Procrastinators Anonymous is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength and hope with each other that they may solve their common problem and help others to recover from chronic procrastination.

Depression cause of procrastination?

Just had enlightening talk with s.o. and realized that I have probably been suffering from an extremely long bout of depression, which led me to totally letting my life go (not applying for jobs, getting evicted, etc.)

It's like that normal "warning bell" inside me isn't ringing, isn't doing anything, like I'm in a comatose state emotionally. I think it's probably from post-trauma: hospitalization and diagnosis of chronic illness 2 years ago, being left by ex, finding out he's living with/marrying someone else, getting monthly financial support from family pulled from me at the same time I found out about ex, losing several friends from an argument -- all happened to me. That's when I went into 12-step recovery for 4 months, went into church ... and I got that "safe" feeling and just didn't take action. Needed that comfort like a baby blanket .. and totally dropped the ball as a result. 

Anyone else notice a correlation with depression/post-trauma and avoidance/procrastination? 

From CS Lewis: 'A Grief Observed':

"And no one ever told me about the laziness of grief. Except at my job - where the machine seems to run on much as usual - I loathe the slightest effort. Not only writing but even reading a letter is too much. Even shaving. What does it matter now whether my cheek is rough or smooth?

They say an unhappy man wants distractions - something to take him out of himself. Only as a dog-tired man wants an extra blanket on a cold night; he'd rather lie there shivering than get up and find one. It's easy to see why the lonely become untidy; finally, dirty and disgusting."

I know Lewis is talking about grief here, which isn't quite the same, but this really resonates for me with how I feel when I have depression.


Re: loathing the slightest effort ... from CS Lewis

Now that describes it perfectly, thanks for posting, Elvira!

A grief observed

That is such an accurate description of my present state of grief - managing at work but everything else is just too much.  I must go and read the book I think.


"loathing the slightest effort"

wow, that really describes my recent state. How curious that i just mentioned c.s.lewis in another post and then i see he was already quoted here--both on the same day :)

the touch of the master's hand:

fall down seven times, get up eight - japanese proverb


RE: Depression cause of procrastination?

Hi Lavida,

Depression could cause procrastination, or it could be vice-versa (procrastinate a little, feel a little down as you've failed to achieve anything, procrastinate more, start to feel like you're intrinsically lazy, procrastinate more, start to feel like you're completely useless/worthless, etc.).

Or it could be something else which is causing both things. I reckon you're on to something when you say "post-trauma" is causing your procrastination. My procrastination has come after a period of me feeling beat-down by life too.

I've been reading Prof. Martin Seligman's 'Learned Optimism' book recently , and it's made me think it could be this 'third option' that's causing procrastination. His argument is backed by lots of evidence from "learned helplessness" experiments where clever psychologists torture dogs and rats (look it up, it's really interesting). He doesn't talk about procrastination, but he does talk about the link between depression and pessimism.

Basically, if you've got a pessimistic world view, you're likely to give up at the first sign of difficulty, and eventually become depressed; whereas if you've got an optimistic world view you'll find solving problems in your life much easier, not just because you'll try harder to solve them, but because you'll "just know" there's a way out of your problem, and because of this you'll find novel ways to get out of your predicament. Pessimistic/depressed people, on the other hand, could have the answer staring them in the face and still think "there's no point trying, it probably won't work".

According to Professor S it comes from the loss of control - if you have been exposed to a long period when you couldn't control your life, no matter what you tried to do about it, then this might have trained you to give up trying. Some people are pretty much immune to being trained (optimists) and others don't take much negative training before they learn to give up without trying (pessimists).

The theory is that it's all to do with how you interpret problems/life events - if you think about it as being your fault (personal), as something which will lead to everything you touch turning bad (pervasive) and that you're never going to be able to do anything about it (permanent) then you're seriously pessimistic, and in danger of becoming depressed. The reverse applies to positive events (thinking 'I was just lucky','I'm only successful in this one thing, never in anything else' and 'it's a one-off'). This isn't the same thing as being depressed in his view, as you can think this way about life without being depressed (and thinking about it, I do... all the time. I am a massive pessimist).

From that I've jumped to the conclusion that this could be the reason we procrastinate as well (thinking "this is too difficult, it'll take too much effort, I'll never be able to do it as well as I should be able to do it, what's the point?" and also, when you do actually achieve something, not giving yourself the credit you deserve. "Explanatory style" is something which I'm sure pro has talked about, and it's what I just explained above - the main point in Seligman's book, so I'm not the first to think of the link with procrastination by a long way.

So in this view it's pessimism that leads to depression (and I reckon to procrastination too). Pessimism that comes from being powerless. The post-trauma thing you're talking about would fit the bill nicely.

Seligman's answer to getting out of this rut of pessimistic thinking is to change how you interpret events in your life through Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. Given how CBT is used to successfully treat addictions like alcoholism, and PA is based on the AA twelve steps, which also very successfully treats alcoholism, I can't help thinking it's all pushing in the same direction - we need external help to see that things are worth doing, that when we achieve something, it is you/me that has achieved it (or helped achieve it) by choosing to do what we did, and that this is great and we are awesome. And conversely, when things go wrong it's often something that's not our fault but equally, whatever it is, it's actually not that important in the grand scheme of things, we'll get over it, and  there is always something we can do to overcome it.

Or something. I dunno. I can tell you and myself these things til I'm blue in the face, and neither of us will really internalise them and start living our lives by them; but I do hope to learn these things here.


A cogent synthesis

Dave, thank you for your review of Seligman's book.  Typically, when we experience depression, practice procrastination, suffer trauma, etc.  we can only feel the onslaught of emotions overtaking our lives.  We feel powerless to push back and must spend all our efforts to just hang on (but, as pessimists, we know deep down that it is losing battle).  So it is really enlightening to learn that someone has put all these pieces togethers in a coherent whole.  Now, we can see how depression, pessimism, trauma and procrastination feed on each other.  May be this means that if we can find an effective way to deal with one of these "demons" -- say, managing procrastination through PA -- then we have taken a effective step towards address the rest of them as well (just trying to practice a little optimism here).     Hamlet

RE: Depression cause of procrastination?

Hi Dave, I second what movingalong said ... that is great! Thanks for your insightful post. This part really hit home:

"if you have been exposed to a long period when you couldn't control your
life, no matter what you tried to do about it, then this might have
trained you to give up trying."

This holds true for me for sure, as I was raised by two extremely aggressive-minded, action-oriented, controlling people who were opinionated and took the reins in everything. It taught me to be passive, put things off, etc. That feeling that someone else would always take care of everything. And I also happen to be a major pessimist as well. 

I've done CBT before, and it definitely helps. I've never really stuck with it though, as the pessimism always seemed to have a life of its own. I feel like I'd need therapy for life to become positive using CBT. And it's one of those things that I kind of gave up on after so many years on and off of therapy (not just with CBT though, which I do know is effective). There's just that inner pull that resists the CBT, you know? Not to mention that I don't have money for therapy and even if I did, not sure I'd continue with it. 

But anyway ... thanks for your thoughts on the subject!


"learned helpnessness" vs. optimism/resourcefulness/flow/action

Thanks for your post above.
All I can say is ...
Wow ... that was exactly what I needed to read today.
Thank you!