in more ordinary pursuits.

Many people who procrastinate spend a great deal of time worrying about why they procrastinate. This can often lead to more procrastination. Another way of dealing with this is breaking down a problem into tiny, manageable steps.

For example, let’s say you’ve been putting off washing your car. Let’s break the task down into some smaller, manageable steps.

Gather a bucket, sponge and soap.

Fill the bucket with water and add the soap.

Wash the front of your car.

Rinse the front of your car.

And so on. You’ll probably find that you’re feeling a sense of accomplishment after completing the first couple of steps and you’ll be motivated to continue on down through your list.

You can also use the satisfaction rating technique along with breaking a problem down into steps. List out the small steps for the task that’s overwhelming you. Then write down predictions (0-100) for the anticipated difficulty and the anticipated satisfaction from each step. As you complete each step, give ratings for the actual difficulty and the actual satisfaction of completing that step.

You’ll often find that the steps were far less difficult and much more rewarding than you anticipated. This will help show you how thoughts like, “This is going to be so hard,” or “I absolutely hate doing this,” are just simply false. Seeing that difference will often improve your mood and motivate you to continue.

These are all useful techniques for breaking the vicious cycle between anxiety and procrastination. And remember, every day and everything we do does not need to be special to be satisfying – we can find deep meaning in ordinary experiences. There’s no reason to worry about why you’re procrastinating – focus your energy on what steps you can take to get the job done. Finally, stop waiting to be inspired to get started. Start with small steps and the motivation to continue will follow.

Jason Large,

Daily Zen.

Jason has suffered from depression and anxiety for over twenty years. He can be contacted at:

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