Procrastination is the art of putting things off to another time. In particular, when we need to get something done, we delay, and delay, until the delay affects our life negatively. If we are a student, we may delay completing our work. If we run a home, we may delay home improvements. If we need to improve our health, we delay the actions necessary to lose weight or get fit.
Why do we do it?
Here are six reasons why humans tend to put things off to another time:
- LACK OF REWARD. Our reward system is geared up for immediate reward. We prefer short term comfort to long term satisfaction. Completing project work, making home improvements, losing weight, or getting fit – they are all examples of behaviours that require delayed reward.
- LACK OF HOPE. We lack hope. Somewhere in our spirit, we are lacking the belief that we can really achieve what we want to achieve. So we fail early, so that we don’t have to face failure later.
- PERFECTIONISM. We wait for the perfect time which never comes. Perfectionism is the enemy of making a start.
- OVERWHELM. We get easily overwhelmed. We may be alone, and lack social support. Or we may be unpractised, and not be used to hard effort. We may also be fearful, and/or good at projecting fear onto other people, arguing that our fear means that we simply can’t do it.
- EXHAUSTION. We may be easily tired, and not good at pacing ourselves.
- MENTAL ILLNESS. We may be suffering from anxiety or depression. Anxiety often involves an avoidant response to time pressure (we want to run a mile instead of doing what is necessary). Depression often involves a despairing response (we just don’t see the point, and don’t believe it’ll work out).
Related to the above, here are 6 things we can do to counteract procrastination and keep ourselves on an improvement path.
- Build short term reward systems. Divide your projects into small steps, and reward yourself after each one. This teaches your unconscious to be more responsive to your commands.
- Start living as though you were already achieving. This is a subtle way to create hope. Try to build an identity (behaviour, dress, communication) that takes on the attributes you want in the future.
- Make a start. Use the diary to plan your first step, and do that. Don’t wait for a perfect view of the whole. That’s not how adventures happen.
- Build social support. Rely on those who are consistently encouraging. Build a little network for yourself.
- Pace yourself. Linked to point 1 (reward systems), learn to build gaps between each step, and learn to relax and celebrate.
- Speak to doctors and mental health experts. You may need medical or therapeutic intervention. Those who work a lot with anxiety and depression can help you build effectiveness, and feel less alone.
Procrastination is extremely common. I would even say it is a natural response to the rather artificial goals we sometimes set for ourselves. But if you want goal focus, then:
- Reward yourself frequently
- Take on a positive identity
- Make a start – don’t wait
- Build a social support team
- Work in manageable chunks
- Use doctors and therapists where necessary