Science and Sensibility

A psychological potpourri

Cut the Emotional Roots of Procrastination

How to lead an emotionally rich life.

Building and sustaining high frustration tolerance may be the most important self-development activity that you will ever undertake. If you have high frustration tolerance, you are likely to be free of most of the worries, troubles, and anxieties that so destructively invade the lives of millions of others. With high frustration tolerance, you are likely to get more important things done and create many interesting chapters for an autobiography you might write. Let’s see how you might reduce procrastination as you regulate your emotions by building high frustration tolerance.

Procrastination Increases as Society Becomes Regulated

There was a time when frustration sensitivity, tension avoidance, and immediate gratification had great survival value.  For example, dodging discomfort is a primitive survival mechanism. If a situation or activity "felt" uncomfortable, you would probably have avoided it. By avoiding the tension of uncertainty about an unfamiliar territory you might sidestepping a cannibal tribe or saber tooth tiger.

Could you afford to be a long-term planner? For a member of a small migrating tribal community, grabbing a handful of berries had more survival value than waiting for a field of wheat to grow. However, that was to change.

In The Axemaker's Gift, James Burke and Robert Ornstein described our double-edged history. New discoveries and advancements lead to freedom from the dangers of nature. This happened at a cost. As a tradeoff, you have added restrictions on your freedom.

Here is the deal. By following through on job responsibilities and governmental obligations, you gain greater safety and security. This is the social contract. Some requirements may be excessive. That is as it is until you find a way to change them.

The calendar and the clock organize regulated societies. Officials will extract a price for greater freedom from natural dangers. You may want this tradeoff without any obligation on your part. If you do, you live in a dream world.

You may feel resistant to performing certain socially required obligations. This is understandable. Many regulated tasks are time consuming and unpleasant. Few enjoy completing tax forms or spending extra work hours to meet a deadline that someone else imposes.

You can flourish in a world of commerce by accepting and executing timely and relevant tasks. You are wise to avoid penalties for social procrastination (putting off required societal responsibilities). By getting regulated social responsibilities off your back, you gain a positive benefit. You boost your frustration tolerance.

As a negative alternative, you can distract yourself with conflicts about the fairness of externally imposed societal responsibilities. However, if eventually you’ll follow through, consider the "relief" benefits of finishing sooner rather than later. You’ll have fewer negative prices to pay.

Exit the Discomfort-Dodging World

Sensation sensitivity for frustration or discomfort is a marker for procrastination. For example, a low tolerance for frustration can trigger discomfort-dodging procrastination activities.

You cut into the emotional roots of procrastination by using discomfort-dodging emotional signals to explore your thoughts and to debunk any accompanying false hopes, such as tomorrow is always a better day to start (procrastination thinking). As a substitute for procrastination thinking, regulate what you think, feel and do.

Emotional regulation is a cognitive function that gives direction to how you feel and what you do.  For example, by showing yourself that frustration is time-limited, and that you can live through it, you'll experience less stress. You'll have less reason to dodge discomfort. You are more likely to follow through.

Here is one example of a self-regulation technique. Think about your thinking when you experience negative sensations. Do you amplify tension by scaring yourself about feeling stressed? Can you accept--not necessarily like--that it will take time and effort to get socially required tasks out of the way?

Here is another self-regulation approach: (1) Place reason between procrastination impulses and diversionary activities by looking beyond the moment of discomfort to the steps you will take to fulfill the social obligation. (2) Make sure that you have set reasonable and measurable goals for yourself.  (3) Devise a plan to reach the goal: when will you start and what is your first step? (4) If procrastination thinking gets in the way, connect the dots between this thinking and its results. (5) Identify the cognitive, emotive, and behavioral consequences of inaction. Then try a different way that yields better results. For example, if you think later is better, ask yourself why? (6) Stick with this approach until it becomes a practiced habit.

4 Main Steps to Build Frustration Tolerance

You can increase your frustration tolerance by:

1. Build your body to buffer the stress effects of multiple frustrations. You do this through maintaining a consistent, moderate, physical exercise program, healthy diet, and by getting adequate sleep. The physical exercise phase of this stress buffering process helps decrease depression and boosts your immune system for better healthThis is the physical way.

2. Liberate the mind from consistent errors, such as conning yourself into thinking that you can normally escape consequences for delays. This is the cognitive way.

3. Work to boost your emotional resilience by exercising restraint against malfunctioning discomfort-dodging impulses. This is the emotive way.

4. Change negative patterns that you associated with needless frustrations, such as letting work pile up. You can meet this on-going challenge when you dedicate yourself to a lifetime of producing positive results in a reasonable way within a reasonable time. This is the Do it Now behavioral way.

If you want more information on boosting frustration tolerance, How to Conquer Your Frustrations is a free book you can download. (I wrote it without the verb "to be" to demonstrate how to distressful thinking.) For more on overcoming procrastination, see: End Procrastination Now

© Dr. Bill Knaus

Bill Knaus, Ed.D., is the author of more than 20 books; one, "Overcoming Procrastination", was co-authored with Albert Ellis.

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