This blog was written for the Know You More project that promotes coaching among 18-25 year olds and makes it accessible for them. Creating clear future for young adults through self-knowledge.
“Procrastinate now, don't put it off.”
― Ellen DeGeneres
Procrastination is defined as putting off doing a task that needs to be done. This can be writing a paper, studying, tidying up, seeing a doctor, avoiding an important conversation… The task is associated with some discomfort - you need to put a lot of effort in it, maybe it makes you anxious, pushes you out of your comfort zone a bit; we don’t procrastinate on things we enjoy doing.
According to various studies, more than 50% of university students procrastinate; data varies, but in some studies it goes up to 80%. Wow! So, if you ever struggled with procrastination, you are not alone.
But more than 50%? More than one in two people??
Is there a plus side? What can be good about procrastination?
Some people only start really working when the deadline is fast approaching, they finish on time and are satisfied with a not perfect, but good-enough result.
More often though, people get stressed because they started late and then ran out of time. They are not happy with the result. And to be fair, the result does not do them justice - they have skills, abilities and resources to do it better, but they ran out of time. In the end, this does not help their confidence and reinforces self-doubts.
So what can you do?
2. Sort through the things you have to get done.
3. Write it down.
4. Allocate time.
5. Stick to your plan.
6. Just start.
I did not have time to procrastinate on this blog about procrastination, but I found myself recently procrastinating on a different work. When I looked closer at what was happening, I realized that I became to resent it, I wasn’t enjoying doing it. I did not like the way my client was communicating and his attitude, and the work itself was hard and required a lot of effort from me. This awareness did not make me feel enthusiastic about the job, but brought clarity. I was not lazy or ungrateful, or disorganised. I managed to keep the deadline that I set for myself and did a good job, but it took me longer than I thought it would. Which meant less sleep.
Ask yourself WHY
When there is no deadline looming over your head, you might want to look closer at what makes you procrastinate. Do you think you won’t achieve what you want anyway, so why bother? Do you feel unworthy of having good things in life? Procrastination can often be easily dealt with by more conscious time planning. It can also be the tip of the iceberg that hides deeper feelings of unworthiness, self-doubt or lack of confidence. In any case, it helps talking about it to someone (a friend, a professional) to see what others find useful.
It's not me, it's my brain
Neuroscience might have something to say about why young people get in trouble for procrastinating. There are lot of changes going on in our brains in adolescence (12-24). According to dr. Dan Siegel, adolescents are more prone to give in to their impulses and need novelty - that’s why they get easily bored. Social connections are very important, enough to take a person away from a solitary task. The part of the brain that has a lot to do with long-term planning, decision making and evaluating future consequences of our actions, called the prefrontal cortex, is among the last to fully mature. All of this is individual, but it might suggest why some people struggle more with procrastination that others.
So don’t be too hard on yourself - but most of all, don’t procrastinate on dealing with procrastination!
Cancer patients often talk about how much of their illness is psychological, in their head. This blog was inspired by one such discussion.
Positive self-talk is a technique coming from cognitive psychology and is used to stop thoughts that contribute to anxiety and depression. There are many studies with athletes where positive self-talk is used also to enhance motivation and maintain focus./1 In such case it would be a set of phrases an athlete is using repeatedly to replace pessimistic or doubtful thoughts which could negatively affect performance.
There are several studies describing effects of introducing self-talk or similar cognitive techniques to cancer survivors, namely breast cancer patients, to build up more psychological coping strategies./1
It can be very important to learn that you can actually stop the dialogue in your head, that you don’t have to dwell on your thoughts, but treat them as passing elements, and learn to focus your attention on something different. This is not meant to be about avoiding the unpleasant issues, but rather about recognizing when we are overthinking, worrying about something we can’t control or just ruminating about something from the past, and then moving away from it.
What I am more interested in, is the self-talk that is not planned or carefully designed with a specific purpose. The kind of commentary that is not intentional, that runs in our heads automatically. We are so used to it that we don’t really pay attention to it. Actually, we barely notice it.
What do you think about while driving? Or doing dishes? Are you going over the morning meeting? Or the weekend visit to your parents? And what words do you use? Are you criticizing yourself or are you kind?
Of course, we don’t use self-talk only in regards to past events. Same goes when imagining something in the future. Maybe you have been thinking about a course or a trip - are you talking yourself out of it or are you actually planning it? How honest are you with yourself?
And self-talk doesn’t have to come in words or be fully articulated. Body sensations, feelings, images, memories, they all play a part in the way you relate to yourself.
This is a fascinating area to explore with my clients. So many possibilities open up once we start paying attention to the way we talk to ourselves.
What is your experience? Leave a comment below.
1/ Hamilton, R. et al. “Using a Positive Self-Talk Intervention to Enhance Coping Skills in Breast Cancer Survivors: Lessons from a Community-Based Group Delivery Model.” Current Oncology 18.2 (2011): e46–e53. Print.