How Cognitive Behavioural Therapy Can Help You Overcome Your Procrastination

by Leigh Adley
Cognitive behavioural therapy

Procrastination is the act of delaying or postponing things. Putting off tasks once in a while is perfectly understandable.

However, when it becomes chronic, procrastination can impair your performance or efficiency. So, how can you treat this condition? One of the best treatments available is cognitive behavioural treatment or CBT. This psychotherapy treatment has the following benefits:

  • Short-term
  • Goal-oriented
  • Problem-oriented

CBT utilises a hands-on and practical approach which is designed to find solutions to current problems by altering:

  • How you think (cognitive)
  • How you feel (behaviour)

It also aims to promote a helpful behavioural response to a range of conditions, including:

  • Obsessive-compulsive disorders such as perfectionism
  • Addictions to substances such as alcohol, cigarettes or drugs

How CBT can help you deal with negative situations

CBT can enable you to change your reactions whenever you are confronted by undesirable situations. For example, thinking you’re a failure because you procrastinate isn’t ideal. Therefore, CBT encourages you to consider such scenarios as learning experiences, which in turn helps you to move on.

By reacting positively, you will feel confident and energised. The CBT process begins by:

  • Identifying the problem
  • Setting up goals that are attainable and realistic
  • Promoting frequent feedback
  • Establishing important lines of communication
  • Employing reality checks
  • Using tools that will encourage positive behavioural change and personal growth

What processes are involved in a CBT session?

A cognitive behaviour therapy session may involve one-to-one or group meetings with a therapist, and several sessions may be required. The therapist will begin treating your procrastination problems by utilising a step-by-step plan.

  1. The therapist will initially break down the causes of your procrastination. This will cover several areas, including:
  • Actions
  • Emotions
  • Physical feelings
  • Thoughts

2. The therapist will then guide you so that you can determine which of these characteristics are triggering your procrastination. This can also help you realise which of your beliefs, behaviours or thoughts are causing the problem. 

3. Subsequently, you will have a good idea of how each element is affecting you.

4. You will then be able to find a solution so that you can discard behaviours and thoughts that do not help your personal growth. In turn, you will replace them with realistic and empowering ways of thinking. Furthermore, you will be able to apply the lessons learned during a CBT session to future situations.

There are several CBT tools for overcoming procrastination:
  1. Activating Positive Behaviour
  • You can break your procrastination habits by taking on tasks you would much rather avoid. This requires incremental exposure since an individual’s unwillingness to go through discomforts is often the trigger for procrastination.
  • The therapy will take into account your personality, values and expectations in order to alter your way of thinking. This treatment varies and requires the assistance of a therapist who will be able to use their expertise to help you assess the type of actions or behaviours you should adopt to overcome your procrastination.

2. Experiments in Behaviour

  • Through behavioural experiments, you can re-evaluate the methods you use to achieve your goals; you can discover whether your way of doing things is realistic or not. 
  • You can also reduce your procrastination by stimulating your behaviour. For example, mastering a task can give you a sense of accomplishment. One popular tool in this regard is coping cards; you make a note of your coping strategy or plan on a card which you can then keep and use to overcome your procrastination.

3. Training to be Mindful

  • People can be trained to sharpen their thoughts and feelings without being judgemental. For example, you should consider avoiding feeling bad about yourself for the times you have procrastinated. 
  • Being mindful can help people straighten their distorted thought processes and connect to the present. Such thinking can enable individuals to focus on difficult tasks without resorting to negative emotional or psychological reactivity.

4. Exposure Therapy

  • This type of therapy is also extremely effective in terms of reducing anxiety. It exposes people to situations that can make them anxious but the therapist will only subject them to an anxiety level they can tolerate. 
  • The person must remain in this situation for a specific period of time until the anxious feeling goes away. This process will continue to push the individual to face more challenging conditions. 

To illustrate this point, it can be beneficial to use a timer or an alarm to limit the amount of time you spend on specific tasks. Such a strategy is helpful for people who take an hour to do a 30-minute chore. By working to a deadline, you are forced to stay focused.

5. Voice Training

This training is a way of externalising the worry and distress you experience. The goal is to silence your inner critic and to enable you to stop worrying. It involves five steps:

  • Awareness – what is your inner critic saying?
  • Interrogation – what is the basis for your critic’s statement?
  • Analysis – compare this message with your emotions
  • Fighting – change the lies (the critic’s message) to reality or truth
  • Maintenance – confidently manage any relapses

6. Controlling your stimulus

The presence or absence of a stimulus can trigger certain behaviours. For example, if you are consuming snacks while on a break, this could signify that the stimulus of taking breaks is controlling your eating habits. 

Such environmental cues can induce you to work or to procrastinate. The objective of this technique is to learn which stimulus motivates you and to avoid procrastination. There are two ways of achieving this.

  • Removing distractions – in today’s world, the prevalence of smartphones and social media is a problem for people who are fond of procrastinating. Therefore, to help you finish your work, you should consider silencing your phone and disconnecting from social media. In addition, taking small breaks can help you maintain your productivity and focus.
  • Rewarding yourself – when you complete a job or task, consider rewarding yourself. For example, taking a coffee break after finishing a task can boost your spirits. The purpose of this exercise is to associate the completion of work with positive activities; it’s like being able to have a dessert after you have eaten your vegetables.


There are plenty of experts out there who are more than ready to offer guidance on how to combat procrastination. However, a great deal of their advice is useless since procrastination is often deeply ingrained in people. CBT can help procrastinators as it offers them practical ways of changing their way of thinking. The individual can discover the reason for their procrastination and then develop an action plan to overcome any issues. CBT is useful because it helps people to adapt their focus, mindset and way of thinking to deal with the procrastination.

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