It has taken me a long time to get around to writing this but it had to be done... I am writing about procrastination.
The problem with procrastination lies within the word itself. What others call procrastination might be what I call thinking.
Although procrastination is something that has an impact on the people I see as a cognitive behavioural (CBT) therapist, it affects everyone.
Because much of CBT is about working towards goals, procrastination is the enemy which stops us from being occupied. In a world in which there is pressure on us to be busy all of the time and to be “seen” as busy, procrastination is time wasting. And no one likes a time waster.
The idea of "keeping busy" was one of the drivers behind the spread of CBT throughout NHS services. A 2006 report by the Mental Health Policy Group of the Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics highlighted the merits of CBT in encouraging people to return to work. Given that absence from work for mental health related reasons was proving costly to the economy, the implementation of CBT would be economically friendly in the long run.
As a result of this, the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme was established.
The use of therapy as a means for furthering a seemingly political agenda was something I felt uneasy about, particularly given the fact that being employed could in itself present problems. Occupation - in many ways - can be damaging for one's mental health. We work some of the longest hours in Europe and workplace bullying is on the rise.
Being busy may promote good mental health but just being busy alone isn't enough; there is more to it. We may need to stand back from constantly being hyperactive. Perhaps there are times when we need to procrastinate rather than act.
The problem with procrastination lies within the word itself. What others call procrastination might be what I call thinking. If I am being reflective I might not be “wasting time”; maybe I'm considering what it is I “want” from life. Indeed, if I let my mind wander freely whilst I am procrastinating, I could end up generating creative solutions to my problems.
The Relapse Prevention Cycle (Prochaske and DiClemente) - a model created to treat substance addiction - begins with “contemplation”. This stage in the cycle says that, before we make a decision to do anything, we have to contemplate the problem from as many different angles as possible. If I want to change something in my life, I have to weigh up how important the change is to me personally as well as how urgent it is to change.
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There are two types of procrastination. Active procrastinators recognise when something is urgent and important, often acting in the last minute when there is an urgency to complete the task. The problem lies with passive procrastinators: those who are paralysed by the pressure of making a decision so much so that they fail to complete a task. This is the procrastination that we need to focus on because, ultimately, it prevents us from completing a task due to fearing the consequences of a decision.
Finally, we may also be procrastinating because we know in our ‘heart of heart’ that we need to rest. If we are physically unwell and we rest, we are not procrastinating. Let's apply the same rules to mental illness as we apply to physical illness.