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I struggle with organizing my wardrobe and am a chronic procrastinator when it comes to getting things done. How to thrive in a marriage wherein I will have to work further hard and for more than just me.

Alka Ranjan M.A.(Psy) PhD.(Psychology)

The client has an adjustment problem and is referred to me. I practice as a Counselling Psychologist. The client has insight and is aware of her/his weaknesses. He/She already knows that it is going to be a problem in the marriage. So, is ready to change, which is indeed positive! 

I started the session with the client and helped him to further understand his problem. The client is a chronic procrastinator and also struggles with organizing his wardrobe and the house. It means that he is unable to complete a task that she/he should be doing. 

I conducted a psychoeducation session with him. I explained, “Procrastination means postponing things to do at a later time. Everyone procrastinates, however, you have a problematic procrastination. Procrastination is also an emotion regulation problem. At the same time, you are apprehensive that your spouse will get to know about your problem and it will create a misunderstanding. This makes you anxious about marital adjustment.” 

The client could now see that how his problems are inter-related. He wanted to resolve his problems. So, the goals were outlined: (a) to overcome the problem and (b) to gain better marital adjustment.

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Counselling began with relaxation techniques. Following instructions were given, “Now, close your eyes and relax…focus on the flow of the river….and breathe. Once you are in a relaxed state…now self-reflect. Think of substitute activities that you indulge in while procrastinating. These substitute activities are the things that you do to divert or substitute from the key task or goal that you need to accomplish. These activities can be pleasurable, lower priority tasks, socializing, distractions or daydreaming.” 

“Write the unhelpful rules and assumptions that you hold about yourself or how the world works on this sheet of paper.” After the client had written, I asked, “How do you feel about having these thought patterns.” The client replied that he usually had feelings that made him uncomfortable and to avoid this discomfort he used procrastination as a strategy. 

So, the cognitive-behavior therapy (CBT) intervention was used to overcome the client’s procrastination. CBT is based on the approach that procrastination is a result of problematic cognitions (thoughts) and behaviors. Following steps were suggested: 

  • Adjust your unhelpful rules and assumptions: CHALLENGE + MAKE NEW RULES & ASSUMPTIONS + PRACTICE. 
  • Practice tolerating discomfort: Gradually increase the time-span of discomfort and use MINDFULNESS TECHNIQUES to overcome it. 

Mindfulness techniques help to bring an awareness of what is being experienced right now in the present moment. The client practiced the mindfulness technique: “Notice your breath, notice sensations in your body, notice sensations outside your body as it makes contact with the environment around you, notice sounds around you, notice sights around you, notice something you are tasting, notice the emotions you are experiencing, or notice thoughts that are popping into your mind. Bring awareness to anything sensory that is happening right now.” Thus, the client being a non-judgmental observer became aware about his discomfort that he is having such as frustration, anger, resentment, anxiety and fear. 

The client practiced meditation, “Sit on the floor and close your eyes. Breathe into the discomfort, make space for it and allow it to be there. You may sense that the discomfort is leaving with your breath, each time you exhale.” 

  • Dismiss your procrastination excuses: CHALLENGE + TEST UNHELPFUL CONCLUSIONS + DEVELOP MORE HELPFUL CONCLUSIONS. 

The best way to do so is to draw 3 columns on a paper. In the first column, write the procrastination excuses. In the second column, write how unhelpful they are and in the third column, write how the client disputes the conclusions. 

  • Use motivational self-talk: The client should avoid self-criticism instead encourage himself to do the task that he was postponing. 
  • Put into action practical strategies to stop procrastination, such as prioritize, grade, set time limits, visualize, focus, plan rewards, schedule and unschedule.

The client also used some practical strategies as making a time-table to implement the task that he is postponing and set a time-limit to each task. He also used this strategy – he started doing a task that energizes him, and then without a break quickly switch to the task that he has been putting off.

Imagery technique is also used, “Visualize and bring to mind a very vivid and real picture of organizing the wardrobe. Use all your senses to make the image as real as possible. In this image notice any obstacles coming up that get in the way of the task, and visualize yourself successfully overcoming those obstacles and following through with the task to completion. In the image, focus particularly on the good feeling you have when the task is complete. Once the task is successfully completed in your mind, use the momentum from the visualization to get going on the task in real life.”

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So, the client applied these therapeutic techniques to overcome chronic procrastination and use them to organize his wardrobe and control chronic procrastination. However, the client was still anxious that it would influence his marital adjustment. So, I referred him to a marriage and a family therapist. The therapist recommended the client to undergo premarital counselling or premarital preparation and enrichment. 

Premarital counseling is a type of therapy that helps couples prepare for marriage. The client and his partner would be together in the session and the client would talk about his problems that might lead to conflict in marriage. The issues would be openly discussed and the therapist would help to resolve any conflicts that may arise. Client’s partner would also become aware about his problems and it will help in better communication. A couple’s resource map can be developed. Hence, the client will be able to overcome the anxiety and worry that is about procrastination and its impact on the marriage. This would prepare the couple to cope with the problems in the marriage. 

Hence, counselling is indeed going to be a positive intervention and help the client to cope with chronic procrastination and establish self-control. It will help him to deal with his anxiety and worry about marital adjustment. Pre-marital counselling will help the client to develop conflict-resolution skills and better communication with his partner and promote marital satisfaction.

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