Procrastination / Avoidant Coping

By Alice Boyes, PhD. | Uncategorized

Yesterday I wrote about how people do avoidant coping to avoid difficult thoughts and emotions getting triggered, or to escape from them once they are already occurring.

I wrote that the first step to overcoming avoidant coping is nutting out the function of the avoidance i.e., which specific thoughts and emotions the avoidant coping is helping you avoid.

Procrastination is a very common type of avoidant coping. A simple way you can figure out the function of your procrastination is to pick your most-procrastinated activity (e.g., some type of paperwork), and commit to doing that activity for a short period of time. Let’s say 30 minutes. During that 30 minutes, take a piece of paper and note down what difficult thoughts and feelings arrive while you are doing the task. Just very briefly note down the thoughts and emotions on paper as they arrive, and then return to doing the procrastinated activity until the 30 mins is up.

Examples Of What You Might Find:

– You might uncover that doing the procrastinated activity leads you to experience more thoughts about other activities that you need to do, and that causes you anxiety.
– You might feel overwhelmed.
– You might have self-criticism related thoughts. Note what the specific thoughts are e.g., “My self-critical thoughts are that I should’ve done this ages ago. I have no self-discipline, I’m such a loser.”
– You might have self-doubt. Note the specific self-doubt related thoughts.
– You might have negative thoughts about the future e.g. “I’m never going to be a success” or “It’s impossible for me to ever do a good job at this.”
– You might feel irritated/annoyed. (If this is the case, try to figure out the thoughts behind the feelings of anger).
– You might thoughts of being unsupported.
– You might have thoughts like “It’s not fair that I have to do this”.
– You might have thoughts of worthlessness or powerlessness.
– You might find that doing the procrastinated task brings up seemingly unrelated worries (e.g., you start worrying about your relationship or your health). Note these down.

You have lots of great options for what you can do once you identified what thoughts and feelings are being avoided, such as using self-compassion therapy techniques to learn how to cope with self-critical thoughts without avoidant coping.

The trap of avoidant coping is that it might work in decreasing difficult thoughts and emotions temporarily, but it typically increases your problems with the avoided thoughts and emotions overall. It makes you more scared of those thoughts and emotions, and increases the size of your reaction when those thoughts and emotions do get triggered. Avoidant coping also tends to be “stress generating” which means that avoidant coping tends to create more real problems in your life (e.g., you avoid something about your finances and end up with a bigger problem).

A tip: Emotions/feelings are the specific emotions words like anxious, angry etc., and thoughts are pretty much everything else. Try to understand the emotions caused by your thoughts, and the thoughts behind your emotions.

Doing your most-procrastinated activity might trigger happier, calmer feelings & thoughts too, but you’re likely to find you have a mixture of positive and negative thoughts/feelings, and the negative thoughts/feelings will help you determine why you are avoidant coping.

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