NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Thursday, March 28, 2013

Overcoming Procrastination in an Uncertain World

Living in an uncertain world, most of us would love to have access to a crystal ball where we could determine with absolute certainty what was going to happen in our lives, especially when we're faced with major decisions.  I'm sure we'd like some happy surprises from time to time just to keep things interesting.  Unfortunately, much of the time we're attempting to make decisions based on whatever information we have at the time so, as adults, we need to be able to tolerate a certain amount of uncertainty.

Uncertainty and Procrastination
One of the problems with feeling the need for absolute certainty before taking action is that it leads to procrastination for many people.  Constantly weighing the pros and cons, seeking more and more information, and ruminating about the possible outcomes can keep you stuck in your tracks.  So, it's important to realize that if you've stuck obsessively weighing every possible outcome to a decision, you could procrastinate indefinitely and not take much-needed action.

Overcoming Procrastination and the Need for Absolute Certainty

The following fictionalized vignette, which is based on many cases with no identifying information revealed, illustrates how the need for absolute certainty can become problematic and what can be done to overcome this problem:

Nina was raised by a single mother, who struggled financially to take care of Nina and her three other children.  Every financial decision that Nina's mother made was carefully weighed in the context of their limited household budget and the mother's insecure job as a non-unionized factory employee.

Nina's mother worried a lot about what she would do and how the family would survive if she lost her job.  Even as a young child, Nina was very aware that she and her family lived in the shadow of constant uncertainty.

Nina knew from stories her mother told her that the boss at the factory would fire employees at the drop of a hat.  So, whenever her mother came home looking anxious, which was often, Nina held her breath and her first anxious thought was that her mother had lost her job.  When she realized that her mother was reacting to something else that happened at work and she had not lost her job, Nina would let out a sigh of relief and breathe normally again.

Nina did well in school and she managed to get a scholarship to go to college, which was fortunate because her mother didn't have the money to pay for college and Nina feared the possibility of being in debt with student loans and not being able to pay them back.

After college, Nina had two excellent job offers, but she had a hard time making a choice.  She weighed the pros and cons of both job offers. She researched each company thoroughly.
She sought advice from her college advisors and her friends.  But even with all this information, Nina felt paralyzed to make a decision.

After a few weeks, one of the companies rescinded the offer and gave the job to someone else.  So, fearing she might lose the other offer, Nina quickly accepted the other job.

By the time Nina came to therapy several years later, she had many other similar experiences where she struggled and procrastinated to the point where she felt too paralyzed to move forward.  Even though she earned a very good salary, she was living as if she was still part of a household that was always strapped for cash.  Basically, she was reliving her mother's experience without realizing it.

Our work together involved using clinical hypnosis and Somatic Experiencing to help Nina overcome her childhood trauma of an impoverished family life.

We worked on helping Nina to feel less emotionally enmeshed with her mother's experience and to feel like a separate person.

We also worked to help her "update" her emotional experience to reflect that she was no longer an anxious child worrying about whether the family would survive.  Of course, Nina already knew this on a rational level, but she didn't feel it on an emotional level.

Then, to start, we worked on getting Nina to get comfortable making relatively low-risk decisions, so she could begin to overcome her habitual pattern of procrastination.  Over time, we progressed to more complex decisions.  Rather than just talking about her problem, each week Nina worked on a particular task that we agreed upon in advance and then she came back the following week to talk about her experience.

The work wasn't easy or quick for Nina, but she was motivated to overcome her need for absolute certainty because she was tired of living her life filled with anxiety about personal decisions to the point where she felt paralyzed.  And, gradually, she made progress.  She developed a greater emotional capacity to tolerate uncertainty, a new sense of self confidence, and an ability to take action.

Clinical Hypnosis and Somatic Experiencing Can Help You to Overcome Trauma and the Need for Absolute Certainty That Causes Procrastination
My experience as a psychotherapist, who has worked with many adult clients who are affected by childhood trauma, a fear of change, and habitual procrastination, is that just talking about it in therapy isn't enough.  People often develop insight and an intellectual understanding of their problems when they just talk about it but, often, this doesn't result in change.

Both clinical hypnosis and Somatic Experiencing, as I use them, allow psychotherapy clients to have a mind-body connection experience so the therapeutic work isn't just on an intellectual level.  Clients tend to experience it on an emotional and physical as well as intellectual level.  It's a holistic experience that provides an opportunity for an emotional shift to occur so that clients can take action to make changes.

I've included links below under Resources so you can find out more about clinical hypnosis and Somatic Experiencing.

Taking Action
Taking action is an important component in my work with clients.  While talking about the problem is important, it's vital that the client take action to make changes, otherwise, more than likely, the problem isn't going to change, especially when the problem is about procrastination, fear and dealing with uncertainty.

Overcoming Procrastination:  Getting Help in Therapy

Getting Help in Therapy
If you're having problems overcoming habitual procrastination, you owe it to yourself to get help from a skilled, licensed mental heath professional who works with clients on this issue.

Imagine what your life might be like in five or 10 or 20 years if you continue to have this problem.   Then, try to imagine what your life could be like if you were free from this problem and you could be more confident and spontaneous in the world.

Which life would you prefer?

About Me
I am a licensed New York City psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist. 

I work with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website:  Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.