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how to overcome procrastination

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Volunteer: I have a major problem with procrastination.

OK. When you procrastinate, what do you tell yourself to make yourself procrastinate? I know – see if you know.

Well, I don’t really see why I don’t do the work, but I just sometimes sort of say, “I must do other things”, like clean my room and so forth. But it’s always on my mind.

Why don’t you first do this thing and stop the procrastination? What stops you – in your head?

I don’t know – I guess too much thinking about it, or just go to sleep, because I’m tired and I need to be rested and well in order to write something.

Those are excuses! What’s the real reason you procrastinate? If I push my ass right now, what?

I don’t know.

If I push my ass right now. what are you telling yourself to stop yourself from pushing your ass?

I think I’m actually pushing my ass. It’s just that it’s not effective enough. I just don’t do the immediate tasks. I do other tasks.

Because – If I did the immediate things – what?

Well- they’d get done! But I don’t do it – that’s the thing.

Is it because, “If I do it, I may fail”? So what if you fail, and everybody thinks you’re a schnook? What of it?

Well, yeah. That’s one of my thinkings – “I really want to get it done very well”. So I sort of don’t get to it, or I research it but don’t actually write the paper.

That would be nice. But why must you do it well or perfectly well. Why MUST you?

At school I’m involved in many clubs. So, I’m considered something of a leader. So I guess I have to do things well. I have to uphold a reputation.

Say very strongly, “I’d like to do things well, but, but – I don’t HAVE to”. Say that.

I’d like to do things well, but I don’t have to?

And how do you feel when you say that?

I think I have to.

Let’s suppose you lose your reputation. Why must you keep it?

I’d like to keep it-

That’s right. But why MUST you? Give me a single reason why you have to do well, or perfectly well.

I strive for success.

That’s nice. But why do you have to, have to have success.

It’s something that I like.

That’s right. But why must you have it?

I don’t have to have it.

Now how do you feel when you say that?


“I don’t have to have success, but I’d LIKE it.”

I don’t have to have success, but I’d like it.

That’s much different. Right. Now, suppose I procrastinated – which I never do. And I tell you, “I have to do it well, and have to succeed, and impress others by it”. What would you tell me?

What you just told me. You don’t have to.


Well, I-

But if I do have to, then I’ll be anxious. Then I’ll do it poorly. Then I’ll get anxious about my anxiety. So, why must, must I do things well?

You don’t have to.

I don’t have to, and if I don’t do well, I’m always OK. Why am I always OK, even if I don’t do well?

Because you’re alive?

And kicking! And I don’t feel the necessity of doing well, even though I’d like it very much. So say that. “I don’t feel the necessity of doing well, even though I’d like it very much”.

I don’t feel the necessity of doing well, even though I’d like it very much.

How do you feel when you say that?

I understand it, but still-

You better go over it five thousand times, until you really believe it. Let’s give you Rational Emotive Imagery, which is an emotional technique. Close your eyes and imagine that you do very poorly, and that everybody laughs at you – rips up your reputation. Vividly imagine that.


How do you feel when you imagine that?

Well, afraid.

All right. Feel very terrified, afraid – anxious, anxious – feel as afraid as you can feel. Don’t suppress it, don’t repress it. Tell me when you feel very, very afraid. And also feel afraid that people won’t like you. That you would be a shit.


OK. Now, with the same image, change your feeling. Feel very sorry, very disappointed, and very regretful, but not afraid, not terrified, not horrified. Only feel sorry and disappointed, and tell me when you feel sorry and disappointed in what you’re doing, but not afraid and not like a shit.


You did it? How did you do it?

Debbie Joffe [translating]: She just thought that she had let people down. Because her understanding is that fear comes beforehand, and that disappointment is after the act.

But even if you did let people down, how would you feel only, only disappointed and sorry for letting them down?

How would I feel disappointed and sorry?

For letting them down. Not like a worm, not like a louse, not like a shit. Just SORRY and DISAPPOINTED.

Can you explain it?

Debbie Joffe: I don’t think she understands the difference between healthy negative emotions and unhealthy negative emotions. Can you clarify for her?

Yeah. The unhealthy emotions are ANGER, and RAGE, and SHITHOOD. While the healthy emotions are feeling SORRY and REGRETFUL, but NEVER, never feeling like a worm. Never. That’s healthy.

Then, how do you sort of get those healthy emotions?

By telling yourself what? You have to say something to yourself. What?

Oh. “I don’t have to.


I forgot. [Laughter]

Debbie Joffe: Maybe we could clarify the difference between demanding – thinking one has to – and preferring, which is ok – to want to.

Yeah. When you say, “I’d like to”, you also say, ” If I don’t, I don’t. Tough shit.” But when you say, “I’ve GOT to, I demand that I do”, then you say, “If I don’t, I’m a louse.” Ands that’s whatyou are saying. Now how can you say, ” When I don’t demand, but just wish to do well and please others, I’m OK, as a fallible human.” How could you say that?

I guess, I don’t have to please others, or do well, but I’d like to.

How do you feel?

It’s difficult, right now, to sort of grasp it.

That’s right. So you have to do it many, many times, until it sinks in. So, every day, for the next thirty days – it only takes a minute – say, “I’ve got to do well, I’ve got to do well – or I’m no good!” Then, change that to, ” I’d like to do well, I’d prefer to do well, but I’M OK, no matter WHAT I do.” Say that.

I’m OK no matter what I do?

How do you feel when you say that?

Yeah, It’s difficult right now to let it sink in.

Debbie Joffe: If I may give feedback, you ask it like a question. You don’t say it the way he does.

Yeah. SAY, “I like very much to do well, but I NEVER, NEVER, NEVER HAVE TO!” Say that STRONG.

I ‘d like very much to do well, BUT I NEVER, NEVER, EVER, EVER HAVE TO!

Why don’t you have to?

Because, I’m going to be OK if I don’t.

That’s right. “I’m always, always OK no matter what I do.” Now, you have to do that 30 days in a row, at least, until it sinks into your head and your heart and your actions. What do you like to do, that you do almost every day of the week? What pleasure?


So, you only write AFTER you do the Rational emotive Imagery and change your feelings. What do you HATE to do – some chore or task that you avoid doing?

Going to the gym.

If you don’t do it for one of those 30 days, then you go to the gym and exercise for two hours. What else about this have we missed?

Could we go back to the procrastination?

When you procrastinate, you are saying, “I have to do it, and I have to do it well, and perfectly well to please others.” But that’s false – “I never, never have to do it well, and I never have to please others. I just want to please me.” Then you push your ass, push your ass, and stop procrastinating.

Once that concept has sort of sunken in, that’s when you defeat procrastination?

Once you get HIGH frustration tolerance, instead of LOW frustration tolerance – which means sitting on your ass.

I’m sorry – could you explain the differences again between high frustration tolerance and low frustration tolerance?

With HIGH frustration tolerance, you say, “This is hard to do right now. But it’s HARDER if I don’t.” With LOW frustration tolerance, you falsely say, “It’s too hard. I can’t do it! I can’t do it!” And then you don’t do it, because you’re telling yourself, “I can’t”. Right.

So, it’s good to have high frustration, as compared to low.

High frustration TOLERANCE, not high frustration!


[Selected audience participation follows]

You can tell yourself, “I’ll do a little bit now”. As soon as you do a little bit, you do more and finish. But don’t think that it’s too much to do it, or I cannot do it. If you tell yourself “I’ll do a little bit then a little more”, you’ll be more successful.

Yeah – the thing is, it seems sort of surmounting to even just do a little bit, because there’s so much to do that I can’t even do a little bit.

But you see, that’s the problem. You keep saying, “It’s too much”.

If you keep doing the little, it never gets to BE too much. Right.

* * *

Debbie Joffe: You’ll get a tape of tonight, and when you listen to it, listen to your voice. At various times, when you get suggestions, you sound afraid. And if you are aware of that, and do a bit of detective work and identify what you’re telling yourself to make yourself afraid, then dispute that – then you can get rid of the fear and be in a much clearer, healthier state to do the work. Does that make sense?


After you’ve procrastinated, how do you feel about you for procrastinating?


Because you’re telling yourself what?

That I have to do well.

That’s right “I have to do well or I’m no good.” Why are you never, never no good as a person? Why?

Umm – because…I don’t know.

Because you’re always YOU, you’re never not you. You’re never a FAILURE. You are just a person who failed this time, and can succeed, “If I keep trying, trying, trying. So I’m always capable of succeeding, even though I haven’t succeeded yet.” Right.

* * *

Can you talk about you’re A-B-C theory and “D”, Disputing?

Yeah. At “A”, there’s Adversity. “It’s very hard to do it right now”. And at “C” – consequence – you procrastinate – put it off. Because at “B” – Belief – you say, “It’s too hard.”” I should not have to do it. It’s awful, terrible, horrible that I have to do it right now.” Then you go to “D” and you say, “Why is it too hard? What makes it too hard?” And the answer is, “Nothing – except in my head. It’s just, just hard. It’s never too hard. And then you go to “E” – Effective New Philosophy and Action. You push your ass and do it.

How do you get to pushing your ass? What are the actions?

By taking your ass and pushing it!


How long does that usually take?

It only takes a short while if you do it and do it and do it.

* * *

Your theory.If you have an issue like “you have to be perfect” or, ‘you have to do all this’.that’s leads to that there is something you are afraid of. My question for Dr. Ellis is, can you just let go and it disappears, or do you have to find out why you are afraid?

The answer is, you don’t have to find out why. Just DO, DO, DO what you ain’t done, done, done before.

We show you that even if you never stop procrastinating, and you never start pushing your ass, you’re always, always OK, just because you’re alive and kicking – just because you’re YOU. You don’t need any other reason, while the other therapies show that you have to do well and be loved by others in order to be a good person. We don’t say that.]

* * *

There are some people who think they work better under pressure. What do you think about that?

Very rarely. Usually when you pressure yourself, you get anxious, then you work less. And then you get anxious about your anxiety. So, it’s better to calmly, steadily push yourself. But don’t push yourself over a cliff. Just push yourself.

* * *

Question for Dr. Ellis: How do you work with clients who can’t identify their emotions exactly – who aren’t clear what their emotion is?

You show them that they wouldn’t have a problem unless they feel, feel, feel. Now, “What is your feeling?” And you get the feeling and show them that they create the feeling – it doesn’t come by itself. So, you un-create it.

But the question is, what if they can’t even find it?

THEY ALWAYS CAN! They LIE to themselves! So you keep after them till they find it.

Written by Bhushan Kulkarni

August 29, 2011 at 4:49 pm

Posted in Albert Ellis

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