Helping Your Life Work
March 1, 2007
Volume 3, Issue 3

Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow

It’s happened again. Despite our best-laid plans, and the greatest of intentions, we find ourselves scrambling to complete a task at the eleventh hour. We’ve promised ourselves that this wouldn’t recur; yet here we are racing against time, feeling frustrated and guilty once more.

All of us procrastinate at times. Some of us do it more often than others and some of us make it a lifestyle habit. If you’ve had enough of your procrastination, but don’t know how to stop the cycle, it may be helpful to start with understanding why we do it.

In the “Feeling Good Handbook,” David Burns identifies ten reasons that contribute to our procrastination:

  1. Putting the Cart before the Horse: Many people feel that they should wait until they’re in the mood before starting, not recognizing that getting in the mood to do the ‘dastardly deed’ may never occur. Oddly enough, motivation often comes once we start taking action. Getting started is the main thing. So, to borrow Nike’s mantra, the best solution is “Just do it!” Start by planning to spend 10 or 15 minutes on the task and see what happens.
  2. The Mastery Model: If the task is more challenging than we originally thought, we may give up on it. The student at her desk may complain to her parent, “It’s too hard. I don’t understand. I don’t know how to do it,” as she abandons her homework for an MSN exchange with her friend. How to counteract this? Breaking things down into manageable bite-size pieces is a start. And recognizing that working hard on the hard things in life is often much more rewarding than taking the easy way out.
  3. The Fear of Failure: If success is our ultimate goal, we may believe that our self-worth is tied up with how successful we are. We may equate the possibility of failure with criticism and rejection by others. It is often easier to blame ourselves for laziness than to admit the possibility that we might not succeed in something. So rather than run that risk, we just keep deferring our work. To counter this, Burns recommends that we perform a cost-benefit analysis to determine the advantages and disadvantages of procrastinating. By recognizing the costs, we can help avoid this type of self-sabotage in the future.
  4. Perfectionism: Perfectionism is closely connected to the fear of failure. Perfectionists strive for the impossible. We are overwhelmed with unrealistic expectations and continuously feel disappointed by unattainable goals. By making our goals more realistic, we can simplify the job and reduce our resistance.
  5. Lack of Rewards: For those of us who are self-critical, we may never get that sense of accomplishment and satisfaction in what we do.  Even though we may be receiving extrinsic rewards for a job well done, unless we believe it ourselves, we may not be able to motivate ourselves to do what needs to be done. Without that intrinsic reward system, taking on another task feels pointless. Building in a set of tangible rewards after completion of a job may help, but challenging our negative thoughts will have an even longer lasting effect.
  6. Should Statements: If our mental tapes are full of “shoulds,” “oughts,” “musts” and have-to’s, we probably spend much of our lives feeling guilty and resentful.  The more resentful we feel, the more we may resist doing the things we need to do. Removing the “shoulds” will clear the way for seeing the “wants” in our lives and may make doing things much easier.
  7. Passive aggressiveness: Unable to tell people what we really think, we may use procrastination as a way of expressing our anger towards others. Consistently turning up late to meetings, postponing responses until they’re too late and “forgetting” to do things are convenient ways of “sticking it” to the other. Learning to be honest about our feelings and openly express them is not easy, but has infinite rewards.
  8. Unassertiveness: If we are unassertive, we may take on more than we should because of our difficulty in saying no. By procrastinating, we find a way of refusing without speaking the words. Learning to say no, setting limits and taking care of our needs may sound easier said than done for those of us who have grown up feeling unentitled, but it’s well worth learning how to do.
  9. Coercion Sensitivity: We may procrastinate because we feel rebellious towards whoever is placing demands on us. We don’t resist doings things as much as we resist being told or asked to do things. However, we may be defeating our own purposes in an attempt to resist being controlled. Talking about your feelings with the other may help to resolve the issues.
  10. The Lack of Desire: Sometimes we procrastinate simply because we just don’t want to do what we need to do. Admitting this fact can go a long way in understanding the obstacles in our way and in ridding ourselves of them. 

Knowing why we do the things we do is a great start. Making changes, however, is never easy.  If you need help in challenging some of your negative thoughts and behaviours and in trying some of the suggestions listed above, you may find it useful to talk to a counsellor or psychotherapist about this. Good luck.


Barbara Fish, M.Ed.
Personal and Career Counsellor
416 498-1352
“Helping Your Life Work”

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