Mindsets Commonly Associated with Procrastination and Do-Nothingism
Catie Peters, ASW
You know that intense negative thinking that happens when you’re feeling depressed? It’s likely causing you to experience some heavy, self-defeating emotions, persistent lethargy, and feelings of inadequacy. Don’t let these harmful thoughts slip past you!
While we often operate under the misguided belief that all of our thoughts are facts, they often are not. Many of our thoughts are inaccurate, with distorted perceptions and assumptions. Cognitive distortions often surface automatically in situations, so we don’t think to question their accuracy or helpfulness. Here lies a key to influencing your depressed mood: recognizing when a thought is a cognitive distortion and what makes that thought inaccurate or unhelpful.
Now let’s talk about what Dr. David Burns calls “do-nothingism.” Have you noticed that when you are feeling more depressed, it can feel as though your willpower has been paralyzed? Maybe you procrastinate on chores, you have a hard time getting out of bed, or maybe you have found yourself not caring as much about goals you thought were important to you. As you continue to feel more and more unmotivated, every activity starts to seem so difficult that you become overcome by the urge to. . . do nothing. This is “do-nothingism.” As you continue to accomplish very little, you continue to feel even worse and maybe even develop some self-hatred. Self-defeating mindsets can keep you stuck in this emotional prison.
When you notice that you are feeling depressed about something, try to take a step back from your thinking and identify a corresponding negative thought. Look for thoughts that occurred just before and during the depressed feeling. These thoughts are likely perpetuating, or even creating, your depressed mood. By identifying and restructuring these thoughts, you can change your mood.
Here’s a list of 13 types of mindsets that are most commonly associated with procrastination and do-nothingism. You may notice that you experience one or many of these when you are feeling down. The good news is that you are reading this article! You can now start becoming aware of which thoughts are more harmful than helpful, and your therapist can help you navigate cognitive restructuring.
- Frozen in the pain of the present moment, you forget entirely that you ever felt better in the past, and find it inconceivable that you might feel more positive in the future.
- Therefore, any activity seems pointless because you are sure that your lack of motivation and sense of oppression are irreversible life sentences that you have no control over.
- You can’t possibly do anything that will make yourself feel better because you think that your moods are entirely caused by things beyond your control (e.g. fate, hormone cycles, dietary factors, luck, and other people’s evaluations of you).
3. Overwhelming Yourself
- Magnifying a task to the degree that it seems impossible to tackle
- Assuming you must do everything at once rather than breaking each job down into small, manageable parts
- Distracting yourself from the task at hand by obsessing over countless other things that you haven’t gotten around to doing yet
4. Jumping to Conclusions
- Sensing that it’s not within your power to take effective action that will lead to satisfaction because you are in the habit of saying, “I can’t” or “I would, but . . .”
- The more you procrastinate, the more you label yourself as inferior, further eroding your self-confidence.
- The problem is compounded when you label yourself as a “procrastinator” or “lazy person.”
- Doing this causes you to view your lack of effective action as the “real you” and so you automatically expect little from yourself.
6. Undervaluing the Rewards
- Failing to initiate any meaningful activity because you conceive any task to be terribly difficult and you feel the reward simply wouldn’t be worth the effort.
- Disqualifying the positive
- This can look like discrediting your efforts or filtering out all of the positive evidence about you/your performance.
- Defeating yourself with inappropriate goals and standards
- You feel it’s only valuable if you can do it perfectly, or you won’t do it at all.
8. Fear of Failure
- Paralyzed in fear
- You imagine that putting in the effort it would take, and not succeeding, would be too overwhelming of a personal defeat, so you don’t try at all
- If I fail at this, it means I will fail at everything
- Product orientation
- Product orientation: evaluating your performance exclusively on the outcome regardless of your individual effort
9. Fear of Success
- Since you feel sure you will eventually fall off the cliff, it seems safer not to go mountain climbing at all.
- You anticipate that if you have any success, people will make even greater demands of you that you cannot keep up with, so you avoid any commitment or involvement.
10. Fear of Disapproval or Criticism
- You think that if you try something new, any mistake will be criticized and met with strong disapproval. You worry that the people you care about won’t accept you if you are human and imperfect.
- If you don’t make any effort, you can’t mess up.
11. Coercion and Resentment
- When you try to motivate yourself with moralistic “shoulds” and “oughts” (“I should do this”; “I have to do that”).
- Then you feel obliged, burdened, tense, resentful, and guilty. You feel like a delinquent under discipline.
- Feeling under intense pressure to perform—every task gets painted with such unpleasantness that you can’t stand to face it, so you procrastinate.
12. Low Frustration Tolerance
- You assume that solving your problems and reaching your goals should happen so easily and quickly, so when you hit obstacles, you go into a frenzied state of panic and rage.
- This frustration results from the habit of comparing reality with an ideal in your head.
- When the two don’t match, you condemn reality
13. Guilt and Self-blame
- When you are frozen in the belief that you are bad or have disappointed others, you will naturally feel unmotivated to participate in your daily life.
Do-nothingism creates the perfect opportunity to become preoccupied with negative, destructive thoughts---which impacts your actions that you use as evidence to support the validity of those distortions. Breaking this self-defeating cycle can feel really difficult. Working through observing and reframing your cognitions is key in influencing mood change. Your therapist can help you break these cognitive habits, and activate a new way of experiencing life. Please visit goodtherapysandiego.com or contact us at (619) 330-9500 to get started!
Burns, D. D. (2012). Feeling good: The new mood therapy. New York: Harper.