Solving the Procrastination Puzzle
After becoming aware of Canadian researcher Timothy A. Pychyl's blog Don't Delay, which discusses the science behind procrastination, I purchased Solving the Procrastination Puzzle: A Concise Guide to Strategies for Change, a short (by design) presentation of his team's research, formulated into practical advice on how to break our most entrenched task completion habits.
As expected, on Monday when participants were avoiding some task(s) in preference to others, we found that they typically said things like, "I'll feel more like doing that tomorrow" or "Not today. I work better under pressure." We rationalize the dissonance between our behaviors (not doing) and our expectations of ourselves (I should be doing this now). Later in the week few, if any, participants spontaneously said things like "I feel like doing that [avoided task] today" or "I'm glad I waited until tonight, because I work better like this."
More surprisingly, we found a change in the participants' perceptions of their tasks. On Monday, the dreaded, avoided task was perceived as very stressful, difficult, and unpleasant. On Thursday (or make that in the wee hours of Friday morning), once they had actually engaged in the task they had avoided all week, their perceptions changed. The ratings of task stressfulness, difficulty and unpleasantness decreased significantly.
What did we learn? Once we start a task, it's rarely as bad as we think. In fact, many participants made comments when we paged them during their last-minute efforts that they wished they had started earlier - the task was actually interesting, and they thought they could do a better job with a little more time.
Given the large costs often involved, why, then, do we habitually procrastinate? A flash of insight occurred while reading Give in to Feel Good--another of his popular blog entries--which reframes task avoidance as an attempt at short-term mood repair. This also shed some light on the difficulty those struggling with depression and anxiety have with facing unpleasant tasks: if your mood is already low, avoidance will be a compelling short-term method to regulate your level of distress.
Like many instant gratification techniques, however, the long-term consequences eventually become greater than the immediate rewards. My clients have reported that applying the simple insight of "I don't actually have to be in the mood in order to get started on something," has been helpful in shifting their long-standing patterns of work avoidance, and thus reducing the costs of that avoidance.
Check out Dr. Pychyl's blog and his book for more great insights and tips, and please feel free to share your own!
* Just kidding! Therapists never procrastinate :)
I greatly enjoyed* and have already reaped much therapeutic mileage from Pixar's summer film, Inside Out, with its reminder that exiling the experience of sadness can often leave our lives psychically poorer, and that the basis for human empathy and connection resides in our ability to have full access to our entire range of feelings.
I also appreciated the ability of this film to portray our core emotions as incredibly salient, caricatured personalities, as this directly mirrors the work that I often do with my own clients. Externalizing strong feelings, inner states, or critical voices into visible entities can be helpful in partially de-identifying with our impulses, allowing us to view ourselves with greater neutrality and compassion. It can also be helpful in facilitating much-needed conversations with these parts of ourselves while in a supportive therapeutic atmosphere.
I can't imagine that I was the only therapist or healer to get excited over the potential applications of this film, and I would be very curious to hear from others about how they have integrated this artful bit of pop culture into their practice. Please do feel free to reply back to me with any thoughts you might have on the matter!
* Though I entered the theater expecting to cringe at least once over the portrayal of complex neuroscience and cognitive psychology concepts, I found that the only truly upsetting element was the highly size-negative/fat-shaming representation of Sadness (as held in contrast with Joy and Disgust). A less stereotypical approach at constructing their appearances would have been much welcome.
My focus during this next phase of my practice is to exponentially grow my referral network, and develop a strong base of professional colleagues. My main motivations for this are:
Greetings! I'm excited to share some recent changes to my practice. The summer of 2015 brought major changes, as after almost a decade at PAES Counseling Services, I stepped down from my Clinical Supervisor position, and into my own practice full-time. It was indeed a bittersweet departure, as I will acutely miss all of my wonderful RAMS, Inc colleagues, as well as the wonderful clients this program serves. However, I continue to maintain strong ties to this community, and am also extremely excited to be able to devote my full attention to my private practice, fostering its growth over the months and years to come.
I continue to supervise for Queer LifeSpace, a nonprofit providing long-term, low-fee mental health and substance use services to the LGBTQQI community. I have also taken on a postdoctoral intern from CIIS, as well as a trainee from Haight-Ashbury Psychological Services (HAPS), a sliding scale psychotherapy clinic. (HAPS was actually my initial practicum site--way back in 1999--and current collaborations with my very first supervisor has lent a wonderfully rich coming-full-circle feel to this phase of my career!)
In addition, I have a new contract with Episcopal Community Services, providing consultation and supervision for the case management team at the Navigation Center, the city's newest homeless shelter pilot program. Supporting their staff is a natural extension of my last decade within San Francisco's welfare-to-work program, and I am pleased to maintain a link to services for San Francisco's neediest populations.
Please feel free to update me on your professional developments, and thank you for your continued interest and support!
Jessica Katzman, Psy.D.
I'm a psychologist with a private practice in San Francisco's Castro District. I'm interested in harm reduction, LGBTQQIAAP issues, psychedelic integration, social justice conversations, size acceptance, and any intersections of the above. I welcome your comments!
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