Many of my clients have big dreams and plans for their future but get stuck when it comes to executing them. They know what they “should” be doing, yet find themselves doing anything but! In a recent lecture at the Institute of CBT Coaching, Professor Windy Dryden put forth a Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) approach to breaking apart procrastination.
First, a definition of procrastination – Procrastination is putting off to do later what is healthy for you to do now as defined by you. This last part of the phrase is important. The decision must be self-initiated. If you don’t believe it’s healthy to do this activity but your spouse/boss/mother does – that is not procrastination.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy breaks a situation apart into three pieces:
A. The Activating event.
B. The Beliefs we have about that event.
C. The emotional and behavioural response that are the Consequences of that belief.
By splitting a situation into these three pieces we can see that it is B, the belief systems (B.S) that we hold about events have the influence on how we feel and behave. When we challenge and change those beliefs we change C, the emotional and behavioural response.
In the context of procrastination, belief systems about when one can commence work trigger the behaviour of procrastination. Do you recognise this scenario?
You have a piece of work due on Friday. You put aside an hour at 2pm on Wednesday to do it. When you sit down to start work you suddenly find that your desk is so cluttered that you can’t possibly begin. So you spend twenty minutes tidying and organising your desk. Now you’re ready to start. But, before you do you make a small snack – you need your energy to think clearly. Twenty minutes later you sit back down ready to commence. Now the lighting at your desk is not quite right, it’s distracting, so you spend another 15 minutes sorting that out. Then you find you’ve run out of time and its time to move onto the next thing. The work does not get done, you feel bad and have to reschedule another time to do the work.
In this scenario there is an underlying rigid belief that “I must be comfortable in order to work”. The consequences of that rigid belief are to procrastinate until a level of “comfort” is achieved – this may involve tidying, organising, getting snacks or drinks, exercising, adjusting the chair, changing the lighting, moving locations, the list goes on…
Or perhaps your rigid beliefs around starting work fall into one of the following categories?
- I must be in the mood to work
- I must be motivated to work
- I must be under pressure to work
- I must feel competent to work
The CBT breakthrough comes when the client consciously decides, “I would like to be comfortable but this condition isn’t necessary for me to work”. Using hypnotic and NLP techniques that work with the unconscious mind, we can embed these new, more flexible beliefs, at a deeper level so that they are a natural choice in the client’s neurology.
My CBT challenge to you is to identify your rigid beliefs about your preconditions for starting work and then deliberately break them apart!
- Set a specific time when you are going to work on something that is in your interest to do at a time that is in your interest to do so.
- Identify the feeling that, in the past, would have triggered the procrastination behaviour (e.g. feeling uncomfortable with clutter)
- Use that feeling to identify the rigid belief (I must feel comfortable in order to start work)
- Start work anyway in the absence of that condition reminding yourself that it is desirable that the condition be met before you start work but not necessary.
- Collect a bank of experiences where you challenged the rigid belief and got work done anyway! This is your path to freedom and flexibility to be productive regardless of other factors.
Get started now ; ) What rigid beliefs about starting work do you have? Share them in the comments below. I invite you to celebrate your successes with this approach and share them!
Image Credit: guccio@文房具社 via Flickr