Role of Mindfulness in Recovery from Procrastination

Learning Objectives

  • Understand the role of avoidance in procrastination
  • Explore the importance of mindfulness in overcoming procrastination
  • Recognize the significance of self-forgiveness and self-compassion in the recovery process

Procrastination is sustained by avoidance, a problem of emotion regulation. Avoidance literally constitutes a refusal to feel uncomfortable negative emotions. Avoidance need not be conscious, though it may be, with the result that procrastination is both an event and a lifestyle. As such, treatment requires understanding what emotions are being avoided, understanding why those emotions exist, and repeated efforts to perform effectively in your own life.

Mindfulness of Thoughts and Emotions

As you start the journey to understand your procrastination better, first understand that it’s about more than just taking responsibility and not being lazy. Yes, stopping your procrastination will help you get beyond the moral judgments of others and your own self-blame, but understanding that underlying negative emotions drive your behavior is paramount. You might think that procrastinators would already know this, but avoidance is apparently so strong it often blocks any awareness of the underlying reasons. Procrastinators seek to shut down awareness of their avoidance in order to minimize their discomfort. They’re very effective at it, and that’s how it damages their lives, without them even understanding why.

So the first step in your recovery is to get mindful about your procrastination. Willingness is important here. You won’t be shutting down your awareness of your avoidance any longer. That means trying to be aware when it’s happening, and why. Thoughts almost always have an emotional component, so you’ll need to accept that these negative emotions are occurring and be willing to “exist in their fire,” so to speak. Just the intention and willingness to be mindful can take you this far, but you have to allow it.

To amplify your mindful awareness further, look closely at the moment to moment sequence of your thoughts. When you have the intention to sustain focus and complete a task, what happens? Can you notice the exact moment a competing thought, distraction, or disturbing feeling arises? Maybe it starts with “Let me take a break for awhile,” and you just never get back on track. Maybe it starts with “Why do I have to do this?”, accompanied by a disquieting reluctance. Maybe it starts with “Let me organize my notes first,” which is admittedly important sometimes, but could also function as a rationalization for going off task if you’re honest with yourself. In fact, since it’s always important to lay the foundation for working effectively, doing so always provides a seductive excuse. First thing first, as they say.

Acceptance and Curiosity

All anxiety disorders require acceptance of the symptoms in order to make progress. Procrastination is similar. To identify negative emotions and their meaning, it’s helpful to adopt an attitude of curiosity. What’s happening in your mind and body as you think about starting to work? Make notes on any emotions that arise. Allow them to rise and fall in your awareness and just be with them.

How you frame this process in your mind is important. You could think of your mindfulness, curiosity, and acceptance as necessary to remove your procrastination, that is, subtracting a self-inflicted thorn in your side, after which you go on with your life.

Subtracting a negative is not the same as adding a positive, however.

So, you could think of your mindfulness, curiosity, and acceptance as evidence of your willingness to adopt a new attitude toward your entire life, a process of self-transformation. You could practice this new attitude with regard to any and all impulses to procrastinate in order to actively mine them for information. You could find out what your thoughts and emotions have to teach you about yourself.

Fortunately, since procrastination occurs in response to negative emotions, it need not affect all life domains equally. You may enjoy your family and be proactive with regard to anything concerning them. You may enjoy your schoolwork and be proactive there, as well. And you may hate your boss and procrastinate only in regard to your job. By asking “Why here? Why now?” you develop an awareness of your emotions and an expanded sense of your own self-identity.

Avoid Harsh Self-Blame

In the course of your curiosity, you will inevitably find self-blame surfacing, especially if you’ve suffered real irreversible losses. Chronic procrastination may have earned you major penalties and lost opportunities in life. Maybe you were kicked out of school for low grades or watched a promotion go to a less talented but harder-working coworker. Let’s face it, all other things being equal, someone who procrastinates is no match for someone who completes tasks on time. Such realizations lead to moments of intense self-examination and self-blame. Over and over again, people are persuaded that procrastination represents some kind of moral failure, a laziness for which they should be punished. From this perspective, procrastination is an accountability problem. Procrastinators give themselves permission to shirk responsibility and fall behind.

I tell these clients that I am completely unaware of any psychological research suggesting that if they just kick themselves hard enough, they can stop procrastinating and have a happy life. In fact, since procrastination is an emotion regulation issue, kicking yourself is likely to backfire and make procrastination worse. Awareness and acceptance of your losses is one thing, magnifying your self-blame into self-contempt or self-disgust is another. Continue holding a grudge against your own self, and you could end up feeling that you deserve to be punished. Not a great place to be.

Self-Forgiveness

Rather than practice self-blame, try self-forgiveness. Self-forgiveness puts mistakes into the past, where they belong, and let’s you make a fresh start. Self-forgiveness also frees up mental energy otherwise spent burdening yourself. Release yourself from this burden and watch life improve.

Self-forgiveness can also be practiced in the moment when thoughts and impulses related to procrastination occur. Fortunately, you’re not trying to change your thoughts and impulses, even those related to procrastination. You are trying to change your behavior. Having thoughts and impulses related to any existing habit system you’re attempting to change is normal. Expect them to occur, and continue to mine them for whatever self-knowledge they might contain when you do. You’re trying to break a powerful habit system, so it would be most remarkable if you could purge it from your being completely and never look back.

Self-Compassion

Whereas self-forgiveness addresses the penalties and opportunity cost of past procrastination, self-compassion is meant to be used going forward. Self-compassion increases self-worth. To receive self-compassion is to be worthy of compassion.

Self-compassion involves expressing support and kindness toward the self. Imagine that you have a best friend who is also a serial procrastinator. Would you blame them, kick them when they’re down? Absolutely not. Instead, you’d recognize that everyone has issues in life, and that your friend needs your support and kindness to go forward. You might even point out to your friend that their recovery begins with a resolution to give themselves to the joy involved in opening up new possibilities in life. All of these strategies are designed to help your friend short-circuit the negative emotions that keep them paralyzed.

You probably agree wholeheartedly with all of the advice above. Will you do as much for yourself as you would for a friend? If not, then self-blame is probably in the way of your self-compassion.


Reading Comprehension Questions

1. This is a question about the role of mindfulness in recovery from procrastination?

  • A) Mindfulness is not necessary for recovery from procrastination.
  • B) Mindfulness can help in understanding underlying negative emotions.
  • C) Mindfulness only addresses laziness and self-blame.
  • D) Mindfulness is ineffective in changing behavior.

2. When practicing mindfulness, what should you do when competing thoughts or distractions arise?

  • A) Embrace them and allow them to take over.
  • B) Suppress them and avoid acknowledging their presence.
  • C) Recognize them and make notes about the emotions that arise.
  • D) Immediately switch to a different task or activity.

3. What is the recommended attitude to adopt during the process of self-transformation?

  • A) Resistance and denial of negative emotions.
  • B) Curiosity and acceptance of negative emotions.
  • C) Blaming oneself for past procrastination.
  • D) Avoidance of self-reflection and introspection.

4. How should one approach self-blame in the recovery from procrastination?

  • A) Magnify self-blame and hold grudges against oneself.
  • B) Kick oneself harder to stop procrastinating.
  • C) Practice self-forgiveness and let go of past mistakes.
  • D) Deny any responsibility for procrastination.

5. What is the purpose of self-compassion in overcoming procrastination?

  • A) To encourage blaming oneself for past failures.
  • B) To provide support and kindness to oneself.
  • C) To avoid taking responsibility for one’s actions.
  • D) To intensify negative emotions and self-contempt.

Answers


1. B) Mindfulness can help in understanding underlying negative emotions.

2. C) Recognize them and make notes about the emotions that arise.

3. B) Curiosity and acceptance of negative emotions.

4. C) Practice self-forgiveness and let go of past mistakes.

5. B) To provide support and kindness to oneself.