Ask Abbie: Take control of your life to end procrastination

Published 1:13 pm Saturday, April 5, 2014

by Abbie-Fox Worrell

Question: Help! How can I get on task sooner? I need to study, and for that matter everything else before the last minute. It’s like no matter how much I try to do things before the last minute I still end up doing them at the last minute. My procrastination keeps coming back to haunt me!

Answer: The following is a brief excerpt from the very lengthy complaint session Pat and Lisa had with each other one day while working out beside each other at the gym.

Pat: I need to clean the house, but I just can’t seem to get motivated.

Lisa: Girl, I feel your pain. I hate housecleaning. My house is such a burden. I feel like it owns me.

Pat: Tell me about it. It’s like as soon as a clean the house Jim and the kids come right in and tear it back up.

Lisa: I know. I’d much rather live in a dirty house than constantly be faced with seeing all of my cleaning efforts go down the drain. NOW THAT INFURIATES ME!

This dialogue between Pat and Lisa captures the very essence of the motivation and thinking behind a person’s tendency to procrastinate. To better understand how this conversation reflects the underlying components of procrastination, consider the following.

Suppose you are driving along and all of a sudden you hit a patch of ice and your car begins to skid into the ditch. Is it your instinctual response to take your hands off of the wheel, sit back and enjoy the ride? No. It is, however, your instinctual response to grab the wheel and do everything you can to re-gain control.

In other words, a loss of control has stimulated a need for control. Procrastination is this relationship personified in that it is often exercised to fulfill a need for emotional control of one area of life amidst the loss of emotional control in another area. Lisa’s statement, “I’d much rather live in a dirty house than be faced with seeing all of my cleaning efforts go down the drain,” can be used to illustrate.

Through this statement she admits it is easier for her to handle the emotions associated with the act of procrastinating than it is for her to deal with the emotional elements associated with the task at hand. Specifically, it is easier for her to handle the emotions associated with living in a dirty house than it is for her to deal with the emotional smack in the face of personal failure she receives whenever she sees her cleaning efforts go “down the drain.” A tendency such as this, to procrastinate to avoid failure, is often evident among those considered to be perfectionists.

There are many different emotions that could be causing your procrastination. Among them are low-self-esteem, loneliness and any other reason for the feelings of discomfort associated with the task you are trying to avoid. As a result, you will need to make an honest assessment of your situation in order to determine the specific emotional elements related to the tasks from which you are procrastinating. Once you do, you will then be able take the appropriate measures necessary to rid and heal yourself from them. As you pursue this process and until it is complete, there are several things you can do to ease your constant battle with procrastination.

First, start thinking about the things you are avoiding as your choice rather than as your obligation. Self-determined theory, developed by Edward Deci and Richard Ry, supports this concept; according to it, when people determine or choose their own course of action, they experience a sense of freedom to do what is interesting, personally important, and vitalizing. In other words, they become motivated and when motivated become less likely to procrastinate.

Next, ask for help. This tip cannot be overstated. Other people can help motivate you by getting you started when you don’t know how to do so and by encouraging you when you need it most.

Finally, take small steps toward completing the task from which you are procrastinating rather than trying to accomplish it all at once. Any forward progress you can make in this area will encourage and uplift your spirit.

Refuse to halt or be thrown into reverse and more than likely you will find yourself speeding past the exit sign labeled “Procrastination” as you press the petal to the metal toward the one labeled “Productivity.”

ABBIE-FOX WORRELL is a Franklin native and advice columnist for The Tidewater News. Submit your questions to