I committed myself to writing a weekly article for this website in which, each week, I would tackle some interesting topic related to Hypnosis. I gave myself a deadline so that every Friday I would mail the completed article for it to be published on the website early in the next week. Nobody forced me to do this; I put up my hand and volunteered to do so. For the past four weeks it has been going well, I’ve had enough time to think about what I wanted to write and to work hard on my article, researching and editing before submitting it.
At the beginning of this week, I couldn’t really think of a topic to cover, and so I put off thinking about it. I had a client who wanted me to help her with her habit of procrastination, so I threw myself into helping her solve her lifelong habit of putting things off. By midweek I was still undecided on what to write about, then decided to put it off till Thursday.
Come Thursday I finished a website I am building for a client and then turned my focus onto starting a new podcast series for Hypnotherapists. I was inspired by the idea and recorded the first four articles I have written so far for this website as the first episodes for this podcast series you can listen to it here, the episodes get released weekly on a Thursday. I was very pleased with myself, but at the back of my mind I was getting worried that the weekly article was not getting done, so I decided to clear my Friday and concentrate on finishing it.
This morning (Friday), I started work on jazzing up my own website with pictures to make it less imposing and a little more welcoming. Then I realised this podcast idea might actually be a good way to promote hypnotherapy in general, so I started discussing with my son (such a clever man he is!). We talked about how to make this work not only in my favour, but for the benefit of all practising hypnotherapists in South Africa. I started arranging interviews and before I knew it, had sent out more than 50 emails to every single hypnotherapist in the country of whom I could get the contact details.
Of course, it took me quite some time to craft the wording for the email and no sooner had I sent the last one, than the responses started to come back. Everybody seemed very excited by the idea and I began making appointments and plans for interviews, chatting some more with my son (his name is Ethan and he works with podcasts every day, so is an expert on the subject) about how to make it work, how to make it pay for itself in future and soon I was exploring other ideas to fill gaps in the podcast market, especially in niche markets like the one I find myself in.
All this was very tiring, so by late afternoon I decided to take a nap. By this time I had completely forgotten about the self-imposed deadline for this article. Just as I lay down, a racket started outside. It was the complex’s gardener who had finally decided to cut my mini patch of grass, which had not been cut since I had moved in 7 months ago. I got up, made tea and waited it out. Luckily it didn’t take long and soon I was fast asleep.
Then I got up from my refreshing nap and made myself something to eat. And it hit me. The article! It was due today. And I hadn’t even decided what to write about yet. I had been procrastinating about it all week and now I had put myself under pressure! Would I be able to write it at all? Was I going to look like a fool for not being able to deliver on what I had promised? Was this the end of my weekly writing effort for Find A Hypnotist?
So it seems that writing about procrastination is the only logical solution to the problem!
If you are a procrastinator, then you’re in good company. Some very famous people were prize-winning procrastinators. Mozart wrote the overture to Don Giovanni during the night before the first performance of the opera, while drinking punch all the time. It took Leonardo da Vinci 15 years to finish painting the Mona Lisa and 25 years to finish The Virgin on the Rocks, a full 24 years and 5 months after it was due!
What is procrastination?
Ever so simply put, procrastination is the action of delaying or postponing something. And let’s be honest, we all do it sometime or the other. Piers Steel, author of The Procrastination Equation, reckons about 95% of people procrastinate at one time or another. And no, it’s not the same as laziness. In fact, once I got going here in front of my laptop, I was quite invigorated and found that there are in fact 4 different types of procrastinators.
The first type of procrastinator is the person who puts things off until the last moment, because they believe they work well under pressure. By shrinking the amount of time they have to complete a task, they force themselves to focus. They do this because they are inherently perfectionists and when they do not have enough time to spend on a project, there is no way that they can complete it, based on their unreasonably high standards. Or perhaps it is just a habit they have fallen into, maybe at school or in college. They believe that they will be at their best by putting themselves under a huge amount of pressure. And of course, usually they’re not, in fact, quite the opposite.
Their main problem is getting started and so, to solve their procrastination, they should rather focus on the start date instead of the end date. By flipping the script they will take the pressure off themselves and finish well in time, perhaps with enough time to review what they’ve done and so get closer to their idea of perfection.
This is the person (usually a guy) who says: “I am so lazy right now, I’ll do it later.” In fact, they’re not lazy at all; they can be very hard on themselves. Instead of admitting that they are tired, they will blame laziness or their own stubbornness for their inaction. They are not compassionate with themselves. Instead of taking a break and getting the rest they need, they will put themselves down and end up feeling bad about who they think they are.
The solution for this type of procrastinator is to take a break, to recharge, to go for a walk and find a bit of personal space, and in the process build up their energy levels to the point where they can face the task at hand with renewed vigour.
You know somebody like this, don’t you? Always too busy, their days filled to overflowing and continually flustered because everything overwhelms them. However, if you take a good look, their days are overfilled with mostly unimportant things. They keep on finding something else to do, because they are avoiding the real issue at hand.
People who are honestly very busy usually get the most done. The Overbooker, on the other hand, gets almost nothing done, because their days are ruled by chaos, usually of their own creation. The solution would be to take a few moments to do some serious introspection and to ask themselves what it is that they are avoiding.
This is the kind of person who will most usually say: “I just had the best idea!” And a week later that idea would have bored them and would be completely forgotten. They follow trends and quickly start something, but do not have the will to see it through to the end. They are the kind of person who can make quick decisions and start doing things almost immediately, but end up burning themselves out. They are unable to keep going or to consistently work in the direction of success.
Their problem is that they are unable to complete things. Their solution would be to write down their new idea on a list or sticky note and come back to it later once they have finished what they are working on.
I wonder if you recognise yourself in any of these four types of procrastinator? I can honestly say I’m not a procrastinator by nature. I see myself as a doer and not a talker. I have achieved much in my life (including a Masters degree at the age of 56!), but I do recognise a bit of myself in each of these 4 types. I used to have a habit of handicapping myself though. What is that, you ask yourself?
In her article The Paradox of Procrastination, psychologist Susan Krauss Whitbourne says that there is a paradox caused by people’s irrational beliefs, meaning “their thoughts about their abilities that have no bearing in reality and in fact, can make situations much worse. It’s the irrational beliefs that can serve as insidious causes of procrastination.” She mentions self-handicapping, when we unintentionally create situations that guarantee failure.
She makes the example of having a task to complete, the task being of such a nature that it will challenge you to your limit (like starting a Masters degree in your mid-fifties). You know it will be a massive challenge, but you throw your everything into it and if you were to fail, at least you know you did your best. That is the rational approach.
However, with self-handicapping, you start putting the task off, because, at a subconscious level, you feel inadequate and not up to the task. So, instead of losing self-esteem by failing, you create a situation that will guarantee your failure. “I failed because I didn’t have enough time”, sounds better than “I didn’t have the ability to complete the task”.
Why Handicap Yourself?
There are many reasons why people would want to handicap themselves. Maybe they are threatened by success, or if they succeed, they are scared that they will make other people they care about look bad. For example: “My parents do not have university degrees, so my getting one will show them off in a poor light”. Perhaps the parents themselves have subconsciously reinforced these beliefs, creating an inner conflict, and so they give in to the guilt and give up their studies.
Another more common irrational belief is what Whitbourne calls low self-efficacy. This means that a person is convinced that they lack the ability to succeed. This does not only have to do with low self-confidence, it’s also deeply rooted in a very specific inner belief that they cannot complete a particular type of task. This leads to procrastination, because the person puts off completing the task, as they believe they cannot get organised enough to complete it.
A third contributor to the paradox of procrastination is when you live on the edge and enjoy the sense of danger. Some people get excited at the prospect of almost failing to complete a task. This is a form of thrill seeking and extroverts are more prone to it than introverts. Extroverts seek a rush of stimulation to arouse them to a higher state in which they can complete a task, as opposed to introverts, who are usually more task-focused.
And then we get to good old-fashioned fear, more specifically the fear of making mistakes. As we saw earlier, perfectionists are common procrastinators and it is their fear of making mistakes that contributes to the paradox of procrastination.
How to Overcome Procrastination
- Face your fears, especially your fears of success. You will need to challenge your beliefs that the people around you don’t want you to succeed. In fact, the opposite may be truer: They will celebrate your success!
- Take small steps. Chunk the task down into smaller components that are not so overwhelming. Instead of being discouraged that you do not have enough time, rather plan and manage your available time more efficiently. With practise you can extend the time frames so as to reach your due date in a more calm and relaxed manner and this will help build your belief in your own abilities.
- Get your thrills in other ways and not through procrastination. Instead of flirting with danger by working so close to deadlines, think about the times you actually failed when doing so. Set up more manageable deadlines before the actual one and push to complete the task according to your own schedule.
- Balance perfectionism with action. Yes, you want to do the task to the best of your ability and get it as close to perfection as possible, but at the same time you need to take dedicated steps to get there. Get somebody to assist you and possibly even work with you, so you can learn new ways of getting the job done in time and in the best way possible.
- And finally, get some help. Procrastination has most probably become a habit, something you have done in a certain way for a very long time. As we have seen, it is driven by subconscious beliefs. So part of the solution may be to address those subconscious beliefs. This may require regression therapy to change those deep-seated beliefs that were learned as children, beliefs such as that we’re not good enough or that we should not succeed. Scientific research has shown that hypnosis can reduce anxiety levels and significantly change the habit of procrastination.
I’m happy to report that I finished this article in time to submit it. And that I learned a great deal from researching it. As a hypnotherapist, people come to see me often with this problem and I think I have gained some insights into new ways of helping them overcome this problem.
I trust it has been helpful for you too. Remember, there are many excellent hypnotherapists on the Find A Hypnotist website who can assist you should you suffer from procrastination. They can help you to turn the Art of Procrastination into the higher Art of Actually Completing Things Successfully!
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