July 30, 2012

Using Your Imagination to Overcome Procrastination

 

Everyone procrastinates.  We all put off some things that are unpleasant or things we don't think we can do.  For most, avoiding necessary tasks is a minor problem but for some procrastination can lead to major grief.  Today we're discussing  one of the reasons we procrastinate and suggesting a simple technique which uses our imagination to help us stop. I have some easy tips that will help you to get unstuck and to start taking care of business.

Why We Procrastinate  

We procrastinate because it helps us to feel better, temporarily. Avoiding the experience of emotional distress which is associated with a task which we believe to be unpleasant or impossible reduces our stress.  Obviously, over time, putting things off can lead to real problems and the longer one avoids, the more difficult it is to break the inertia.  

Although there are exceptions, most procrastination occurs because of an error in our thinking, i.e. the way we look at and conceive difficult tasks or changes. The basic mistake many of us make is to conceptualize the problematic task we are avoiding as a vague, distant, whole, single event or accomplishment which lack sharp definition, e.g. like giving up smoking or losing weight.   

The negative impression of the task to be done can be so large and intimidating that it generates fear .  Just like the boogie man in a child's closet, fear prevents one from looking closely at the details of the challenge and thus the understanding of what is actually involved is often misleading or erroneous. Fear often leads us avoid tasks because of false conclusions which are based on incomplete or false information. Fear, in addition to giving us a overly negative impression of a task, can also paralyze us and  prevent us from thinking clearly either about the avoided task or the validity of our aversion to it. Fear leaves us with only one negative picture of the project.

How our Imagination can help us to stop procrastinating.

Many folks associate the notion of imagination with the creative arts like poetry or music. Imagination can also be understood as an ability to project ourselves into or to fantasize about the future. Imagination also has a playful connotation which can loosen us up and take the tightness out of our attempts to "work" on problems.  By employing our imagination to deal with difficult tasks or changes, we can free up our thinking and create alternative images that reveal different outcomes and that give us options.  Our imagination allows us to speculate and conceive of other ways to view and evaluate the job. For example, changing time parameters can alter one's assessment of a situation. A task that must be done in a week might not feel so impossible if it could be done in two weeks or a month.  

Keys to stimulating your Imagination

-- Make a list of all of the things you have been avoiding or are not doing.

Acknowledge you're procrastinating and be specific. Name each avoided task.

-- Think of the avoided task as a process made up of simple steps.

Using our imagination, we can imagine the task, not as a whole or single event, but as process which is made up of simple steps, the fear factor drops dramatically.

-- Break the overall task down into its components. If your image of a component still feels too big, ask yourself what would it look like or what would it feel like if you cut the step in half ?  If it is still too big, have it again until it feels manageable.  For example, if the doctor tells you that you should exercise for an hour a day and you say to yourself I can't do that, okay, what about 30 minutes ? If that seems too much have it again, what about 15 ?

-- Examine and reality-test your fears Another way to use your imagination is to zoom in on our own emotions and reality test what we're afraid of. Ask questions like: What is the worst thing that could happen?  How likely is that to happen ?  What kind of help is available? What would make the job easier or less onerous?  How carefully have you thought the project through?  

-- Imagine how good it will feel to know that you have accomplished your task and not 

Remember the Chinese proverb, "A thousand mile journey starts with a single step" ?  The goal when thinking about a task that you've been avoiding is not to think about the end result but to simply think of a way to break the inertia and get started.  By thinking of difficult jobs as a process of small steps, not one gigantic leap, we can all imagine a first step that will make even the hardest challenges doable.

The Rev, Michael Heath, LMHC, prepared these comments for Bridge Street, 7 30 2012

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