Do you ever put off things you are supposed to do? Ha! You don’t really have to answer that question; we all do it. What may not be so obvious is the reasons why we don’t do the things that we know we should do. The crazy thing is a lot of the time the things that we put off doing are things that would improve our quality of life or at the very least remove a source of stress, but still we put them off–we procrastinate.
Procrastination is counterproductive, but you already know that. The question is why do we do it???? There are some complex reason why people procrastinate; I found a very good article in Psychology Today titled “Ten Things to Know”. It is well worth the read. A number of things that I have encountered lately come into play when considering procrastination.
1-Will power. Will power is like a muscle and when you use the muscle it gets tired. So if you have been working hard on something: not eating a cookie; getting a complicated task done; then you will have less will power left for any subsequent things. So if you finally finished a project at work, you may procrastinate instead of moving onto the next project. Your procrastination may simply be an indication of fatigue.
2-Fear of failure. If you start your new diet and exercise routine today then you may fall off the wagon tomorrow, but if you don’t start the new routine you can never screw it up. So procrastinating will keep you from failing. If you don’t start you never fail!
3-It is a rush. A literal and figurative rush. If you wait until absolutely the last minute to start a project your whole body will be thrown into it by way of activating the sympathetic nervous system. Way back when we needed to outrun predators our Fight or Flight response helped us avoid being eaten for lunch. Now when we wait until after lunch to start a complicated project that is due at 5, our fight or flight response kicked in and soon we are swimming in adrenalin and all pumped up. Josh and Chuck from Stuff You Should Know have a good explanation of it HERE (I love me some Josh and Chuck!). Anyway, the whole Opponent Process of Holy $%# I have to get this in by 5pm followed by the euphoria of finishing the project can be quite addicting and we may procrastinate because we then get such a rush when we complete the task. If we had simply done it in a more reasonable amount of time we would not experience the rush, but neither would we experience the detrimental stress!
4-Deer in the Headlights. Sometimes there is so much to be done that it is overwhelming. With so many choices about where to start, it becomes impossible to sift through them and pick something. I experienced this earlier today. I have 3 midterms to study for all of which require that I complete the assigned reading before I can really get to the studying, I have pressing consulting work that has a number of parts to it, I also have some contract work that needs to be done by Friday and I have a list of things that need to be done for the family. I sat at my dining room table flipping through (but not reading) the chapters of a textbook, checking Facebook updates and generally not accomplishing anything. I started to feel a bit panicky and realized that I just didn’t know where to start. This is often the time that serious procrastination will start and avoidance behaviours such as cleaning the bathroom or making a phone call will kick in. I think feeling overwhelmed is one of the biggest reasons for procrastination, but we don’t often acknowledge that this is what is actually going on.
I have recently learned that you really don’t need to start at the beginning of a task–you just have to start somewhere. I have also learned that how you feel about starting a task is irrelevant, but if you wait to feel like doing something, you may be waiting a long time.
My blogging has been like that. I have been so busy that I have not had time to think about what to post about. I also have had very few precious seconds with which to actually sit down and type. I have been waiting for inspiration to hit. As you can see from that dates between post–it hasn’t hit in a while. Then today a friend, I will call her “Twilight” and I had a Facebook exchange about how she was not completing something that she really needs to do. I told her that I was going to post about how she inspired my blog post; I was procrastinating by reading her Facebook post about procrastinating and it has actually inspired a blog post about procrastinating. Oh what a tangled web!
Now I should really be going to bed, but am using writing this blog post to procrastinate about that!
So tomorrow is a new day where nothing is holding you back except your willingness to accept procrastination as a valid way to operate.
I challenge you to do the following exercise:
1- identify one way that you are procrastinating
2- be aware of how your are feeling as you are thinking of this: are you tired? are you scared? are you bored? are you frozen?
3- Say, “by not doing __________ I am feeling ______________”
4- Picture yourself sitting in your favourite place. Image that your task is complete. What feeling will you have then? Relief? Happiness? Peace? Exhilaration?
5- Say “I will feel ___________when I complete_____________”
6- Go do it! You don’t have to start at the beginning you just have to start. If you want to write the last line of your report first–go for it.
You can cast off the negative feelings that accompany tasks left undone and embrace the positive feelings of a job completed. Think of how much energy you are using in worrying about the thing you need to do, but haven’t yet done. Go back up and read step one….and. just. start. It certainly won’t be worse that what you are doing now!
As for me: I finished reading the chapter I needed to read, I have written a blog post (thanks Twilight!) and now no more procrastination. I am off to bed!