Part 1 of this blog post outlined, from a cognitive behavioural perspective, why we procrastinate. Put simply, we procrastinate because of how we feel i.e. anxious, bored or frustrated. We feel the way we do because of how we think. Our beliefs around the task at hand arouse emotions. These emotions cause this avoidant, often detrimental, behaviour.
Originally, I had intended to just make this blog post two parts, with part 2 being strategies to overcome procrastination. However, I wanted to outline some of the more common thinking patterns or beliefs associated with procrastination first. This is because some of the strategies I recommend in part 3 involve identifying and challenging these procrastinating beliefs. So, I think it might be useful to describe six ‘types’ of classic procrastinators and their associated beliefs
Firstly, I like to point out, that we all have it in us to be any of the six types I’m about to outline at different times. The ‘types’ of procrastinator are not equivalent to personalities – which are generally considered rather stable in nature. Rather, the types are based on the underlying beliefs which are leading to the procrastination. And dependent on past experiences and other factors, we all have the ability to procrastinate in different ways in different situations.
As I explained in Part 1, on one level we procrastinate because of how we feel. The first 3 types of procrastinator avoid doing the task or behaviour they know they should be doing because of anxiety in some form
The Worrier doesn’t start that important or difficult task because they don’t believe that they’ll be able to do it. They fear they won’t succeed. They feel anxiety at the thought of failure. Thus ,it is better to not start the task – as you can’t feel the negative emotions associated with failure if you don’t make an attempt in the first place. The issue with this logic is that you’re guaranteed to fail if you don’t start. The typical procrastinating belief associated with the worrier is “I won’t be able because…….”.
This was the basis of my procrastinating around smoking. I didn’t quit because I didn’t think I’d succeed. I didn’t think I’d succeed because I didn’t think I could cope without a cigarette. I’ll outline how I recently overcame that in Part 3.
In a similar vein to the worrier – the perfectionist doesn’t start the task because of a fear of failure. However, for the perfectionist, failure equates to not doing the task perfectly. The typical perfectionist belief might sound something like “If I don’t do the task extremely well then I’m a failure”. A good example of this are people who are waiting to start there business until everything is perfect and organised. As the world is often messy and chaotic, these perfect conditions rarely exist. Often with successful entrepreneurs I see that they’ll make things happen even when conditions aren’t perfect – and plan to fix the flaws later. A great example of this Richard Branson. In his autobiography he talks about how if someone offers you an amazing opportunity and you don’t know how to do it, say yes, then learn how to do it later!
The third type of procrastinator motivated by anxiety is the over-doer. The over-doer commits to doing to many tasks. Then they fail to prioritise the important tasks and thereby fail to get them done on time. The classic ‘over-doer’ belief around procrastination is “If I don’t accomplish all of this, then I’m not good enough”. The fear of not living up to their own impossible standards, or the imagined impossible standards of others causes them to take on too much and not get the critical tasks done.
Procastinators motivated by Boredom & Frustration.
The second three types of procrastinators are motivated by what is called Low Frustration Tolerance (LFT). LFT is a belief that we won’t be able to cope or put up with the frustration of the mundane, repetitive or boring aspects of a task or situation. This leads to two emotions: Boredom or Frustration/Anger.
THE CRISIS MAKER
The ‘Crisis Maker’ believes that in order to be motivated to do a task, they need the stress or pressure that is inherent in last minute action. Without this, they believe, they won’t perform at their best. They need pressure to alleviate the boredom. There is an issue with this. If you compare the quality of work when started at the last minute, and when started within a reasonable timeframe, which do you think will give better results? Tim Urban, is his quintessential talk on procrastination outlines how he wrote his master’s thesis in 48 hours . the results were predictable (One of the best Ted Talks in my opinion. Funny and Profound!).
No.5 on our list of the type of procrastinators we become, is the Dreamer. The dreamer doesn’t think they should have to work hard to get what they want. They think it should all fall into their lap. We all have met (or even been) the dreamer. Grande ideas. Does very little about them. The thought of actually having to do some work either bores them or frustrates them – so they just think “I shouldn’t have to work hard to fulfil my dreams”.
Imagine the situation. Your boss has given you a boring, mundane or just down right stupid task to do. You think it’s not worthwhile. You’re angry. Maybe resentful. So you delay. You put off doing it to do other tasks you think are more important. However, what you’re forgetting is, that you’ll have to do that task eventually as the person who gave it to you is your boss. The typical belief underlying the Defier’s feelings of frustration, and rebellious behaviour is anger. And underlying this anger is the belief “I shouldn’t have to do it!”. The issue is in life you probably do have to do it. Also often seen in stroppy teenagers.
Next week I’ll outline some science based strategies on what to actually do about procrastination.
Hope you found this useful.
Explore. Understand. Act
About the Author
Jayson Moran Psychologist
Jayson is a Psychologist who specializes in helping Entrepreneurs & Professionals. His background is in the psychology of Performance, Development & Wellbeing
Since 2017, I’ve been helping Entrepreneurs & Professionals deal with challenging situations, and to build better lives, businesses, and communities, through enhancing effectiveness, impact & wellbeing.
I use the best of psychological science to help clients explore and better understand themselves, each other, and the practical and psychological barriers reducing effectiveness, impact & wellbeing.
I help clients get unstuck, unstressed and clear through working 1:1, talks & workshops, and wellbeing & development programs.