Time management will not help: procrastination is the problem of regulating emotions, not time

You can’t get rid of procrastination without understanding its causes.

In this case, I ate a dog, like many writers. When I need to work on a task, and the deadline is close, I will do anything – watch political talk shows, MacGregor knockout selections, but don’t work. In the worst case, I begin to feel a little crazy: “You have to work,” I tell myself, “so what are you doing again ?!”

It is traditionally believed that my brothers and I, unfortunately, procrastinators, simply have problems with time management. Such an opinion, for example, is supported Manchester University in the UK and University of Rochester in the USA. Like, I’m not fully aware of how long the task will take, and I don’t pay enough attention to how much I spend on facebook-YouTube. And therefore, I need to better plan and keep track of time – and this will help me finally stop procrastinating and getting to work.

However, more and more psychologists believe that this is fundamentally the wrong approach. Timothy Pichil of Carleton University and his colleague Fuschia Sirois suggestthat procrastination is a problem of controlling emotions, not time. The task that we set aside makes us feel bad: maybe we are afraid of failure, we are bored or the task seems too complicated – and we try to raise our spirits and help ourselves to feel better by looking for consolation in the video with the cats.

Chronic procrastination is harmful to health, provoking a bunch of problems – from anxiety and depression to heart disease.

Short-term mood lifters

One of the first emotional causes of procrastination considered researchers from Case Western University in Ohio. The control group was informed that they had to pass an IQ test and were given time to prepare, but before that they were asked to read sad stories. It turned out that this increased their tendency to procrastination and instead of preparing for the test, students played video games or solved puzzles. Subsequent studies have shown that a bad mood enhances procrastination only if pleasant activities are available to distract, and subjects believe that this will help change their mood. In one study, “candles for fixing mood” were invented to make some volunteers think that their bad mood could not be changed, and in this case they did not fall into procrastination.

The theory of procrastination as an emotional regulation echoes my personal experience. I know very well that I must work right now and understand well how long the task will take. The problem is not that I did not include YouTube for a month in my diary. In fact, I don’t even want to watch these videos, I just sucks in them, as a way to avoid discomfort associated with work. Or, as psychologists would say, I procrastinate to achieve short-term hedonistic adaptation, at the cost of my long-term goals.

Procrastination briefly improves the emotional state, but may ultimately lead to guilt feelings that increase initial stress.

Having looked at procrastination from such an angle, it becomes easier to understand some strange quirks of our time, like the already mentioned videos with cats that gain billions of views. Poll Jessica Meyrick of Indiana University has confirmed that procrastination is the most common motive to open a cat video and watching them cheers up. This is not about the fact that people did not put enough time in the schedule for watching videos with cats – they generally opened it only to cheer themselves up due to the unpleasant work that they should be doing at the moment.

Mayrik’s research has revealed yet another emotional aspect of procrastination. Many of the respondents felt guilty after watching such videos. This suggests that procrastination is a poor strategy for emotional regulation. It brings short-term relief, but in the end it only increases the snowball of problems. In my case, putting off work I feel even more stress, not to mention immersion in the depths of guilt and disappointment.

No wonder that by research Fuschia Syrois, chronic procrastination (a tendency to procrastinate on an ongoing basis) is associated with a number of negative mental and physical health consequences, including anxiety, depression, weakness for colds and flu, and even more serious diseases, such as cardiovascular diseases.

Syrois believes that procrastination leads with these negative consequences in two ways at once. Firstly, constantly putting off important tasks and not achieving your goals is already a serious stress. And secondly, often procrastination is to postpone playing sports or going to the doctor. “As you know, prolonged severe stress and a lack of attention to health over time noticeably worsen its condition and increase the risk of a number of serious and chronic diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes, arthritis and even cancer,” she says.

It turns out that overcoming procrastination can make your life better. According to Sirois, her studies show that “a one-point decrease in the tendency to chronic procrastination [по пятибалльной шкале прокрастинации] can reduce the risk of heart disease by 63%. “

“Just get started”

The good news is that if procrastination is a problem of emotional regulation, then we have important tips on how to solve this problem effectively. The best seems to be psychotherapy – namely, the ACT psychotherapeutic approach, based on “acceptance and participation therapy.” This is a branch of the cognitive-behavioral approach: ACT teaches the benefits of “psychological flexibility,” that is, the ability to tolerate uncomfortable thoughts and feelings, stay in the present, despite them, and give priority to decisions and actions that will help you get closer to what is most important to you in of life.

It is worth mentioning an advanced study according to which procrastinating students “psychologically inflexible“. That is, they are controlled by their psychological reactions, such as frustration and anxiety to the detriment of their life values. They agree with statements such as “I am afraid of my feelings” and “My painful experiences and memories prevent me from living the way I want.” Those who procrastinate more also apply less effort to achieve goals. They tend to agree with statements such as “If I feel depressed, I miss important things and responsibilities.”

Studies show that after taking the first step to completing a task, continuing to become much easier

ACT teaches you how to increase psychological flexibility (for example, due to awareness), and purposefulness (for example, by looking for creative ways to achieve goals – the most important). These preliminary research involving students turned out to be quite promising – ACT proved to be a more effective therapy in the short term than cognitive-behavioral.

How to help yourself now

Of course, most of us will most likely not have the opportunity to enroll in the ACT course in the near future, and still we will postpone his searches for later. So how do you apply these principles today? “When a person finally understands that procrastination is not a time management problem, but a problem of emotional regulation, he is ready to accept and use my favorite advice,” Pichil says.

The next time you are tempted to procrastinate, focus on the simple question: “What action, what simple next step would I take if I started this task right now?” By doing this, he said, you are distracted from your feelings and move on to easily achievable actions. “Our research and life experience very clearly demonstrate that as soon as we start, we are usually able to continue. The most important thing is to start. ”


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