Procrastination and Addiction

-Starve your distractions, feed your focus.” Daniel Goleman

Procrastination, defined the action of delaying or postponing something, appears to be a universal human problem. We all struggle to get moving on the next important task—the school or work project, paying our bills, or having a difficult conversation with someone. Everyone puts things off until the last minute sometimes but procrastinators chronically avoid difficult, or apparently difficult, tasks and deliberately look for distractions.

For people in recovery, procrastinating proves to be quite dangerous. People can suffer as much from the things we fail to do as the things they do. This certainly rings true for people who are recovering from compulsive sexual behavior. Putting off getting help keeps you stuck in the cycle of addiction. If you are in recovery, putting off your 12-step work or not really engaging yourself in your personal counseling also keeps you stuck. In order to maintain sobriety and improve your life you will need to take regular action. Failure to take this action can mean that your sobriety is compromised and you stand the risk of relapsing.

So, why do we do it…continue to put off today for tomorrow? Important, immediate tasks and projects can bring up unpleasant emotions. For example, you’re sitting with a work or school deadline and as you try to work on it feelings of stress and anxiety come up. To put off these unpleasant feelings, you postpone, you delay…you procrastinate. Your deadline now looms larger and the unpleasant feelings ramp up. If you struggle with online pornography, you may know this as the “alt-tab” effect, as you toggle between your project and the various browser tabs of porn you now have open. Much like the pornography you are looking at, procrastination serves as a coping mechanism to help you avoid these strong emotions.

Let’s review the cycle and the relationship between procrastinating and addiction.

  1. You are faced with a high priority action
  2. Unpleasant feelings arise
  3. You put off the higher priority action with tasks of lower priority as a stopgap.
  4. The unpleasant feelings intensify
  5. You act out sexually
  6. The unpleasant feelings intensify
  7. You eventually deal with the higher priority action

When we look at this cycle, it’s hard to believe that we consciously—or unconsciously—put ourselves through so many struggles. Procrastinating truly is a short-term relief but leaves longer-term problems that show up in our work performance, our relationships, and our overall self-esteem. It’s a self-defeating process and we act as our own worst enemy. At the middle of all of this is our own lack of awareness of what is happening at a deeper level.

Tools

If you look online under tips for stopping procrastination, you will find many links with many good ideas. My focus here is on building a deeper awareness that drives the need to procrastinate in the first place

  1. Notice the resistance. Pay attention to the emotions and thoughts, such as boredom, stress, and the fear of failing for example. Keep a journal or actually dialogue with “The Procrastinator” as if it was an actual person.
  2. Change your outlook. Often, procrastinators rebel against things they don’t want to do. Try to reframe I have to do it to I want to do it.
  3. Consider time management skills. Learning to break larger projects into a series of smaller ones helps the tasks to be less daunting.
  4. Set up a proper reward. Giving yourself permission to indulge in something healthful after your work is completed can be a fun way to counteract “The Procrastinator.”

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