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How a Clinical Psychologist can help in Overcoming Procrastination

Alliant International University
Reviewed By
Published on: 08/16/2018
Last Updated: 05/26/2023
3 minute read

For many of us, procrastination is easy. I’ll do it later; I’ll do it tomorrow; Next time I’m down there—these are all very common phrases to hear and very easy phrases to say. So, how do you beat procrastination? How do you get yourself motivated to do the things you need to do, and how do you stay motivated when new tasks arise?

One way is with the help of a Clinical Psychologist. And, yes, I know you may be thinking, “I don’t need a psychologist—I’m not sick, or unwell, or anything like that—I’m just a bit lazy.” But the truth is, habitual procrastination is a learned behavior, a habit that can often be difficult to break on one’s own, even under the best of circumstances, and a clinical psychologist has tools, such as Rational Emotional Behavior Therapy (REBT), the average person doesn’t that can help break the cycle of I’ll do it later; I’ll do it tomorrow.

Founded in 1955 by Clinical Psychologist, Albert Ellis, REBT focuses on our thinking, particularly our irrational beliefs, and how they shape our feelings and actions. As argued by Dr. Michael Neenan in a 2008 issue of Journal of Rational-Emotive Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, “Chronic procrastination can have high costs: It has been associated with depression, guilt, low exam grades, anxiety, neuroticism, irrational thinking, cheating, and low self-esteem. As a result, procrastination probably accounts for much of why many never realize their full potential, and so it can be an extremely disabling psychological condition.”

Neenan then argues that all procrastinators suffer one similarity—a clear-cut emotional problem, and that in order to release this emotion, clients need to identify the irrational beliefs that sustain it through the ABCs of REBT (A = activating event; B = irrational beliefs; C = consequences). He then argues that it's best to treat procrastination as the "C"—the consequence of an activating event and belief. The key is to discover what a person says to themselves to justify procrastination when procrastinating happens, and then work toward preventing that kind of internal language and dialog from continuing to arise in the patients’ mind.

Finally, there are four steps to allowing one to overcome their procrastinator habits:

  1. Becoming aware of one's procrastination;
  2. Developing goal-directed behavior to carry out the tasks on which one is currently procrastinating;
  3. Making a commitment to tolerate the anticipated short-term discomfort to achieve the longer-term goal; and
  4. Persisting in this anti-procrastinating outlook or approach.

Ultimately, it is clear that the kind of change necessary to beat the procrastination bug is change that starts within ourselves—and that sometimes we may need the outside help of a clinical psychologist in getting that ball rolling, or to keep it rolling if we find ourselves falling back into old habits we thought we had broken. And, really, this is when looking toward a clinical psychologist is at its most helpful and effective, even for something as benignly thought of as procrastination.

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