NLP and the Procrastination Habit (Part 1)

An NLP look at 'putting things off'

Three hundred years ago the English poet Edward Young wrote that “procrastination is the thief of time".  While it sounds profound I've never been able to figure out how this works because, to me, procrastinating always seemed to actually give me more time!

But while procrastinating may or may not be the thief of time it's certainly the thief of ...

...peace of mind!

Putting things off requires lots of mental energy.

If we use NLP to 'model' procrastinating the first thing that comes up is why do we do it when it eats up peace of mind and vitality? Most of us put things off because they are too difficult, time-consuming, unpleasant, etc. Yet putting them off is just that - it's just delaying action. And the more you do it the more there is to keep track of and to worry about.

Using stress to motivate

Worse still, procrastinating is a way of using stress to motivate ourselves! You avoid doing something unpleasant or difficult. For a while that works fine…. But, in the back of your mind the pressure is building up.

You know it has to be done… sooner or later. Yet you ignore it, at first. Later you "try" to ignore it.  Later still you can't ignore it - it has to be attended to right now because it has become urgent and unavoidable. So you do it.  Congratulations, you've successfully used stress to motivate yourself.

The totting up process

Let's say you receive an unwelcome bill. You have the funds to pay it but you don't want to. So you put it out of sight and, hopefully out of mind, where it can't be seen in a drawer or cupboard.  You know, in the back of your mind, that the money is owed and it will have to be paid at some stage - but know you can almost ignore it. Except that each time you go to the drawer or cupboard you see it in there and again feel the uneasiness.

Then the follow-up bill arrives. This one is less easy to ignore - and may even be in a different colour!  But it goes in the same hiding place nevertheless.  Finally your credit loses patience and threatens unpleasant action - and you are forced to pay it.

From receiving it until being forced to pay it the stress has been totting up.  You have been gradually getting more and more uneasy.  It's become less and less easy to ignore it. In the end, to relieve yourself of the self-imposed stress, you act.

Lots of things to 'put off'

Procrastinating, including the use of stress to motivate ourselves, is one of the issues we look at it in our NLP courses. Typically people who are highly efficient in some areas of their lives will be inveterate procrastinators in others.

Examples of areas where participants tend to procrastinate include: filling in tax forms, doing their personal filing, tidying up bedrooms, competing already-began DIY projects, beginning exercise or weight reduction programmes, replying to e-mails or telephone calls, plus many more.

How it eats away at peace of mind

Let's say you've put off completing an Inland Revenue tax form. It arrived last week and the deadline's not for a few months. Initially it's easy to ignore it. But gradually you begin thinking about that deadline and the penalties for returning the form late. Already it's playing on your mind.  Already you are totting up the stress.

Gradually it takes more and more effort to "not think about it".  Yet the crazy thing is you're going to have to complete the form sooner or later.

The only difference that procrastinating makes is that you have a gradually increasing level of stress and uneasiness for a few weeks or a few months - and, when you eventually do get around to acting, you do so under pressure rather than from choice.

This process applies to all incomplete tasks.  To all unfinished business.  To all the things that you're trying to "not think about". Pretty daft, isn't it!

Because we recognise how procrastination eats away at peace of mind we explore lots of was of dealing with it in our in-depth NLP courses.

NLP tips for dealing with procrastination

Fortunately, NLP is particularly useful when it comes to modelling motivation, or understanding how it works, and in offering pointers for managing it.

In the traditional approach to self motivation you mentally, and more or less continuously, remind yourself of all the benefits of doing something - which sometimes works and sometimes doesn't. But this traditional 'positive motivation' approach is rarely effective in dealing with things that we are putting off.

Procrastinating requires a different strategy - we need to use a more 'negative' approach. It's not negative, of course, it simply appears to be so because in it we focus on the unpleasant consequences of not taking action!

Getting ready to act

Part 2 of this article on Procrastination provides an NLP-based way of dealing with the 'putting things off' habit.

One way of preparing would be to make a written list of all the things you are currently putting off.  And, if you really want to ratchet up your motivation to take action, make a note beside each of these of how long you have been procrastinating and how much the topic has been playing on your mind, even if only "in the background".

Anticipate the freedom…

Want to savour how life will be when you've got on top of procrastination?

Think of a day when you acted really effectively and caught up on everything - so that, afterwards, there were no procrastination items hovering in the back ground. Think of the sense of lightness, freedom, and vitality…

That's your goal - to have this feeling most of the time!

Click here for Part 2 of this article


Bookmark and Share



The Pegasus NLP Newsletter

Most articles on this site were first published in the Pegasus NLP Newsletter.

This has been published regularly since February 2000 - and you can subscribe to the newsletter here

And there will be no spam - I promise.  You have trusted me with your email address I will use it for the Newsletter and for nothing else - and it will never be shared with anyone else. Ever.  (Reg Connolly, founder of Pegasus NLP.)