Why do we procrastinate?
There has been a long gap between my postings on this blog. I apologize to some of you who have encouraged me to write. Like many of my readers, I have been struggling with procrastination. I have decided to work through this personal challenge by learning more about it and sharing what I know, what I am learning, and how I plan to beat it.
There are many valid reasons for most of us to procrastinate and not all of us are chronic procrastinators. By definition, procrastination is a habit of putting off urgent tasks for less urgent, and perhaps more pleasurable, tasks. As a consequence, procrastinating leads to feeling disappointed, disappointing others, self-criticism, added stress, and feeling a sense of failure. It is not surprising that procrastination and the resulting feelings lead to more procrastination and more negative self-appraisal. This vicious cycle has a tendency to feed on itself and grow exponentially.
Personally I have used all the valid excuses for putting off things. The “I am so busy”, “I am not in the mood”, or “others need me” have been explanations that soothe some of the nagging negative feelings some of the time. However, it is hard to convince the inner, more knowing, self that there is a clear gap between the intention and action.
Eric Jaffe, in an article titled, “Why Wait? The Science Behind Procrastination”, explained some theories and research to better understand this concept. Most evidence shows that the consequences of choosing temporary pleasure over finishing important work costs us emotionally (sense of well being), physiologically (stress that translates to physical changes) and sometimes financially (work output and productivity). Intuitively we would think that suffering these consequences would teach us to do things differently. However, the reason we procrastinate, in the first place, is that we are drawn to avoiding pain in the form of boring, hard or demanding work, and tend to seek relief by playing Words with Friends or watching mindless TV (not necessarily pleasure). It turns out that the solution to overcoming these challenges is learning to tolerate negative feelings and having the skills to regulate our emotions rather than taking the easy way out.
To unlearn old patterns and learn new ones, we need to have a good talk with ourselves about our core values. Personally, I value the present time and feel grateful for the opportunities I have been afforded. Just articulating my values helps me view procrastination in a different light. “Procrastination is really a self-inflicted wound that gradually chips away at the most valuable resource in the world: time.”(Psychil, 2000). Clarifying our values is only the first step. An important next step is to have a plan that works and allows us to feel successful and motivated.
There are specific strategies to beat procrastination. Like with any behavior modification plan, we need to start with truly assessing the problem. Ask yourself the following questions: How big is this problem? When does it occur and what is most likely keeping it going? What has helped you overcome this problem in the past? What, and who, has helped you solve the problems in the past? BTW, I am a firm believer in engendering support of family and friends. Once you have these questions answered, set a goal for yourself that is relatively easy to accomplish and makes you feel successful. Remind yourself that you have the capacity to cope with the anxiety and discomfort that you had been avoiding. Reward yourself when you complete this task (pats on the back from your supporters always help) and set another goal. Before you know it, you would have reversed the vicious cycle of procrastination, like I did.
Lastly, to make any kind of changes in our lives and move forward, it is important to learn to forgive and not beat ourselves up. Putting yourself down for procrastinating is a waste of time!