Procrastination, Motivation and Mood

Zoe Manley

Ever found yourself seriously procrastinating? Whether it’s revising for exams, cleaning your room or generally looking after yourself, when we feel overwhelmed we become masters of avoidance! Almost any other activity becomes more attractive than the one we need to do. But this can quickly spiral and for those who struggle with a tendency for low mood, we know that the less you do the worse you’ll feel. For me, I can now notice early warning signs for myself so I can take action sooner and nip it in the bud. If I start feeling a bit down and that doing nothing is preferable then I know what I need to do to find myself some motivation.

Behavioural activation is an evidenced based intervention employed by CBT. It works on the premise that when we feel low this leads us to doing less which makes us feel worse which reinforces the low mood. It’s a vicious cycle that when broken is a huge first step in fighting depression. At my worst point during university I didn’t leave my house for 3 weeks. I stayed in bed with my curtains drawn; no cooking, cleaning, socialising, lectures, anything. At the time I felt as though I physically couldn’t face it. This avoidance is often helpful in the short term, it requires little to no effort and the immediate relief is satisfying. However long term avoidance only serves to reinforce low mood and anxiety as we’re not allowing ourselves the opportunity to show ourselves that we can cope and that it would be alright.

The key message is to stick to plan, not to mood.

Behavioural activation as a technique asks for a plan to be made, breaking down your week into morning and afternoon sessions and planning in advance what activities will be scheduled in. It breaks activities down into 3 categories: routine (housework, cooking etc), pleasurable (socialising, hobbies) and necessary (paying bills, opening post, anything that would have a consequence if we did not complete them). When looking at your week try to plan for a balance of the 3 types. If this balance is far out we’re not going to feel too great! Although not all activities will be enjoyable, a sense of achievement can most definitely be attained. When planning activities it’s important to ask yourself why am I doing this? Is what I am doing in line with my values? You may value a clean safe environment, relationships with others or your investing in your education.

By sticking to plan and not letting mood or anxieties dictate what we do and when we do it, we regain a sense of control.  If you’re finding that it’s not mood or anxiety that’s stopping you then I have 3 tips to share to help combat procrastination:

Optimum Time of Day

Although it will be different for everyone, we will all have an optimum time of day or a point in the day in which we feel most energised, awake, motivated or ready to take things on. For me this is around mid morning. When I first get up I am no help to anyone! I need half an hour and a brew before I’m worth conversing with but by about 9am I’m usually at a point when I feel awake, cognitively engaged and somewhat motivated. I’m well aware not everyone is a morning person so for some people their optimum may be evening, afternoon, 2am or somewhere in between. The point is to try and identify yours and use it wisely. If there is a task or activity that you’ve been putting off you’re not going to want to start it at a time when you feel drained or tired, so by planning to tackle this at your optimum time of day, you are optimising your chances of success. It’s not a magic wand solution, but something to be mindful of.

The 10 minute Rule

Often it’s the thought of doing something rather than the task itself that puts us off. This one is simple but effective. Commit to doing 10 minutes of the activity. It’s only 10 minutes! Have a clock/watch/phone nearby and know that after that 10 minutes of folding washing or writing that essay or whatever it may be, that you don’t have to carry on. However, we often find that the 10 minutes really wasn’t as bad as you thought it would be and that after this period of time you’re sort of on a roll now anyway so you can carry on. Its a win-win situation. If you do the 10 minutes then that’s 10 minutes more than you would have done before, if you carry on with it then go you!

Kill It With Kindness

Be kind to yourself. You are much more likely to overcome procrastination if you forgive yourself for doing it in the first place. Rather than sat being frustrated cursing at yourself for being lazy, practice some self compassion, let yourself off and commit to trying again.

As I’ve mentioned above, none of these techniques are the magic wand that will get everyone moving again but they are proven to help take that first step and they did for me personally. If anyone has any more ideas please do share below!

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