Excerpted by New York Psychotherapy Group from:
Men’s Health, March, 1997. Title: Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow, (different types of people who procrastinate) Author: Bill Heavy
There are many things you can do to change your life. There are just as many reasons why you are not doing them. Psychology professor Linda Sapadin has identified six types of procrastinators. She also has some helpful approaches for solutions.
If you are a procrastinator, you will recognize yourself. Procrastinators have great intentions they never quite act upon; procrastinators are masters at rationalization and are usually aware that they are sabotaging their own happiness; procrastinators castigate themselves for their inability to act, thereby further lowering their self esteem and perpetuating the self-defeating behavior. The psychological underpinnings of procrastination are rooted in fear. Most procrastinators think they are just lazy. This is rarely the case, but it is easier to think that than discover and deal with underlying fears. The fears can be anything – fear of failure, fear of change, fear of completion, fear of losing the fantasy, fear of not measuring up, fear of reprisals, fear of humiliation….and any other fear that fits the bill.
The following are the six types of procrastinators Dr. Sapadin identifies in her book ‘Its about Time! The 6 Styles of Procrastination and How to Overcome Them’. (Viking Press). She also suggests ‘solutions’, which are helpful as guidelines for thinking and action, but which like any ‘solutions’, are easier said than done. Procrastinators especially can have a field day with solutions.
These procrastinators desperately want life to be easy and free from pain. They retreat from the real world and live in their heads, where everything is vague, nonthreatening and cozy. They cherish the notion that they’re special, that they don’t have to play by the rules. This kind of “magical thinking” often leads to employment problems, spouses who tire of unkept promises and the assuming of disguises as they flee collection agencies from state to state.
Solution: If this sounds like you, you need to leave Peter Pan behind. Recognize the difference between “feeling good at the moment” (fantasizing, watching TV, buying stuff) and “feeling good about yourself” (the pleasure of accomplishment, mastery).
Learning a new software program for example, won’t be as much fun as watching basketball, but it yields greater self-respect and confidence. You also need to ground yourself in the here and now. Lists are good for this. Write down what can realistically be accomplished each day and the specific steps that must be take to do it. Develop a passion for the “middle stage of projects, that detail-rich area where you tend to check out.
The worrier prizes security above all else and pays a steep price for it. He has a narrow comfort zone and paralyzes himself with anxiety when faced by risk or change. He suffers what Sapadin calls “anticipatory anxiety” and endless stream of “what ifs” about hypothetical situations, all with negative consequences. What if the person I’m considering asking out says yes, we get together and then she dumps me and breaks my heart? What if I finally leave this job I hate and can’t find another one? Better to be safe, secure and bored than face that uncertainty. Worriers often had parent who took care of their every need and enjoyed (unconsciously of course) the feeling that their kid couldn’t get along without them. Worriers don’t have allot of fun and tend to suffer from burnout. But for them, it beats facing a task head on.
Solution: Deep inside most worriers lurks a more vibrant, courageous soul. If you are bored and sick of your life, that’s great. You ma y be ready to change. Avoid “catastrophizing” everything and see that making no decision is itself a decision. When you find yourself concentrating on the risk implicit in a new situation, stop and focus on what’s exciting about it. Interpreting the feeling makes the difference. Next time you have butterflies in your stomach, be glad. That’s the sound of life knocking at your door. Welcome it.
This class of procrastinators resents authority but expresses the rebellion covertly. Ask a defier to perform a task and he’s likely to say, “sure, I’ll do that”. Then he “forgets” what he promised, or delivers work that’s half-assed, late or both. I relationships defiers put off meeting their partners’ needs in much the same way. This withholding stratagem gives them a sense of power, but their co-workers and lovers feel manipulated, used and betrayed. When fired or stuck in dead-end jobs or relationships, the defier consoles himself that he’s lot is the inevitable fate of a true individual in a plastic world. He’s unhappy and proud of it.
Solution: Learn to act instead of react, to move from victim to active participant in live. The trick is to shift concern away from what other people are doing to you and see what you are doing to yourself. Realize that taking the initiative – not digging in your heels – is where the real power is.
Most of us do our best work under some kind of time constraint. A crisis-maker goes out of the way to create drama, going from one behavioral extreme or the other. He underreacts to a situation, ” I can’t get started until I feel the pressure”, then overreacts with a big shot of intense work to meet the deadline. That self- aggrandizing style of operating is a young man’s game. You can drive yourself to the edge with relative impunity in your 20’s and early 30’s, but after a while, your body doesn’t want to run of adrenaline anymore. A pot of coffee and a bag of Oreos don’t deliver quite the jolt it once did. And meeting deadlines in the real world isn’t heroic; it’s routine.
Solution: A lot of these guys are shocked when I tell them chaos is not mandatory. Sapadin says, ” it never crossed their minds that there is a different way to do things.” The crisis maker needs to increase his self-motivation to accomplish things and decrease the emotional investment in the death-defying, last minute performance. Recognize your need for an adrenaline rush, but find a safer avenue for it than your work or your relationships. Make a cold call to someone who’d never expect to hear from you. Set your sights on a five-minute mile or a 200-pound bench press.
Basically, perfectionists are nut cases, whose self-esteem is on the line every time they do anything. Often they are idealists who are unrealistic in their use of time and energy. Ask one to sharpen a pencil and he’ll either break out in a cold sweat and spend all day staring at it, or immediately plunge in and, at the end of the day, present you with a really sharp point attached to an eraser. “That’s because perfectionists see everything in all-or-nothing terms,” says Sapadin. “If the task they’re working on is a failure, it stands to reason that they’re failures too.” Deep down, the perfectionist fears nothing so much as not measuring up. I f you had the kind of parents who looked at the 95 you brought home on a test and said, “where are the other five points?” You’re a good candidate. Procrastination is a way of putting off judgement. I you don’t play, you can’t lose.
Solution: “I tell perfectionist to aim for accomplishment, not perfection,” says Sapadin. “Stop beating yourself up over what you should do and focus on what you can do – the realistic instead of the ideal”. Another strategy, Sapadin counsels for perfectionists is to make a deliberate mistake. Linger five minutes longer at home so you are deliberately late for an appointment, leave your normally spotless desk messy for half a day, let a grammatical error in an office memo go uncorrected. The experience of being imperfect- and seeing that the world doesn’t come to an end- is a great teacher.
Like the perfectionist, the overdoer doesn’t seem like a procrastinator because he’s always busy. He’s a people pleaser, the guy who never says no to taking on more work. As companies downsize and combine jobs, the overdoer appears to be the guy poised for success. Except he isn’t. In his struggle to do it all and feel self-reliant, he has no balance of work and downtime, drudgery and fun. The personal and the professional. He also disappoints the people he wants so desperately to please because he has taken on more than he can deliver.
Solution: “Overdoers need to learn to say no,” says Sapadin. “It blows them away when I tell them it’s not a nasty word. In their minds, it’s hurtful to the other person”. She tells them to say “, but thanks for asking me”. Or ” I can’t right now, but ask me again in a week” as ways to reinforce the idea that they’re not slamming the door.
Give up the Superman myth. Accomplish what you can, and leave the rest to all those other Superheroes whose work you’ve been doing.