Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Avoidance is not a Strategy

How soon 'not now' becomes 'never'.Martin Luther

We all have our own habits of avoidance- from cleaning the house when we really need to prepare for that meeting, to oversleeping to avoid going to the gym.  Even when we know we have to face doing that particular thing, we often end up sabotaging ourselves once again and then inevitably feel guilty or frustrated.  You might ask yourself ‘why’ you keep doing it and feel powerless to change.

There is an element of self delusion in the process; procrastinators tell lies to themselves. Such as, "I'll feel more like doing this tomorrow." Or "I work best under pressure." The reality being that they do not get the urge the next day or work best under pressure. In addition, they protect their sense of self by saying "this isn't important." Another big lie procrastinators indulge is that time pressure makes them more creative. Unfortunately they do not turn out to be more creative; they only feel that way and they squander their resources.

Tom came to see me wanting help to overcome his procrastination issue. He summarised it as ‘putting his head in the sand’ to the point where he sabotaged everything; his boss was becoming increasingly frustrated with him under performing at work due to his seeming lack of motivation.  His wife was virtually set to leave him unless he sorted himself out as he avoided doing anything at home, even spending time with her (as he spent his evenings catching up on work).  Although Tom is an extreme example of how stuck you can become in procrastination patterns, it is easy to get to this point unless you address the underlying cause.  In Tom’s case, his chronic low self esteem and fear of failure prevented him from even trying to do things in the first place.

There are various causes of procrastination-the main ones are outlined below:

Perfectionism: Many people who procrastinate have a fear of not doing something "perfectly".  They constantly feel the need to wait for the perfect time and the perfect circumstances to take action.  Sadly, that never happens, so they keep holding back, waiting endlessly.

Fear of failure: People who procrastinate because of a fear of failure feel safer dreaming about the great things they'll do someday, but they avoid doing them now because they might fail.  They want to wait until they feel stronger and more capable before they take action, but they don't stop to think that strength and capability are developed by DOING, not thinking or dreaming.

Fear of success: As strange as it may seem, procrastination may also be caused by a fear of success.  Even though a person may think he or she WANTS to be successful, they worry about the potential burden(s) of success, the obligations, increased responsibility, increased attention from others, and more.  It feels safer to stay behind the scenes, dreaming of success but never daring to achieve it.  

Fear of the unknown: The unknown consequences of taking action can often cause a person to hold back, because as dissatisfied with their life as they may be, at least it's familiar.  These people often have the "one wrong move" syndrome, and they avoid taking action because they fear it might be the wrong action, which would cause more problems for them. 

Low self-worth: A person who doesn't believe they deserve happiness and success will usually avoid taking action to create it in their lives.  They'll remain locked in unpleasant circumstances, even though they desperately wish they could get out of them.

Low self-confidence: Sometimes procrastination is caused by a simple lack of confidence.  A person may desire to change, and believe they deserve a better life, but they hold back because they doubt their ability to make lasting changes.  Rather than try, they simply accept the "fact" that they can't do anything about it. 

Procrastinators actively look for distractions, particularly ones that don't take a lot of commitment on their part. Checking e-mail or Facebook is almost perfect for this purpose. They distract themselves as a way of regulating their emotions such as anxiety around failure. In Tom’s case, it got to the point where his fear kept him locked in a habituated state of avoidance- even though he wanted to change he couldn’t because the fear would be too overwhelming.  Until he learned to pass through the ‘pain barrier’ of fear, he was able to move forward and gradually resolve his anxiety.

As with Tom, once you understand why you're procrastinating, it's important to develop a plan to help you move forward.  A successful plan will involve:

1.    Addressing and altering your limiting beliefs: This will take consistent effort on your part, and a willingness to challenge your beliefs.  For example, if you believe you don't deserve a better life, you'll need to change that belief and convince yourself that you are worthy of having the things you want. Trying something like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy can help you address this. 

2.    Taking action: It's ironic that the "cure" for procrastination is the very thing that causes the fear that creates it!  If you weren't afraid of taking action (for any reason), you wouldn't procrastinate.  In order to overcome procrastination, you need to be willing to take action in spite of the fear.  You need to build up your courage and ignore those fear-ridden thoughts that try to stop you. Start by prioritising what you need to do and break down each task into manageable stages to avoid feeling overwhelmed.

3.    Start small: The great thing about taking action is that it builds your confidence bigger and stronger every time you do it.  Even tiny actions have the power to change everything.  Most notably, you suddenly realize that there is nothing to fear.  Once you push through that initial terror, you realize that you're still okay.  This gives you the courage to take another step forward, and another.

4.    There is No Failure only feedback. It's important to be firm, yet gentle with yourself through this process.  It's good to push yourself a little bit, though not to the point that you backslide and give up completely.  Listen to yourself and begin to distinguish between your inner guidance and fearful thoughts.  The more you work at it, the clearer and easier it becomes though it is important to review your progress on a weekly or fortnightly basis and if it isn’t working, try something else. 

Procrastination is a destructive behaviour that that can take on a life of its own if left unaddressed. The good news is that changing these patterns is possible when you choose to take control and overcome your fearful thoughts as Tom did.  

As Arnold Bennet said, “We shall never have more time. We have, and always had, all the time there is. No object is served in waiting until next week or even until tomorrow. Keep going... Concentrate on something useful.”

Alexandra Bacon is a certified Advanced EFT Practitioner, Counsellor, Bach Flower Remedy Practitioner, Wellbeing consultant and Trainer. To book your personalised treatment session please call Alexandra on 01629 825968/ 07950 568635. www.lotusheal.co.uk

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