How to Outwit Procrastination

Everyone has experienced procrastination at some time in their lives. Procrastination has four main causes:

1. Boredom

The task you are procrastinating on is of low importance or value. In other words, it’s unpleasant or boring. To overcome this type:

  • set a time limit and give yourself a reward for completion. You might rotate cleaning house with breaks to read. Set a timer and work in 45 minute intervals (research shows we’re not very productive after 60 minutes)
  • conversely, postpone something that’s enjoyable until you complete the task. Before you can meet a friend for coffee you have to mow the lawn.
  • lastly you could tie the unpleasant task to something fun. You might call your mother while you drive to the movies or while you’re working in your garden.

2. Personality Traits

Those who have low self control or motivation, are easily distracted or impulsive. To determine if this might fit for you, look at your entire life, not just your work life. Do you put off things like paying bills or cleaning? Have you always been late for events or appointments? To beat procrastination in this case:

  • Setup an environment that gives you the best chance of success. Make a procrastination free zone which means no smartphone or internet access and have family or friends check in with you to help keep you on task. They might sweeten the pot by offering to do some other chore like walking the dog or doing the dishes if you complete the task.
  • You’re more likely to procrastinate when you have to stop and think so it can help to plan ahead of time how you’ll complete the task. The more detailed the steps in your to do list are the better for forward momentum.

3. Perceived Ease of Task

  • The harder you think the task will be the less likely you are to get started. To make it easier, set a realistic goal such as writing 500 words rather than a whole chapter or walking around the block rather than a mile.
  • Success is often tied to pushing through resistance and relying on momentum. You may write a 1000 words once you get started or walk the mile you usually do once you’re outside.
  • Once you do a task successfully the less likely you’re to procrastinate the next time.

4. Goal Failure

  • If you set a goal that’s too big, too vague, too hard, etc. you rarely achieve it making you feel bad so you continue to avoid doing the task.
  • Use the tools in #2 & #3 above to help make your goals achievable.

Procrastination is about negative emotions. You might be afraid of succeeding or of how achieving the task or goal might change something for better or worse. Or if you achieve something then you’re unsure of what comes next so the uncertainty can keep you stuck. When you fail negative self talk often follows which can carry over to the next time you try to do the same task. A research study with college students found that those who failed a test and forgave themselves did better on the next test than those who didn’t (i.e. everyone makes mistakes; I’ll do better next time.)

Other tools to outwit procrastination:

  1. Rather than fantasizing about success, imagine a positive outcome but also imagine what might happen if you don’t meet your goal. i.e I’ll be disappointed in myself tomorrow; my partner will be mad at me. This can help give you enough “good” anxiety to motivate you.
  2. When self doubt creeps in it creates “bad” anxiety which can shut you down. So telling yourself you only have to figure out just the first part of a complicated project or go to a work event for only an hour can help you be successful.
  3. Start starting. Just making forward movement can help you move out of procrastination.
  4. Visualize the process rather than the outcome. Once you have a sense of the process break it down into small steps so you know what to do and the project doesn’t seem so daunting.

There is generally a reason for procrastination and it doesn’t have to do with laziness. Be kind to yourself when procrastination occurs but hold yourself accountable to do something

How to Get Along with Adult Siblings

Get to know your sibling as adults. Learn how they saw their childhood. You may have heard of studies testing people’s perceptions. For instance, three people who witness an accident are interviewed about what they saw and give three different versions of the event, all equally certain that what they saw is what happened. Many factors, like personality, place in the family (middle, oldest) and individual life experiences have an impact on how we view the world.

Look for evidence that what you believe to be true about your siblings really is. For example, if you have a sibling you always thought was your parent’s favorite, ask if they saw it that way. You may be surprised. Someone recently recounted a conversation to me that she and her sister had. The younger sister told her older sister that she always saw herself as the black sheep of the family. This surprised the older sister because that’s how she saw herself! A younger brother who you felt never took things seriously growing up may have developed the ability to approach serious issues in a lighthearted way.

Notice what buttons your siblings push so you can choose to respond differently. For better or worse, being around family can make the best of us revert back to childhood behavior–if we let it. A client once told me that whenever she was around her brother he’d invariably recount childhood events where she’d made mistakes. One time, rather than laughing it off or getting defensive, she asked him if he could remember anything she’d done well. He was stunned and told her that of course he could. He hasn’t recounted any stories critical of her since.

Talk about significant childhood events (or even events in adulthood) when your sibling’s actions or words hurt you. What stands out for you may have been a non-event for them. They may appreciate knowing the effect they inadvertently had on you. It gives your siblings a chance to share their version of events and perhaps to apologize. This should be a two-way street. Your siblings should have the opportunity to share any old hurts or issues they may have with you.

Pay attention to how you treat your siblings. Scott Myers, a professor of Communication Studies at West Virginia University, researched how siblings interact with each other and found that “we are much more verbally aggressive with our siblings than with anyone else.” (To read a summary of the study: Is it possible there are things you may have said or done to your siblings that would help explain their unwillingness or reluctance to have a closer relationship with you?

If your family was really dysfunctional–the communication style was arguing or yelling or, everyone was expected to follow the “party line” (or family line)–you may need outside help in dealing with your siblings. A therapist can help you repair relationships with your siblings and to communicate with each other more effectively.

If you’re ready to schedule a therapy appointment, you can schedule by email, phone, text or online (click here)

Lynne Coon, LPC — counselor serving communities in the greater Portland metropolitan area including: Portland, Vancouver, Lake Oswego, Tigard, Tualatin, Beaverton, Milwaukie, Oregon City, Hillsboro, Forest Grove, King City, West Linn, Wilsonville, Gresham, Troutdale, Scappoose, St Helens, Camas, Brush Prairie, Battle Ground, and Multnomah County, Clackamas County, Washington County and Clark County.

How to be Less Defensive

Do you lash out when you feel criticized? Everyone can get defensive in certain situations, but if you’re getting defensive most of the time you feel criticized you may be damaging your relationships or your chance for raises and promotions at work.

There are several things you can do when you feel criticized that can make you feel better about yourself.

If you get defensive before you even have time to think, you’ll have to work backwards. As soon as possible after a situation where you were defensive, take a minute to think about where you felt it in your body. Did your chest get tight? Was there a rushing in your ears? Did you start to breath faster? Were you clenching your fists? If you can become aware of how you react in your body, you can use those cues to notice when you’re getting defensive and then shift your awareness to your thoughts.

To buy yourself some time, repeat back what you heard the other person say. I don’t mean that you sound like a parrot, just that you rephrase what the other person said in the way you heard it. So if Susie Q says to you, “You never clean up after yourself.” You could say, “It seems to you like I always leave a mess?” or, “You feel like you always have to pick up after me?” Often people aren’t aware of exactly what they’re saying because they’re nervous about bringing an issue up. So if you repeat what they said, they know you heard them and they have a chance to correct it, if necessary. These two things alone can stop many arguments before they start. The other benefit of repeating back what you heard is that the other person will usually respond with more information, which can move the conversation in a whole new, and usually positive, direction.

Our buttons are usually pushed because we’re reminded of someone or something from the past. Is it your critical father? Your grandmother who never liked you? A teacher who picked on you? Once you’re aware of this you’ll be surprised how quickly your defenses go down. In fact you’ll probably mentally smack yourself on the head and say, “Sheesh, why am I acting this way? This obviously isn’t my dad/grandma/teacher!”

Sometimes we react defensively because we are being picked on. If your boss, friend or significant other is always finding something wrong with you, that’s a different issue. If the relationship really matters to you, then you’ll need to point out what you’ve noticed to this person. I’d wait, though, until a time when things have calmed down and emotions aren’t running so high.

If the relationship isn’t worth working on, or you’ve tried to talk about it with the person and haven’t had any luck, it may be time for you to put some distance between you and this person. Find a new job, transfer out of the department, spend time with other friends who like you for who you are or let go of someone you love who doesn’t seem to love you just as you are. Let me know what you think: email me with your comments and suggestions.

If you’re ready to schedule a therapy appointment, you can schedule by email, phone, text or online (click here).

Lynne Coon, LPC — counselor serving communities in the greater Portland metropolitan area including: Portland, Vancouver, Lake Oswego, Tigard, Tualatin, Beaverton, Milwaukie, Oregon City, Hillsboro, Forest Grove, King City, West Linn, Wilsonville, Gresham, Troutdale, Scappoose, St Helens, Camas, Brush Prairie, Battle Ground, and Multnomah County, Clackamas County, Washington County and Clark County.

How to Manage Stress

Too much stress isn’t good for you and neither is too little. If you have too much stress in your life you’ll likely become overwhelmed and unable to function. An optimal amount of stress motivates you to move forward and follow through on things. Too little and you’ll tend to procrastinate, drift and feel life has no meaning or purpose.

There are other reasons for procrastination, drifting and feelings of meaninglessness or lack of purpose. If you struggle with ADD or ADHD then procrastination can also be caused by too little of a brain hormone that helps you focus. If you struggle with depression you may procrastinate for other reasons. The same is true if you’re depressed and feel like life has no meaning or purpose. There are potentially other factors at play. However, stress can make depression and ADD/ADHD worse.

If you’re at the low end of the stress meter and have too little to motivate you, find ways to build structure into your life. Develop routines like regular exercise (a good stress buster), volunteer work or social activities. If you’re at the high end of the stress meter, consider the following areas to see where you can get a handle on stress:

Accepting Good Enough

If work is going well and family and relationships are in harmony, stress is usually not a problem. Even if one area begins to be problematic, if the other two are working stress is often manageable. However, when one area isn’t working, you may already be at your limit for tolerating stress. You may accept what isn’t working or at least try to cope. But if another area begins to malfunction, so to speak, you’ve just amped your stress level to the “overwhelmed” level. What areas of your life are you accepting when they really aren’t working?

Going it Alone

Another issue at play in stress is we often keep it to ourselves. We see it as a personal failure or at the very least something to be endured, so we bear it and keep trying to move forward. Or we ignore what’s happening and hope it will go away. Stress shouldn’t be endured. It should be dealt with ASAP because prolonged stress is damaging to your physical and emotional well being: (read more about how to manage stress) What are you putting up with? What can you do to change it?

How We Make Stress Worse

We add to our stress by what we tell ourselves. If a car is going slow in front of you do you believe it’s because they’re lost and you remember when you’ve been lost? Or do you assume they’re complete idiots who shouldn’t be on the road? If problems arise at work do you talk to your boss or coworkers? Or do you worry that your boss doesn’t like you or your coworkers are spreading rumors? We can be our own worst enemies. What might you be telling yourself that’s adding to your stress?

Stress is sneaky.

There are obvious things most of us know cause stress such as losing a job, selling a home, the breakup of a long-term relationship. And we know certain events cause stress such as public speaking or job interviews. We’re often less aware of the every day things in life that add up and cause stress or the part we may play in creating stress. Building your awareness of the stressers you’re accepting or creating is a first step in trying to deal with it more healthfully.

If you’re ready to schedule a therapy appointment, you can schedule by email, phone, text or online (click here)

Lynne Coon, LPC — counselor serving communities in the greater Portland metropolitan area including: Portland, Vancouver, Lake Oswego, Tigard, Tualatin, Beaverton, Milwaukie, Oregon City, Hillsboro, Forest Grove, King City, West Linn, Wilsonville, Gresham, Troutdale, Scappoose, St Helens, Camas, Brush Prairie, Battle Ground, and Multnomah County, Clackamas County, Washington County and Clark County.

Avoid Getting Your Buttons Pushed

Clients often say they wish they wouldn’t be so reactive to people who seem to push their buttons. I sometimes draw from a social psychology theory called Transactional Analysis (TA) to help them recognize what’s going on.

TA was developed by Eric Berne, and made famous by his book, Games People Play. Berne’s theorizes that people relate to one another at one of three levels: parent, child or adult. Communications, or what Berne calls transactions, can be at the same level–for example, parent to parent–or at different levels –such as child to adult. Some examples of each transaction type:

“You never clean up after yourself.”
“Why do I always have to take care of things?”
“Don’t talk to me that way!”

“I don’t have to listen to you.”
“I’ll do what I want to!”
“This isn’t fair.”

“It upsets me when you talk to me that way.”
“I’d like to come up with a solution that’s agreeable to both of us.”
“Can we talk about this without shouting?”

I’ve shared just a sliver of what Transactional Analysis is all about but the basics are useful in quickly identifying what’s going on in communications that aren’t working. When one person is communicating at one level and the other at a different level, communications–or transactions–can break down. So, when someone talks to you at a “parent” level it can be difficult to not respond at a “child” level. If you’re able to recognize the different types of transactions or levels of communication you can make the choice to respond in a way that feels better to you.

With awareness and practice it is possible to change behaviors that aren’t working for you anymore.

If you’re ready to schedule a therapy appointment, you can schedule by email, phone, text or online (click here)

Lynne Coon, LPC — counselor serving communities in the greater Portland metropolitan area including: Portland, Vancouver, Lake Oswego, Tigard, Tualatin, Beaverton, Milwaukie, Oregon City, Hillsboro, Forest Grove, King City, West Linn, Wilsonville, Gresham, Troutdale, Scappoose, St Helens, Camas, Brush Prairie, Battle Ground, and Multnomah County, Clackamas County, Washington County and Clark County

Forgiving Someone Who’s Hurt You

Studies have shown that people who are able to forgive are happier and healthier than those who can’t. It actually takes more effort to hold onto resentments than it does to let them go. The idea seems simple enough, but forgiving someone is not a simple act for those who’ve been hurt.

The idea of forgiveness is important in many religions, and each has a different philosophy about it. My approach is from a psychological perspective, which sees forgiveness as a process. I’ve broken it into steps for ease of explaining it, but it’s not exactly a step-by-step process.

It’s important to remember that forgiving someone doesn’t mean that you approve of what the person did. It is not condoning the behavior.

  1. Admit that you’ve been hurt. People often try to deny to themselves they were hurt. Once you’re able to be honest with yourself that you were hurt, you can begin to move forward, in spite of the hurt. Denying it keeps you stuck.
  2. Recognize that the offense changed you. The ways you were affected aren’t necessarily all negative. Seeing that you changed in positive ways can be helpful. For instance, you may have more compassion toward others because of what you went through.
  3. Try to view the situation in a new way. It may make you more able to consider forgiving the other person and more willing to do so.
  4. Find empathy and compassion for the offender. This is a big step but without it I’m not sure forgiving someone is possible. This doesn’t mean you’re excusing what the person did but that you understand why it might have happened.
  5. Other things that can help you move toward forgiveness:

    • recognize that others have been hurt by someone and they were able to overcome it.
    • remember a time you asked for forgiveness and what it felt like to be forgiven.

Notice I didn’t suggest you go to the person and forgive them. Forgiveness doesn’t require the actual act of telling others they’re forgiven. They may not think they need to be forgiven for anything. This is about you forgiving them, because it’s best for you. John W. James and Russell Friedman, in their book, The Grief Recovery Handbook, suggested the following phrase to a woman who resisted the word forgiveness: “I acknowledge the things that you did or did not do that hurt me and I am not going to let them hurt me anymore.” Forgiving someone is about letting go of what is still giving them power over you.

The benefit in forgiveness is a release from old ways of thinking and feeling. Forgiving makes it possible to move forward and make different choices, find new joy in the world and those around you and be in the moment instead of stuck in the past.

If you’re ready to schedule a therapy appointment, you can schedule by email, phone, text or online (click here)

Lynne Coon, MS — counselor serving communities in the greater Portland metropolitan area including: Portland, Vancouver, Lake Oswego, Tigard, Tualatin, Beaverton, Milwaukie, Oregon City, Hillsboro, Forest Grove, King City, West Linn, Wilsonville, Gresham, Troutdale, Scappoose, St Helens, Camas, Brush Prairie, Battle Ground, and Multnomah County, Clackamas County, Washington County and Clark County.

Procrastination types: what type are you?

Procrastination is something clients tell me they struggle with often which makes sense given that it’s a common symptom of depression, anxiety and perfectionism. I listened to an interview recently with Monica Ramirez Basco who wrote the book, The Procrastinator’s Guide to Getting Things Done. She says everyone procrastinates, it’s a matter of how much, how often, and to what extent it effects your life negatively. There are six types and knowing which you are can go a long way in helping you to make changes:

The avoidant type avoids things because they think it’s going to be unpleasant or uncomfortable.

The disorganized type is bad with time management so they run out of time, or they get overwhelmed because they have too much to do and too little time to do it in.

The self-doubting type doesn’t trust herself/himself to make good decisions. They get stuck in self doubt about small things, choosing a paint color or a restaurant or big things such as whether they should leave jobs, move or end a relationship. They struggle with what the right choice is; whether it will be any better if they change…

The interpersonal type has to do with procrastination and relationships. It can be used as a weapon when you feel like something is being demanded of you and you don’t want to be told what to do. Or you use procrastination to get others to do things for you. If your experience is that someone else will do it if you don’t you out wait the other person. It can also be a way to protect oneself from criticism. You avoid disapproval from others if you do nothing.

The all-or-nothing type is the perfectionist who’s either in 100 percent or they feel overwhelmed and exhausted and do nothing. This group can also be those who can’t say no. They reach a point of exhaustion and can’t do anything else or take on anymore until they recharge. Then they dive back in at 100%, overcommitting until they hit exhaustion again.

The pleasure seekers are those who do other things they enjoy more. They’re not in the mood to do chores or other less interesting things. This is okay unless they stop dealing with the other things. They might get hooked on computer or video games or television shows or things that can become addictive. In this day and age there are lots of things available like this between Smartphones, posting on Facebook or Google+ (or reading others posts), or looking up something on the internet that leads to something else until lots of time has passed.

Recognizing when you’re procrastinating is the first step to changing. Knowing what’s causing you to procrastinate may help you to identify a way to move forward. Pick something specific you want to change within all the ways you may procrastinate and a way to measure it so you can tell if things are changing. This last piece will allow you to see if what you’re doing is working.

Remember that changes takes time so measure small ways you’ve changed to give you momentum to keep going.

Selling Yourself Short Because You Lack Confidence

Another symptom of a lack of confidence or low self esteem is avoiding risks. What do I mean by avoiding risks? It might be that you seek work that isn’t challenging or undersell yourself in job interviews or job reviews. You may take on more than your share of work duties so others will like you or feel taken advantage of by your boss.

In friendships or life partners you choose people who have less confidence than you or have less going for themselves than you, i.e. under or unemployed, money problems, few friends. Your friendships and relationships may feel adequate but not completely fulfilling.

These aren’t choices you are necessarily aware of when you make them. It’s more that you don’t reach as high as you might if you felt better about yourself. If you’re confident in your abilities you may have some nerves beforehand but you can speak to your strengths in job interviews. You can explain to your boss why you deserve a raise. You don’t fret about saying no sometimes to your boss or coworkers because you can recognize unreasonable requests. You don’t argue yourself out of what you believe.

If you are confident in yourself you don’t settle in relationships. You don’t stay in relationships that aren’t working and keep making compromises or waiting for people to change. You don’t give and give and wait and wait for something in return. You may hope that someone is interested in you but you don’t worry that they won’t like you or see you as less than or that you’re not enough or worthy of them.

If your self confidence is affecting your work or personal life, please feel email or call (503-243-2283) to see how I can help.

Looking to Others for Validation You’re Okay

Accept Both the Positive & Negative Parts of Yourself

What do you do when you’re given a compliment? Do you hem and haw and eventually mumble thanks? Do you try to talk the person out of it? Do you turn it into a criticism about yourself?

When you lack confidence it’s hard to accept praise from others. You don’t think you deserve it. It can make you feel uncomfortable.

One way to build self esteem, and consequently reduce depression or self doubt, is to give more weight, if not at least equal weight, to compliments and positive feedback. Accept compliments with a thank you. Allow yourself to revel in the good feelings that come when you hear good things about yourself or your efforts.

I often encourage clients to write compliments, positive reviews and feedback down. When that niggling self doubt or negative critic pops up, pull out this information and read it over. Ask yourself how both can be true, the criticism of your inner critic and the things on your list.

Those who lack confidence often ignore or discount any thing positive about them and focus solely on negative information. What’s true is that we have things we do well and things we don’t; areas where we excel and others where we struggle; times when we’re kind and generous and times when we’re not at our best.

Focusing only on where you’re lacking, fall short, make mistakes, etc., gives an inaccurate picture of you. Accepting your flaws and embracing your strengths, accomplishments and abilities is the healthiest way to view yourself.

Assertiveness and Self Confidence Go Together

Most of my clients who struggle with self-esteem issues have a hard time saying no. To them the word “no” has a lot attached to it: the potential for conflict, that the other person might withhold love and affection (rejection) or punish them in other ways, or they might hurt the other person’s feelings. In order to avoid the possibility of conflict, rejection or pain they ignore their needs.

You give away a little bit of your power each time you ignore your needs and wants. You make promises to yourself that you don’t keep, “I’ll say no next time.” You pretend what you want or need is not so important. You get upset with yourself for not being more assertive. All of this chips away at your confidence. It becomes a vicious circle of not feeling good about yourself and then doing things that make you feel worse.

You can feel like you have a beacon on your head telling others you’re an easy target. Clients often complain that they attract friends who take advantage of them. There may be some truth to that yet it may be more about being drawn to what feels comfortable. (Comfortable doesn’t mean it feels good but that it feels “familiar.”) If you’re used to being treated a certain way it can feel uncomfortable to be treated another. You may unintentionally shy away from those who treat you well. The fear is often that if the person really got to know you, they wouldn’t like you.

Self esteem and assertiveness both require believing in yourself and in the importance of your wants and needs. You can’t have one without the other.

What You Tell Yourself Can Affect Your Self Esteem

Everyone has an internal dialog. You may be aware of it or not. Your self talk can help or hurt your self esteem. If you are constantly putting yourself down or making judgments about yourself, it chips away at your confidence.

You have control over increasing your confidence by paying attention to your thoughts. Your internal dialog can be such a habit that you may not realize what you’re saying to yourself. To learn to tune into your mind chatter, you might have to start by paying attention to how you feel and work backwards to what you were telling yourself just before this feeling.

This is the basis of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: an activating event (A) leads to a thought or belief (B) which leads to a feeling or consequence (C). Here’s an example: you’re really enjoying the discussion in class (or a meeting). You decide to raise your hand and share your thoughts. The instructor sees your hand then looks at the clock and says he needs to leave early and ends class. You go from feeling energized and excited to hurt and embarrassed. So working backwards from those feelings (consequence (C)), the event (A) is the instructor not calling on you. The belief/thought (B) might be that the instructor doesn’t value your input or that others are making some negative assessment about you because you weren’t called on.

If you’re able to work backwards and identify the thoughts you had, you can begin to change them. You can come up with more positive beliefs about what happened: that the instructor simply didn’t notice your hand being raised; that raising your hand coincided with him remembering to check the time and then that he needed to leave early and told the class—he was so distracted by what time it was he didn’t acknowledge your hand being up. Your classmates may be feeling empathy with you because of a time they raised their hand and weren’t called on; they may be so absorbed in their own thoughts they didn’t notice your hand being raised or they may feel disappointment that they didn’t get to hear your thoughts.

The point is you get to choose what you tell yourself. It can be positive or negative. Since your thoughts are yours and yours alone, why not make them positive?

Some Causes of Low Self Confidence

Low self confidence is usually linked to childhood. Two common causes are critical parents or experiencing some form of abuse. The result is often a belief that in some way you don’t matter, you’re a fraud, or others’ needs are more important. Some people who seem the most self assured actually have low self esteem. Their biggest fear is that someone will figure out they aren’t who they seem. Even if you don’t act self assured you may still have the same worry: if someone knew who you really were, they wouldn’t like you.

Obviously you can’t do anything about how you grew up, however you can learn to change the way you think and the things you do to build or increase your confidence. You can love who you are and, when you do, if others see something in you they don’t like you’re less likely to feel you have to apologize for it.

I’m going to focus on some of the causes of low self esteem I see in my practice and give you some ideas to combat them. I may come up with more as I write about this topic over the coming weeks. Let’s look at the list I have so far.

  • Negative self talk
  • Assertiveness
  • Lack of recognition for your accomplishments
  • Looking outside yourself rather than within for approval
  • Avoiding risks and being unable to forgive yourself for past mistakes or failures
  • Being around people who tear you down.

If you struggle with something you want me to add to the list, please email me!