At first glance, procrastination seems like something that’s simply a nuisance in our lives.
Maybe we’d put procrastination in the bucket of our less-than-desirable-but-no-big-deal personality traits.
But what if it actually IS a big deal?
What if the impact that procrastination has on our lives is more widespread and more profound than we’ve ever really stopped to consider?
I think after reading this post, you’ll see procrastination in a whole new light and you may feel a stronger conviction to address it as it shows up in your own life.
Let me explain.
Back in December, we released an episode of the show in which I talked to Professor Tim Pychyl all about procrastination.
Professor Pychyl says that when we procrastinate, we are putting off our lives. He says:
“It is in the getting on with life that makes procrastination in a very real sense is an existential issue of not getting on with life itself….It’s not about becoming an uber productive money making machine – it’s about living the life [you] want to, achieving the goals [you] want to achieve rather than stewing in [your] own juices of guilt and shame which so commonly accompany procrastination.”
When you put off a task, you are delaying forward motion in your life. You are delaying progress towards moving to and through your goals, however big or small they might be.
And, though momentarily it may feel like a relief to procrastinate something, inevitably it ends up feeling like a weight on our shoulders.
Perhaps we end up in dread about that thing we know we need to do but aren’t doing. Feelings like guilt or feeling down on oneself for continuing to procrastinate something that’s important inevitably follow.
When we make a promise to ourselves to do something and we break that promise, it corrodes our sense of self-respect. Think of when you keep a promise you make to yourself – doesn’t it feel good deep down?
When there’s something we need to do and we don’t do it, it just feels awful.
Like another “Tim”, Tim Urban of the blog Wait But Why, says that when we procrastinate something we know needs to get done in order to do some things that seem more enjoyable, we actually don’t fully enjoy doing those pleasurable things. He calls this place “the dark playground”. We are on a “playground” engaging in enjoyable activities but we aren’t there with the feeling of total freedom because we know we’ve got this other thing looming over our heads.
So, not only are we not “getting on with our life” when we procrastinate, we are also polluting the potential for pleasure in the other moments of our life.
But that’s not all – the impact of procrastination goes even further.
The fact is, procrastination causes stress. You probably know this to be true in your own life and there’s plenty of scientific research that affirms your experience. We all know by know that chronic stress is linked to all kinds of health problems. You don’t want cortisol pumping through your body for extended periods of time.
In addition, procrastination is linked to fewer wellness behaviors and treatment delay. Think about it: you don’t want to go to the doctor so you put it off. Diagnosis and treatment are then delayed and that can seriously compromise the effectiveness of the treatment.
Here’s the good news:
The antidotes to procrastination are amazingly simple, doable and effective.
I work with my private clients on implementing these very practical techniques all the time.
And I’m going to share them with you.
Let me teach you 4 simple techniques.
The first technique can be summed up as: Don’t give in to feel good now because giving in now has a future cost.
As Professor Tim Pychyl says, procrastination is actually a form of self-regulation failure.
When you are tempted to procrastinate it’s because you’re having an emotional reaction to a task; Specifically, the “I don’t want to, I don’t feel like it” reaction. Perhaps the task makes you feel anxious, stressed, bored or full of dread and it’s human nature to want to avoid things that feel bad.
Avoidance is what Professor Pychyl calls an “emotion focused coping strategy”. But it’s a misregulation of emotion because we’re not really going to feel better in the long run. It’s just that the moment we get rid of the task we feel better, creating a habit.
And it’s the feeling better the moment we put something off that contributes to our bias when it comes to thinking about the future.
There’s this thing called Affective Forecasting. Essentially, we rely on the present to predict the future. The moment you decide “no I’m not going to do this today” you feel good. So then when you use that momentary feeling to predict how you’re going to feel tomorrow, you think you’ll feel like it tomorrow.
But you won’t. You won’t feel any more like doing it tomorrow than you do today. And that’s the truth.
“If you have to swallow a frog, don’t stare at it too long.”
– Mark Twain
In fact, you’ll feel the weight of this task until you do it. Remember the “dark playground”? That’s where you’ll be until you do the thing that you need to do.
The second technique has to do with ambiguity. It’s a common cause of procrastination.
If you don’t know what the specific next action to take is, you’ll procrastinate.
Often what we have on our to do lists are projects, like “host dinner party” or “get ready for upcoming trip”. The thing is, we don’t DO projects. We DO tasks. We take actions. What’s the next action?
For “host dinner party” the next action might be, “look at calendar to find a date to host dinner party”. Another action might be “make a list of people to invite” or “decide what to cook”. Those are specific tasks within the project of hosting a dinner party.
There’s another piece to this technique.
Once you’ve identified the specific action you need to take, you need to plan when (and possibly where, if that applies) you’ll do it.
Consider attaching the action to something else in your schedule.
For example: tomorrow morning after you walk the dog, you’re going to sit at the kitchen table and spend 5 minutes making a list of people you want to invite to your dinner party.
When it comes to taking the next right action, research shows if you know the specific what, when and where you’re 5x more likely to do it. That’s 500%. That warrants giving this technique a try, doesn’t it?
If you have an action or a task on your to do list and you approach it using these first 2 techniques, you’re less likely to keep procrastinating.
But not always.
That’s where the third and fourth techniques come in.
The third technique, simply put is: Just get started. Even if you don’t feel like it.
“What saves a man is to take a step. Then another step.”
Antoine De Saint-Exupery
See, momentum is a powerful thing. Once you start something, momentum will propel you forward.
The resistance you feel in getting started will not be there every step of the way. It gets easier to keep moving once you just take the first step and actually get moving.
Sometimes you have to trick yourself into getting started by making the first step really, really small and allowing yourself to only do that one small thing. If you do that small thing and want to stop afterwards, you can stop.
I use this strategy all the time when it comes to working out. I tell myself that all I have to do is put my workout clothes on. Then, after I’ve done that, I tell myself that all I have to do is drive to the gym, etc until inevitably, I’ve made it through the workout. It gets easier once I just get started.
Here’s a critical piece to this technique: Somehow, we get the idea that we have to be motivated or have the energy in the moment in order to do something. We assume that feeling like it precedes taking action.
But in reality, that doesn’t always happen. Especially with tasks that we tend to want to procrastinate.
Getting started or taking an action leads to the motivation or momentum to continue doing it.
“If you want to do something, begin it, because action has magic, grace, and power in it.”
Thinking we have to be in the “mood” to do something is fundamental contributor to procrastination.
Ok, the fourth and final technique is: Remember your motivation.
And it helps if your motivation is an intrinsic one rather than an extrinsic one.
An intrinsic motivation is one that comes from within you. It’s yours. You authored it. You want it. It’s personally satisfying to you.
An extrinsic motivation is one that comes from outside of you. Someone else authored it and now you think you should want it. There’s usually a form of getting a reward or avoiding a punishment associated with extrinsic motivations.
Here’s an example:
Let’s say you are the one who is responsible for making sure your spouse and/or kids have something to eat at meal time.
An example of extrinsic motivation when it comes to a healthy dinner would be because you heard a segment on the news about the importance of healthy eating at home.
There’s an expert telling you it’s important. You get that it’s “the right thing to do”.
But, at the end of a busy day when you have to muster up the energy to make that happen and it takes some effort, you cave in and drive through McDonalds on the way home.
An example of intrinsic motivation in that scenario would be that it’s connected to the value you hold deep within you of making sure your family has nutritious, healthy food to eat each day.
Perhaps you didn’t have that as a child and as a result, you struggled with your weight, were made fun of and you don’t want that for your kids.
Or, perhaps your father died from heart disease which was connected to his poor diet and you want to do all you can to avoid that same destiny.
So, at the end of a busy day, you remember that and push through, making the effort to ensure what’s on the dinner plate is healthy and nutritious.
Remembering your why when things get tough is often just what you need to act according to your values rather than according to how you feel in the moment.
If you would like help applying and implementing these concepts in your life to help you make progress towards your goals, I can help you.
I work with people 1-on-1 in The One You Feed Personal Transformation Program to make the changes they want to make in order to get on with the living of their lives – the living of their lives that’s in line with their highest self and fullest potential.
To learn more and book a free 30 minute coaching call with me, click here.
“Don’t let perfectionism become an excuse for never getting started.”
Here’s to getting on with life.