At times, we’re all guilty of putting things off. It doesn’t matter whether it be paying our taxes, finishing a term paper, organizing that closet, or getting to the gym. Whatever it be might be we’re guilty of putting off, doesn’t it always seem to feel like it’s just not the “right” time? We wait for the right moment, the best opportunity, to have more energy, and to be in the right state of mind. Yet, in the meantime, we do nothing. Then, before we know it, we find ourselves behind, overwhelmed, upset, and defeated. Now, what seemed possible not long ago—is quickly becoming out of reach! Can you relate?
What area(s) of life are you procrastinating about? Regardless of what it might be, it’s nothing to be ashamed about. The procrastination roadblock is familiar to all of us. It’s only problematic when it becomes chronic, significantly impairs our performance, or reduces the quality of our life. So, how do we un-stick ourselves and overcome the procrastination trap? One effective treatment option is through Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) or, more specifically, procrastination CBT.
What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a short-term, goal-oriented and problem-oriented psychotherapy treatment. Meaning it focuses on current problems and finding solutions to those problems according to Informed Health Online. Unlike other forms of psychotherapies, CBT takes a hands-on and practical approach to resolving procrastination. Essentially, this form of therapy helps you to change how you think (‘Cognitive’) and what you do (‘Behavior’) to help you to feel better. In addition, according to the International Institute for Cognitive Therapy, CBT also aims to “promote helpful behavioral responses by offering problem-focussed and skills-based treatment interventions.” This form of therapy is often employed as an option to treat conditions such as obsessive-compulsive disorders (i.e. perfectionism), and addictions (i.e. substances). In psychotherapy, CBT is made up of two primary components. These are cognitive and behavioral.
In this context, cognitively refers to your thought processes like your attitudes, beliefs, and ideas. In this respect, the cognitive aspect of procrastination is well-known. Cognitive therapists often describe procrastination as always finding some form of justification for delaying work. Procrastinators also tend to demonstrate the dysfunctional thinking that conditions might be better at some later date. It’s these types of cognitive processes (thinking, reasoning, believing, etc.) which underpin how procrastination gives us the false optimism that things will eventually be “right” enough to tackle activities. Therefore, to change this from a cognitive aspect, you have to change the way you organize your thinking. One way to do this is to identify the voice of the inner critic suggests Rachel Eddins, and do the opposite of what the inner critic tells you.
According to this form of therapy, a behavior is learned and can, therefore, be changed over time. Behavioral therapy aims to identify certain behavioral patterns which cause problems within an individual. It then examines the harmful and disempowering behaviors you perform and finds ways of helping you to understand why they occur. In essence, this form of therapy helps you learn ways to quell the behavior before it starts.
It’s important to note, CBT does not get rid of your problem. Rather, it helps you to manage it in a positive way. It encourages you to examine how your actions can affect how you think and feel. Instead of focusing on the causes of your distress or symptoms in the past, CBT looks for ways to improve your state of mind.
How Does CBT Work?
One key tenet of CBT is that distorted thinking causes distress and problematic behaviors. Causes of distorted thinking include overgeneralizing, focusing on the negative, denial, and catastrophizing. If your thoughts are too negative or always negative, it can block you from seeing things or doing things that disconfirm what you believe to be true. In other words, you continue to hold on to the same disempowering thoughts and beliefs and fail to learn anything new. Cognitive behavioral therapy techniques aim to address these issues by changing your thought patterns, beliefs, and behavioral habits. It encourages you to think realistically with no negativity, which allows you to respond effectively to challenging life circumstances. It also works by helping you to avoid negative patterns of behavior and thought for a generally healthier outlook.
One approach CBT uses to cause change is to introduce other ways of reacting. This helps you to break out of negative cycles. For instance, instead of thinking that you are a failure because you keep procrastinating about doing your work, CBT encourages you to learn from your mistakes and move on. This new way of thinking and reacting aims at helping you to feel more energized and confident. The process often starts by clearly identifying the problem, followed by establishing attainable goals, frequent feedback, empathic communication, reality checks, and using learned tools for positive behavior change and growth.
What Does the CBT Process Involve?
You can have CBT with a therapist either one-to-one or, in a group setting. One-to-one CBT usually involves several therapy sessions (around 5-20 sessions). Cognitive behavioral therapy will typically involve the following process. This is the same process therapists use to help treat severe procrastination.
- During therapy sessions, your therapist will break down your procrastination problem into separate areas. According to Mind and Body Works, these areas include your thoughts, emotions, physical feelings, and actions.
- Your therapist will then help you to analyze these areas to work out if they’re unrealistic or unhelpful. They’ll also help you to uncover any underlying beliefs, thoughts, and behaviors that are causing you distress.
- Your therapist will then work with you to determine the effect each area has on you.
- Eventually, you will then work out how to change the unrealistic, unhelpful, and disempowering thoughts and behaviors. As a result, this can change how you feel about your procrastination problem, and enable you to better change your behavior and control your thoughts in the future.
What are the Pros & Cons of CBT for Procrastination?
- Cognitive behavioral therapy programs tend to be very structured and systematic. This helps make it more likely that a person gets an adequate ‘dose’ of thinking and acting in healthful ways. For example, during a procrastination CBT session, the therapist will ask the person to write down the thoughts S/he has when there’s something they’re putting off. The therapist then works with the patient to test how helpful and accurate the thoughts are.
- While it is collaborative, procrastination CBT fosters a more independent effort on the client’s part (i.e. less reliance on the therapist).
- Patients can complete the therapy in a relatively short period of time compared to other talking therapies.
- Procrastination CBT is highly effective at dealing with factors that cause procrastination. Factors such as anxiety, self-esteem, and attention problems.
- Procrastination CBT focuses on factors such as your thoughts, images, beliefs, and attitudes. In addition, according to the CAMH, CBT also focuses on how these factors relate to the way you behave as a way of solving procrastination.
- Some patients feel that with CBT, they are being swayed out of their emotions. This is because CBT downplays emotions and seemingly overemphasizes the logical and thought oriented components of one’s mental life.
- To benefit from procrastination CBT, individuals need to commit themselves to the process. For instance, a therapist can help and advise you, but cannot make your procrastination problem go away without your co-operation.
- Attending regular CBT sessions and carrying out any extra work between sessions can take up a lot of your time.
What are the Best CBT Techniques to Overcome Procrastination?
- This helps the individual change an ongoing procrastination pattern so that tasks and commitments are approached rather than avoided. This usually requires some form of graded exposure considering the fact that procrastination is often reinforced by the unwillingness to experience discomfort.
- Behavioral activation also helps to change how you think about your tasks by taking into account the sort of person you are, your values, and your expectations. Together with your therapist, you can assess whether these “fit” with the way in which you are trying to tackle your tasks. Patterns of working vary from one person to another, so it’s important to remember that the desired outcomes also vary for each individual.
- Therapists use behavioral experiments to reevaluate work methods and presumptions regarding one’s own ability to achieve certain goals. Aspects that are often characterized by either exaggerated optimism or pessimism among procrastinators making it a highly effective procrastination CBT solution.
- Patients will use various behavioral aspects that stimulate them to enjoy activities and to adopt a sense of mastery over a task, which helps to significantly reduce procrastination. One way patients accomplish this is through the use of coping cards. The individual writes their coping strategy or their plan on a small card, and then keeps it with them and uses it to overcome procrastination at work.
- This form of procrastination CBT technique focuses on awareness of thoughts and feelings without attachment or judgment. When procrastinating, we become entangled in the thoughts about the situation, which worsens how we feel.
- Practicing mindfulness short-circuits the process by helping us to disentangle ourselves from our distorted thought patterns and connect to the actual situation. This enables us to more skillfully address the difficult tasks and to do so with less emotional reactivity and psychological suffering suggests Timothy A Pychyl Ph.D. Author of Don’t Delay.
- This specific type of cognitive-behavioral psychotherapy, according to John M. Grohol, Psy.D., can be a powerful method for helping individuals overcome anxiety. It involves exposing an individual to the situation that causes them anxiety but, only to the point at which they can tolerate the anxiety.
- For the therapy to work, the individual needs to stay in this situation for a prolonged period of time until the anxiety decreases. Once this begins to happen, the individual is then exposed to a more difficult situation. The process then continues until the individual tackles all the items and situations they want to conquer. For instance, you could use an egg timer or an alarm on your phone to limit yourself to a certain amount of time to complete a task.
- If you’re the type of person who can spend 30 minutes editing a document for which 15 minutes would be adequate, this strategy can be helpful. The feeling of working against a deadline can serve to increase the contingencies moving you toward completion of the task.
- Recent findings of procrastination CBT with voice training therapy have shown improvement in an individual’s general well-being and distress. The “voice(s)”, in this form of therapy are those that externalize the worry and distress individual experiences. Voice training therapy, therefore, aims to silence the inner critic and put the worry outside of yourself. There are five steps in voice training:
- Awareness: What is the Voice saying to you?
- Interrogation: What are the core beliefs that are underneath the Voice messages.
- Analysis: What is the relationship between Voice messages and my emotions?
- Fighting: Changing lies (Voice messages) to truth (reality)
- Maintenance: Managing relapse.
- Therapists use the term stimulus control to describe situations in which a behavior is triggered by the presence or absence of some stimulus. For example, if you drink coffee when sitting at your computer, it could mean your coffee drinking is controlled by the stimulus of sitting at your computer. By controlling environmental cues that direct us either to work or to procrastinate, you can learn to maximize motivation to take action. Under stimulus control, there are two ways of doing this.
- Unplugging from distractions. In this day and age, it’s easy to become distracted with the myriad of technological gadgets around us. If there’s something that needs your attention, put away social media, silence your phone, turn off the TV, and find a productive place to complete your work. Take breaks and reward yourself in-between work sessions. The important thing is, having the ability to recognize you can focus and be productive for a period of time. Then, positively reinforcing those good habits with some form of reward.
- Rewarding yourself for positive steps. Reward yourself when you’ve actually completed a job or at least part of your job. Get some “goof-off” time, so that you can spend a few minutes doing nonsensical things that you enjoy. The goal is that eventually, you’ll associate the completion of work with these positive activities. And, hence you’ll see completing work as a positive activity in itself. The reward comes after the behavior, just like the dessert comes after you eat your broccoli. The more you get things done, the more rewarded you feel and vice versa.
See also: How to Stop Procrastinating and Start Living.
Ready for a New Perspective?
There is a lot of advice floating around that can worsen the situation for procrastinators. Sound advice that’s often easier said than done. Remember that procrastination is deeply ingrained in our cognitive patterns. Therefore it takes a lot more than good advice to overcome. To truly manage procrastination, you need a solution that reprograms your brain and gives you a new perspective on yourself. This is exactly what procrastination CBT does. You learn to figure out the underlying reasons for your procrastination and then, develop strategies to overcome them. For instance, you can learn how to identify your goals and values and choose your behaviors to be in line with them. Adopting a different focus, mindset, way of thinking is what makes procrastination CBT very effective compared to traditional procrastination therapies.