Hypnotherapy and procrastination
I used to find myself sitting at my desk trying to meet a deadline, doing a project, writing some articles, essays or blogs, but my mind used to drift off. I started thinking about other tasks that I needed to do, I added to my to-do list, I cleaned the house, or cooked; non-urgent things that suddenly became urgent. The distractions seemed too many! What was the result? I realised that all the things I had thought about or done for distraction, delayed me from doing the very important tasks at hand. This would leave me feeling frustrated and unhappy knowing that I let myself down, while the deadlines were looming even closer.
I remember a friend of mine was in a similar situation, where she needed to finish a major assignment. She delayed doing the work, and decided to go on a short holiday. Suddenly, she realised that she only had two days left, so she panicked. Feeling very distressed, she stayed up working for 48 hours to finally finish. Then she had to drive across the country to submit her assignment in person (that was a few years ago before online submissions were a thing). The distress and the shame were significant.
How many of you have experienced this? This is what we call procrastination. Many of us do it at some point in our lives.
Why do we procrastinate?
According to the Cambridge Dictionary, procrastination is “The act of delaying something that must be done, often because it is unpleasant or boring”. Some people call procrastinators lazy or lacking in self-discipline. Is this fair? Well, not really!
Let us look at what really is behind procrastination:
Yes, boredom can be a reason for procrastination; for example, when you are uninspired by what you are doing. If you are in a boring job, doing a course you dislike, hate doing housework, etc, why are you going to put in the effort? You see the tasks as painful, so you delay for as long as possible.
Fight, flight or freeze
Another reason is a perceived sense of danger that triggers the physiological freeze state in the fight, flight or freeze response. This is the primitive reaction needed for survival; it is connected to the limbic system of the brain or the paleomammalian cortex. In the case of danger, it takes over the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for logical thinking. So, if you find yourself in a dangerous situation, you will either fight to survive, flee to escape, or freeze as you are unable to respond appropriately.
So, sometimes the prospect of doing some tasks can fill us with dread to the point that the freeze state is triggered, even though we are not actually in real danger. It is just an illusion of danger because the task itself is so unpleasant to us. So, in the case of my friend, she froze when it came to doing the work and she avoided it completely for a while, subconsciously feeling that there was some danger.
There are other reasons, such as lack of self-belief or fear. For example, delaying going to gatherings or meetings can be caused by fear of being in social situations. Delaying having medical tests can be caused by fear of finding out unpleasant medical realities.
Sometimes, we procrastinate, because we feel down or stressed, so we allow ourselves time off - we delay doing something boring or unpleasant and do something more enjoyable, such as watching a film, scrolling social media, sleeping, etc. The problem is that if we do this a lot, we create more stress because we find the deadline approaching quickly while time runs out - the way it does in a sand timer.
Another reason for procrastination is the number of distractions we have at our fingertips, such as the internet, social media, television, etc. Distractions can help us procrastinate more, as we find something else to help us stop doing our tasks.
Perfectionism is another reason. We sometimes delay doing tasks e.g. writing an essay or doing a work presentation, because we are worried it would not be perfect, or not good enough, so we delay and delay. But what happens then is that we end up not doing it at all, which is far from perfect, or we rush to do it during the little time we have left, so the result would possibly be unsatisfactory for us. This makes us feel bad about ourselves.
It is almost like a self-fulfilling prophecy - our fear of not being good enough can lead us to actually feeling not good enough. This is where I sometimes find myself when doing research or writing an essay or an article. I like to do my work to the best of my abilities, I like it to be perfect (if there is such a thing as perfect work), so I avoid the work, by finding other interesting things to do, some of which may appear more interesting (such as cleaning the oven and scrubbing the toilet).
It is also possible that I feel that I can do a ‘perfect’ job with these distractions, so it is easier to shift my attention to them. In addition, doing menial tasks (cleaning, cooking, gardening, etc) can be somehow meditative, allowing us to switch off from our worries as we are focusing on the task at hand. Of course, it is good to be in a state of meditation as it reduces stress but, in this case, it serves as an avoidance tool. This means that stress would come back soon, when we face the mountain of delayed work.
What are the effects of procrastination on us?
Tice and Baumeister did a study on students in 1997, where they found that procrastinators suffered from stress, physical illnesses, and reduced quality in their work. It seems that procrastination causes anxiety and stress, both of which can lead to physiological illnesses because of the amount of the stress hormone: cortisol.
Procrastination has also been found to be linked to depression. It is also like a cycle; procrastination can be caused by depression or anxieties, such as social anxiety. At the same time, procrastination itself can cause anxiety and depression, as procrastinators feel guilty, ashamed, and disappointed in themselves, under increased pressure as deadlines loom. All these can cause more procrastination to avoid these feelings. This then becomes a cycle.
How does hypnosis help with procrastination?
Procrastination can be so stressful and harmful to our mental health. So how does hypnotherapy help with procrastination?
Under hypnosis, the mind is working at the Alpha waves level, where the subconscious is responsive to positive messages. These messages reprogramme the mind to develop positive habits and break negative habits. Going into the reasons behind procrastination is not necessary at all, unless the client indicates their wish to do so.
Our subconscious mind wants to look after us and protect us. So, even negative habits are our subconscious mind’s attempt at doing so, but in a self-defeating manner. So, under hypnosis, the subconscious is ready to change and start to help us in more positive ways. In addition to this, the therapist works with the client to help them in practical ways as well.
Hypnotherapy can help reduce procrastination in the following steps:
- Creating small, achievable targets.
- Planning - by writing down these targets (in a book, on a mobile phone or even through voice notes). This should also include planning the way this is to be achieved (this includes preparing everything that is needed for this, depending on the task at hand e.g. books, articles, camera, computer, tools, food, etc).
- Ensuring that the most urgent tasks are dealt with first. In order to do this, the Eisenhower Matrix can help us. Tasks are organised in this way:
- Do: Urgent and important - tasks with deadlines.
- Delegate: Urgent and not important - tasks that need to be done, but can be done by others.
- Schedule: Not urgent and important - tasks that need to be done but have no deadlines.
- Delete: Not urgent and not important - unnecessary tasks.
- Breaking things up. We can use the Pomodoro Technique, where we can work for 25 minutes, and then have a five-minute break. After completing three or four lots of 25 minutes, we can take a longer break for half an hour. While working, always look forward to the reward awaiting us as well as the benefits we will reap.
- Crossing out completed tasks, allowing ourselves to celebrate this, and filling us with positive feelings towards ourselves.
- If it is not possible to achieve a task, we need to be kind to ourselves. Forgive ourselves and start again.