Procrastination Case Study

A University student in her early 20’s came to me for a few things including for hypnosis to stop her from procrastinating.

She was studying pharmacy and part of her being a high achiever was that she was always leaving her exam studies until the last days and cramming like mad.

She was becoming bothered by it and had finally come for help.

Now before I say any more, let me ask you.

What would you recommend for this young woman?

Even if you know nothing about hypnosis, what would you suggest she change?

I didn’t end up using hypnosis, and in fact this particular change was done in a single session.

Would you have done what I did?

I’ll continue…

I checked a few extra things.

First of all I checked what her results were. She was getting either distinctions or at worst credits for all her results.

Next I asked her what exactly was bothering her about her procrastination.

She told me that her friends and even some of her family were pointing out to her how bad it was that she was cramming like this.

So I enquired further how bad it was, and it turned out that she was putting her head into her studies for all the hours she was awake for about 48 hours before the exam. No other life at all.

She was getting very stressed about this behavior during the cramming. She was also worrying about this at other times during the university term too, and more and more this was playing on her mind. She had tried to set up better , more consistent study habits but with no success.

However she was otherwise healthy, happy and social, and she was not taking drugs, going without sleep, or doing anything else that might be damaging.

At this point I asked her the key question…

“Are the people who are telling you how bad your cramming is, getting better grades than you?”

Her answer came back, “No. They certainly aren’t.”

At this point I started to describe the antics of some of the people I studied with when I went to medical school, and what some of the top achievers were doing to get their amazing results.

I gave her my assessment.

Could she have better study habits?

Probably. But she was getting good results from her current ones, and her future plans probably only required the level of results she was getting at the moment.

Was her problem procrastination?

Not right now it wasn’t. Her problem was that she was taking advice from people who’s performance wasn’t as good as her own. If she followed their advice and did what they recommended she would likely end up with their results.

Should she ever change what she was doing?

If she wanted to, yes certainly. My suggestion was that she have a think about whether SHE was unhappy with the effects of the way she studied. If she was, then we could do something about it. In the meantime she could decide what advice to listen to by checking what results the person was getting.

She came back a week later, much less stressed, and not wanting any changes in this area.

What have people advised you about the suitability or otherwise of procrastination in your life?

What would you have done differently for this woman?

-Dr Martin Russell

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14 thoughts on “Procrastination Case Study”

  1. Jan Dodds says:

    Spot on . . . if something isn’t broken, then why fix it? How often though do we consider what other people think . . . sometimes that is valuable when we are sorting through issues, harvesting lots of different opinions. However, as long as we make the final choice based on information we have sorted, then that is the best outcome.

  2. I love this! I started chuckling about half way through as I suspected what you were going to tell your client. “If it ain’t broke, why fix it?”

    We need to stop listening to people who are less successful than we are, who don’t have what we want and who can’t help us get what we want, and find people who can help us move forward toward our dreams and goals.

    Great post, Martin!

  3. Nice post, Martin.

    When I was in school, I procrastinated on term papers and other major projects. I got good grades, so the procrastination didn’t seem to hurt me.

    In the many years since college…when I’ve been working the “real world” … procrastination often hurt me two ways.

    First, being responsible for many major projects at one time caused me to miss deadlines that hurt relationships with clients.

    Second, during the years that I continued to procrastinate … I paid a price in experiencing high stress frequently when I finally had to finish projects at the last minute.

    So I’d suggest talking to the young woman about the long-term price she might pay for continuing to procrastinate. How to get a young person to visualize the future and make decisions based on that seems like yet another challenge. 🙂

  4. Gary,

    It’s a question of purpose and motivation.

    My assessment was that by re-directing her attention to her own results she would respond to exactly the feedback you describe.

    Sometimes I make this challenge of people and they come back and say, “Hey they are right, and I am a stress-bunny.” Then the motivation is in the right place.

    If not, then better self-assessing means that the future-proofing is already in built in with whatever future challenges she faces. Including the difficulties you mention from your own experience.

    I didn’t say DON’T change. I said change on your own terms.

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    It doesn’t even have to be about procrastination – it could be about anything you do that isn’t the norm. For instance, when I was in college, I prefered staying in on Saturday nights than going out drinking. I’d get the “I’m worried about you, what’s wrong with you?” comments from friends, and then I began to seriously question my social life. Like this woman, I tried switching to a more “normal” course of doing things, but discovered I wasn’t happy, and that I really was fine with staying in on Saturdays.

    It’s all about learning what’s best for you and really thinking about others’ advice – popular opinion or not – before following through with it.

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