How to Fight Procrastination with Compassion

By Julia Silveira, LMSW


We all procrastinate from time to time. Have you ever felt that you didn’t prepare enough for a meeting? Relied on a last-minute pressure to complete a task? Waited to feel inspired to start doing work? Likely, we all have procrastinated before and have the experience of submitting work last minute or completing a task past due date. Procrastination usually comes with regret and some negative consequences. It has been shown that little good can come from procrastination, and is associated with worse academic performance and greater sickness. Then why do we do it?

What Drives Procrastination? Procrastination is more about emotions, not productivity

When you think of the task in hand, it is likely something you do not want to do. Thus, you might fear that it will be unpleasant. Likely, you are thinking of the most un-enjoyable part of it, where you are struggling to get the task done. You might also ruminate about the last time you procrastinated and how it did not go well. Then you might fear about not doing a good job which could prevent you from getting started.

On top of this, every time we put off a task that you think will be unpleasant, we experience relief. That relief is experienced as a reward and we are likely to repeat our actions that lead to that reward. This is called negative reinforcement, where we learn to cope with our situation by taking away the stress factor.

Using Self-compassion to Fight Procrastination!

Ways to cope with procrastination differ from person to person. There are many behavioral strategies, but a recent study suggests a new approach to cope, which is to be kind to yourself.

First, allow yourself to be imperfect! Procrastination often comes from wanting to get it done perfectly, which can be paralyzing because we can’t possibly be perfect. You might be criticizing yourself for not having the task done or not being “good enough” to have the right ideas. Instead, you can accept how imperfect you are. For example, you can start by writing something imperfect to create a momentum, and recognize that you made progress! 

Another way to be kind to yourself is to give yourself small rewards by using short, uninterrupted work sessions. In between sessions, you can take a break! You can try to focus for 25 minutes and give yourself a break in between. For example, you can give yourself a small treat during breaks.

Activate Your Caregiving System Daily!

A daily practice of being kind to yourself helps to cope in times of stress.  At first, it might be hard to “embrace our imperfections,” but with daily practice, we can create an automatic positive resource to counter our negative thoughts. One way to activate it is to ask yourself several times a day whether you are having negative self-talk, self-blame, or self-shame. Then the second step is to simply pause and put your hands on your cheek and say “Oh, sweetheart!” or “Hey, my good man!” and tell yourself “May I be kind to myself at this moment” without judgment. You might feel shy doing so, and trigger more self-judgement at first. However, the more genuine compassion you give yourself every day, you might feel less judgmental of yourself in the future.

References

  • Sirois, F. M. (2014). Procrastination and stress: Exploring the role of self-compassion. Self and Identity13(2), 128-145.

  • Gillihan, S. (2018). Cognitive behavioral therapy made simple: 10 strategies for managing anxiety, depression, anger, panic, and worry. Emeryville, CA: Althea Press.

Julia Silveira is a therapist at Cobb Psychotherapy. If you are looking for support in finding solutions to enhance your overall wellness, contact Cobb Psychotherapy by calling 718-260-6042 or emailing reception@cobbpsychotherapy.com, and see how therapy can help.

Elizabeth Cobb