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Home » A 12-Step Program for Procrastination – ADDitude

A 12-Step Program for Procrastination – ADDitude

If you’ve ever been or loved someone with obsessive habits, you know that recovery is a journey of many steps — and setbacks. The 12-step program originally developed by Alcoholics Anonymous provides clear and helpful sign posts along the way — reminders of direction and purpose. I have personally benefited from the 12-steps and I’ve started using them as a framework in my work with teens battling procrastination.
As a mental health professional, one of the biggest challenges I see in my patients is procrastination. Everyone procrastinates, including myself. One of my shortcomings is folding laundry. I’ll take one article of clothing out of a packed dryer and shut the door rather than fold a whole load. As you can imagine, this makes my wife’s head explode.
Procrastination is annoying, but the problem is larger than that: The more we do it, the more habitual and tough to break the procrastination habit becomes. Charles Duhigg, the Pulitzer-prize winning reporter and author of books on productivity, explains that habits are formed and reinforced with a predictable pattern: Cue, routine, reward. It may look something like this:
Habits can follow a similar pattern. For example:
While the effects of drug or alcohol abuse are more immediate and life-threatening, for sure, chronic procrastination can result in painful consequences with poor work performance, lost opportunities, and/or health concerns. Piers Steel, who teaches human resources and organizational dynamics at the University of Calgary, suggests one way to stop procrastinating is to follow what people do in recovery with their particular vice — putting off one thing after another for days, even weeks before you pull it together.
[Self-Test: How Seriously Do You Procrastinate?]
As someone in recovery, I can relate to this approach and often use it when working with teens with ADHD. The 12-steps were originally developed to treat alcoholism and have been adapted over the years to successfully address a wide range of issues such as Al-Anon (family and friends of alcoholics), Gamblers Anonymous, Nicotine Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous, etc. The language of the 12 steps may not directly apply to the chronic delaying of tasks, but the general themes can be helpful. I use these themes as a framework for breaking a bad procrastination habit.
This is where we admit we have a problem with procrastination, admit it’s causing major difficulties in our lives, and become willing to accept help.
Actions:
[Free Resource: Finish Your To-Do List TODAY]
This is where we get into the details of our procrastination habit and why it is happening. We also discuss this with another person and begin to take actions to change problematic patterns of behavior.
Actions:
Make a list of common things you put off.
Now look over your list and identify your common patterns of behavior and triggers that lead to procrastination.
Here, we take responsibility for the negative impact of our procrastination — on ourselves and others — and try to make it right. This phase really is about forgiveness and releasing shame.
Actions:
This is the maintenance phase of combating procrastination, through monitoring our behavior, aligning with our values, and acting in ways that are of service to others.
Actions:
One of the key missing components traditionally found in a 12-step program is frequent social support. As such, you may find it helpful to buddy up with someone who also struggles with procrastination so that you can support each other’s efforts toward positive change.
While some tasks will inevitably be avoided or delayed from time to time, you do not have to go down the slippery slope into a procrastination bender. And if you do find yourself on a bender, try not to judge yourself too harshly. As they say in recovery, “We strive for progress not perfection.” Once you notice you’re delaying, jump back into Step One again and resolve to break the procrastination habit. Or as my wife likes to say, “Just get back in there and fold the whole load, please.”
[Read This: Preventing Procrastination 101]
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