Procrastination can be defined as one’s voluntary delay of an intended course of action despite being worse off as a result of that delay. A number of treatment interventions might be used in relation to procrastination – efficacy performance spirals, automaticity, stimulus control, stimulus cues, learned industriousness and cognitive restructuring. In this paper I want to talk briefly about the latter, because I’m not sure what all the others are!
With Cognitive Therapy (cognitive restructuring) you can learn to speak to yourself about your setbacks and challenges from a more encouraging viewpoint; you can also learn how to reverse negative thinking that can paralyze you and send you into a funk. The Cognitive Therapy techniques discussed here aim to increase your control over the way you think about adversity – including getting started on a task or project. If you have a negative explanatory style you no longer need to live under the tyranny of pessimism. Even if you have a positive explanatory style you can use C.T. as a deliberate strategy to overcome being stuck quicker.
The techniques of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy are in two phases: First, you have to learn to tune into the negative dialogue that goes on in your own head when you are faced with adversity; Second, you learn to “dispute” these negative beliefs, and develop a more optimistic explanatory style. Change your automatic explanations of adversity and you change the consequent feelings from inertia to invigoration and good cheer.
Phase One: the ABCs of Dealing with Adversity
When we encounter Adversity, most people respond by thinking about it – unless it’s truly urgent, in which case a flight or fight response is likely, automatic and appropriate. In normal work situations though, taking some time to reflect and consider what to do is normal; only extreme extroverts are going to act immediately, shudder. For those with a negative explanatory style however their thoughts may congeal into basic Beliefs about the causes of adversity. These beliefs have Consequences because they affect how we feel and what we do next. Beliefs can spell the difference between dejection and well being and between giving up and constructive action.
To reverse your negative explanatory style you need to address the ABCs of your thinking and put them in a realistic space, rather than a catastrophyzing paralyzing space. You need to restrict your negative beliefs and reverse limiting consequences.
In your mind, or even on paper if it helps, begin the conscious process of examining the situation you face.
Under Adversity record the specific facts of the event, not the feelings you had or the reasons for the event.
Under Beliefs, record how you interpret the adversity, how you think you have caused the events or what you think the causes of the events are; (do not record you feelings about the event or about yourself, these go under Consequences).
Under Consequences, write down as many feelings and actions as you can; don’t edit and list both positive and negative feelings.
Look for the link between your Belief and the Consequences. Pessimistic explanations set off passivity and dejection, optimistic explanations energize.
Phase Two of Cognitive Therapy: the DE s of Dealing with Adversity
Disputation is the technique for convincing your mind that your (false) beliefs do not apply in the adverse situation you are now facing. This allows you to develop strategies for action. Energization is the result and taking constructive action and feeling good about yourself is the new Consequence.
There are basically four important ways you can make our arguments with yourself convincing: Seeking evidence for the belief; Focusing on alternative explanations for the causes of adverse events; Evaluating the implications of the correct belief/cause; Deciding whether there is any usefulness in dealing with the cause of the adverse event at the moment. When the evidence for your negative beliefs is found to be faulty, when you can conceive of more reasonable explanations for the events, when you carefully assess the real consequences and ‘de-catastrophe’, and when you decide what course of action should be taken, you take yourself out of being held hostage to your negative thinking.
Once you have gone through a complete disputation process, a plan of action for dealing with the adversity also tends to emerge. Energization is the natural outcome when you have thought through and recorded your disputation of negative beliefs in adversity, and a set of actions are before you. Release from the tyranny of paralyzing worry gives rise to the energy and confidence to act – and acting generates its own energy.
” The emotional component of optimism and pessimism is what makes them so influential,” says David Armor, an assistant professor of psychology at Yale. “[Rationally] We can look ahead and anticipate in objective terms what’s likely to happen (not everything that can possibly happen). Both optimism and pessimism bring feelings along with them, and those feelings push us into action more forcefully than any rational prediction could.” But it is the combination of rational thinking and emotional energy that produces action.