The False Beliefs That Cause You to Procrastinate
by Ken Goodman, LCSW
We all procrastinate from time to time. It’s human nature to put off tasks we perceive to be difficult, unpleasant, or just plain boring. The problem is, when you put things off, you may think you’re giving yourself a break, but you’re not. You’re actually making things more difficult on yourself and causing yourself unnecessary stress and anxiety. And that’s the real problem with procrastination.
I admit it. For me, writing is hard work. I could have procrastinated and put off writing this article, but I made a conscious decision not to. And therein lies the crux of the matter. You must make a conscious decision to take action promptly.
That’s it. That’s the key to defeating procrastination. I’ve given it to you within the first two paragraphs of this article. You can’t accuse me of putting off the solution until the end. And now that you know the answer, let’s work backwards and take a look at the reasons why we procrastinate.
Procrastination begins with false beliefs. The only way you can decide to take action promptly and not procrastinate is if you refuse to believe these commonly held false beliefs. What are these false beliefs that lead us to procrastinate? Let’s explore them together and see if you can identify the reason (or reasons) why you procrastinate.
False Belief #1—Procrastinating Reduces My Stress
Many people feel relief when they put off a task. That feeling of relief is very reinforcing, and the procrastinator learns that by putting off tasks, they can avoid feeling stress and instead feel relief. They come to believe that procrastination reduces stress. In actuality, procrastinating increases stress.
That’s right. Procrastination increases stress. For starters, the unfinished task hangs over your head, and it becomes difficult to fully relax knowing that you have something important to do. Secondly, as you put off one task, another surfaces, and then another, and soon, you have three, four, or five tasks to complete and only a limited amount of time to complete them in. The result? You become overwhelmed and stressed out.
False Belief #2—The Task Is Too Difficult for Me
Some people procrastinate because they believe the task at hand is too difficult. Most tasks are not as difficult as we imagine, and putting them off certainly won’t make them any easier. In fact, putting off tasks makes them harder because now there is a time pressure.
Think about it. What’s easier? Winning a basketball game when you are 10 points behind, with 2 minutes to go or with 10 minutes to go? Don’t fall for the false belief that it’s too difficult. Starting is what’s difficult. Once you get into it, you’ll be fine.
False Belief #3—I Work Better Under Pressure
Some procrastinators love the adrenalin rush and believe they operate better when their backs are to the wall. This may be true for a small percentage of people, but typically this is a false belief. In fact, I would venture to guess that since you are reading this article on how to stop procrastinating, you’ve already come to the conclusion that procrastination is a problem for you.
Urgency and pressure are not needed to do a job well. This is just what you’ve been telling yourself for years. It’s engrained in your brain. But it’s not true. People do a better job when they give themselves the proper amount time. You just don’t know this because you haven’t tried it.
If you like pressure, start a task early and make a game out of it by setting artificial time limits for yourself and challenging yourself to beat the time. Once you’ve completed the task early, you’ll have plenty of time to improve on it if you need to.
False Belief #4—I’ve Got Plenty of Time
Some people procrastinate because they believe they have more time than they really do. This is the result of faulty perception, and it often gets people into big trouble. If you can identify with this false belief, then your imagination has been tricking you. The fact is that you don’t have plenty of time. Don’t fall for it. The sooner you start, the sooner you’ll finish. Then you’ll have plenty of time to do the things you enjoy.
False Belief #5—I’m Going to Fail
Fear of failure is a very common cause of procrastination. If you believe you will fail, then I can certainly understand why you would put off starting tasks. But again, this is another false belief.
Most people with a fear of failure try so hard that they seldom fail once they begin a task. Look back over your life and try to identify just how many times you’ve failed. Usually failure occurs when a task is either avoided completely or put off past the point of no return—in other words, when there is no longer enough time to do a good job.
False Belief #6—It Must Be Perfect
Oftentimes, procrastination and perfectionism go hand in hand. When the need to be perfect is too strong, it can cause you to procrastinate for fear of not being able to meet your own high expectations.
Perfectionists sometimes believe falsely that it is better to give a half-hearted effort and maintain the belief that they could have been incredible, than to give a full effort and risk mediocrity. They maintain the false belief that they could have excelled if they tried harder, had more time, had better resources, or any number of other false excuses.
Imbedded in the definition of starting is incompleteness. Starting is only the first of many steps in making what is incomplete, complete. But that’s not how the perfectionist sees it.
As long as something is incomplete, progress is not being made, and perfection is out of sight. First attempts at a task do not have to be perfect. Turn off the internal critic. The great thing about starting early is you have plenty of time to make it as perfect as you want it to be.
False Belief #7—I Don’t Have Enough Time to Start
Can you relate to this false belief? In order to start a large task, you need a large block of time. Most tasks don’t require a large block of time. This is just an excuse. But even if a task is time-consuming—like painting a room—breaking it up into smaller steps (purchase the supplies, prep the room, paint the room) can make the task feel more manageable. The key, once again, it simply to start.
False Belief #8—I’ll Do It Later
When we want to avoid a task, we may think to ourselves, “I’ll do it tomorrow,” or, “I’ll do it later.” These are common thoughts, or I should say, false beliefs. Be honest with yourself. You won’t do it later. Once you start engaging in more interesting or fun activities, it’s hard to start a task that is difficult or uninteresting. But think about this:
Having fun or relaxing will be more enjoyable when you feel the satisfaction of completing an undesirable task first. Play hard and work hard, but work hard first. And don’t believe the lie when your imagination tells you, “I’ll do it later.”
False Belief #9—I’ll Never Finish, So Why Bother?
Sometimes people put off tasks because they don’t believe they will finish. They have a history of not following through, so they think to themselves, “Why bother to start if I’m not going to keep at it?” When you repeat a lie often enough, you begin to believe it, and then it becomes impossible to succeed.
The key to overcoming this false belief is simple: Focus on the present instead of past regrets and future self-doubt. Concentrate on starting and tell yourself that with extra focus and commitment, this will be the time you really do finish.
Transforming yourself into a person of action, responsibility, and self-discipline is possible. It can be done. Identifying the false beliefs that cause you to procrastinate is the first step. The second step involves changing your belief system, which can be accomplished through therapy and hypnosis.
My download Stop Procrastinating Now! can help. It includes two hypnosis sessions in one program —“Shattering Procrastination” and “Instant Energy”— that are designed to work together to help you change your belief system so you can become the self-starter you desire to be. Click to learn more.