I’ve lost count of the number of people who have referred to some task or other over the past few weeks and said to me, “I’m not even going to think about it till after Christmas”. 

Well, it is after Christmas now; and it’s 2024. So, are we all raring to go?  

Some individuals doubtless will progress their plans. But it’s likely that at least 50% won’t, because of that major stumbling block called “procrastination” or “putting things off”. 

When I give talks on Positive Ageing to U3A groups, Women’s Institute branches and so on, I sometimes say: “Most of us, no matter how active and resourceful we are, have a problem that niggles away at us because it needs sorting, but we never do anything about it”.  And as soon as

I’ve said it, there’s a murmur of agreement from the audience and quite a lot of head nodding too.    

In my last column of 2023, I mentioned a friend called George who had worked hard to reverse the symptoms of type 2 diabetes. In his own words, he had been “an obese couch potato” before taking himself in hand and making substantial changes. But he triumphed and his only regret now is that he didn’t do it sooner. 

  1. However, just like so many of us, for years, he had been put off by negative thoughts, including: If I eat less, I’ll be hungry and I hate that 
  2. Exercise doesn’t work for me; it makes me sweaty

If George had been able to challenge these thoughts and come to realise they were 
probably untrue, or didn’t matter much, then replace them with more useful ones, he might never have developed diabetes.  
    Good alternatives would have been: 

  1. If I make the effort to alter my lifestyle, I’ll be fitter, enjoy life more and, hopefully, live longer
  2. I’ll take a step at a time – and get advice
  3. It’s within my power to stop being a burden to my family and the NHS. 

To be fair, in the end he did learn to think and act differently, but only after his 
diagnosis, and scaring himself witless by reading that diabetes can lead to blindness, impotence or even to the amputation of limbs.   

George is not alone. Loads of us procrastinate about our health but there are also plenty of other things we put off.   

I once had a client I’m going to call Angie, who was a freelance features writer. She was enormously talented and turned out witty, inventive articles that readers loved.

However, she had a reputation with editors for being unreliable as she invariably delivered her material late – and the reason for that was that she never started the work till the very last moment. Indeed, she would go out of her way to indulge in all manner of displacement activities such as ringing a friend, going out for coffee, visiting the gym, or even cleaning the windows. 

Deep down, for all her success, she worried that her luck might run out and she would fail to have a good idea, or that her writing would be poor, and no one would like it. 

So, we worked on challenging her anxieties and establishing that nothing was certain in the freelance world but that she was unlikely to suddenly lose the knack of penning a good piece. We also talked about the law of averages and how it would be difficult to write an award-winning article every time, but quite possible to turn out something that was “good enough”.

Often, procrastinators also have perfectionist traits.

And it’s hard to make ourselves do something if our standards are too high and we worry that we won’t meet them.

But we have to learn that no one is perfect. All we can do, is our best. And usually if we can grasp this, it helps us get going.  
Rationalising her thoughts did help Angie. But not enough. So, we had to tackle her behaviour.

And this is what we came up with. From the next morning, when she woke up, she was to walk through to her workspace, even if she was still drowsy, open her computer, create a document and write at least three sentences – and only after that could she go to the loo, brush her teeth, switch on the radio and make coffee. 

And that’s what she did. And it became a routine and worked well for her – even though sometimes those sentences didn’t make it into the final version. But the crucial factor was that she broke the pattern of her previous, damaging behaviour.  

Big changes inevitably require us to alter two parts of us – our thinking and our behaviour. And the truth is that we all have important tasks to do, or improvements we know we should make, that we don’t relish, but generally we feel so much better when we’ve done them. Frequently, they’re boring. But no one ever died of boredom.

Leaving the tasks undone though can be seriously problematic or even fatal. 
So, shall we make 2024 the year we all kick procrastination into the long grass?  

You’ll be amazed at what you can achieve if you do. Happy new year!