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We recognise it

Many of us are familiar with the urge to procrastinate, even when we know it’s unwise to do so. Why do we do this?

First, let’s think about the process. We know there is a task to be done and a deadline for its completion. We even might say to ourselves that we will do the task at a certain time, like getting up early the following morning to do it.

But when tomorrow morning comes we think of all the reasons why we don’t actually have to do that task any more. After all it doesn’t need to be done till next Friday. And our state of mind probably won’t be best to tackle it just yet. And just a few more minutes on social media won’t hurt. And on it goes.

We have moved the goalposts, despite promising to ourselves that last time this happened and something unexpected meant a last minute panic, that we would never procrastinate again.

Depending on the therapeutic approach, there will be different ways to address procrastination. In CBT it will be seen as an example of where thinking needs to change, and a therapist will help you identify what thoughts are unhelpful for attending to tasks. My approach is more psychodynamic, and I will encourage people to look at the sabotage process that prevents what might otherwise be rational thinking.


The sabotage process is an unconscious defence mechanism that’s there to protect us (or, more accurately, the ego). But it’s being rather too zealous. If we consider what feelings are aroused by turning to the task, and what the resistance to those feelings might be, we get a sense of the emotional overwhelm or retraumatisation that the sabotage process is defending against.

There is no single answer – everyone will have their own. Turning to the task might arouse feelings of missing out, or of being coerced, or of a fear of failure. The therapist will attend to those feelings, enabling the client to tolerate them and essentially help the client to tell the sabotage process that it doesn’t need its help just now, but thanks all the same.

Although procrastination on the one hand is an inconvenience that many overcome by putting themselves under time pressures. This, incidentally, is not good for the person’s health as it induces the stress response and the release of adrenaline. On the other hand, looking behind the procrastination gives client and therapist an opportunity to attend to unresolved emotions.

Adrian Tupper is a counsellor practising privately at Space for Therapy and at Eyre Place Osteopathic Practice