I procrastinated writing this article. The irony runs deep. Even after I completed my research and could begin, I still put it off. You would think the topic alone would be enough to light a fire under my fingers, not wanting to be my own example of what not to do, but no, just the opposite, which ironically is the nature of procrastination. Let’s dig in.
What Does Procrastination Mean?
In essence, procrastination is the act of delaying or postponing something. It’s derived from the Latin verb procrastinare, “to put off until tomorrow,” and the Greek word, Akrasia, “doing something against our better judgment.”
Procrastination happens because we associate a negative mood with something: boredom, anxiety, insecurity, frustration, resentment, or self-doubt. We then prioritize our short-term mood over the potentially negative future consequences of delaying the task. This momentary relief from putting off the job is a reward for your brain, which causes you to continue procrastinating.
There are many reasons for procrastinating: feeling the task isn’t relevant or feeling you’re working toward someone else’s goals. Perfectionism, evaluation anxiety, ambiguity, fear of the unknown, or an inability to handle the task can all lead to putting off what we know we need to do.
Procrastination takes many forms. Some people act as if the task will go away; others underestimate the work and overestimate their abilities. Many people become paralyzed in deciding between choices.
People often engage in what Philosophy Professor John Perry describes as “structured procrastination,” meaning we do other items on our to-do list, which salvages our self-image and emotions and leads us to feelings of achievement. But, unfortunately, procrastination is also correlated with susceptibility to positive social temptations.
Procrastination and Anxiety—How Anxiety Paralysis Is Related to Procrastination
Ironically, when we give priority to our short-term mood, avoiding the tasks at hand, it most often results in our feeling worse than we did about the job in the first place. This self-sabotage undermines our goals and successes. Such behavior generally comes from fear, lack of planning, low self-efficacy, or a lack of clarity around goals or values, and often generates anxiety paralysis.
How do we stop self-sabotaging ourselves
with a procrastination habit?
First, understand the pattern and notice when you are avoiding something. Next, consider the cost of avoidance; get your brain to think about your future self who will be dealing with not only the task that needs completion but the anxiety of incompletion. Next, clarify your goals. Don’t strive for perfectionism; be realistic about how much effort the goal will require to achieve. And finally, try doing the opposite of what you normally do; mix up your routine, or approach the activity differently than you would have previously.
How Do We Stop Procrastinating?
Our brains are always looking for rewards. Dr. Judson Brewer from Brown University Mindfulness Center says we have to give our brains a “Bigger Better Offer” to rewire them. In other words, we need to find a different reward for the brain.
One way of creating a bigger, better offer for your brain is to develop positive micro-habits, rewarding yourself for progressing on the intended action. For example, when we repeat an action, even a tiny one, and reward ourselves for it, it trains the brain to use synapses for that same action in the future. In turn, capitalizing on the reward system builds new brain habits and diverts attention from unnecessary ones. Thus, when we implement small measures that turn into mini-habits, we build momentum, and we can make lasting changes when we build momentum.
Big goals also help to motivate us and provide intrinsic motivation. People need to care about the incentives for completing a project to change how much time we invest. In a study titled the “mega-trial,” researchers found that goal setting, interest enhancement (caring about what you are doing), and energy all played a significant role in overcoming stagnant behavior and helping realize our dreams. Rachel Hollis, author and host of the Rise Podcast says:
“Motivation isn’t about wanting to do something, it’s about having a ‘why’ strong enough that you’ll do things you don’t feel like doing. Your goal is a fire in your belly; your WHY is the gasoline.”
Once you identify your big goals, it’s essential to make them achievable by breaking them down into small, actionable steps. Then, reward yourself for accomplishing them along the way. (For example, when it came to this article, I allowed myself to take a walk with my dogs once I had completed my research.) Emotional intelligence plays a big part in success; if you are aware and fully invested in your actions, you will feel that much more connected to the outcomes and inspired to achieve what you set out to do.
And finally, keeping your energy levels up makes a big difference. It’s easier to take on big tasks when you have energy, so eating right and getting plenty of rest and exercising help.
Related reading: "Is Procrastination Stopping You From Fulfilling Your Dreams?"
Procrastination and Time Management
Even though procrastination is more about our emotions than time management, the tasks still need to be completed. There are many strategies to help keep yourself on track. One way is to make honest decisions about the amount of effort you will put in and how much time it will take. Don’t over-dramatize the task, but rather figure out what small activities will help you accomplish it. Segment the project or activity into small steps and put it into a reasonable time frame. Don’t fool yourself into thinking you can do more than you can.
Realize that you need variety and relaxation, so reward yourself when you complete the small tasks.
More than anything, when you find yourself procrastinating, there are two critical things to help yourself move forward. One, forgive yourself for procrastinating, and two, practice self-compassion. Self-compassion decreases psychological stress, boosts motivations, enhances self-worth, and creates positive emotions such as optimism, wisdom, curiosity, and personal initiative.
And, completion just feels good!
If you'd like to learn more about emotional intelligence or want coaching support to overcome procrastination or other unhelpful habits, contact us at email@example.com.