Did you know the word “procrastination” comes from the Latin, “pro” and “crastinus,” which means to put forward to tomorrow?
Even if you don’t fall into the 20 percent of the population that has a chronic problem with procrastination, the remaining 80 percent of people still experience procrastination from time to time. What’s really happening when we experience procrastination is that we have failed to self-regulate our behaviors so that we can achieve our goals.
Procrastinating can jeopardize some of our goals; it’s self-sabotaging. So why do we do it?
According to Timothy A. Pychyl in Solving the Procrastination Puzzle: A Concise Guide to Strategies for Change, the most common reason is task aversion. Task aversion is when you have negative emotions surrounding a task. As humans, we want to feel good, so we get rid of those feelings by not doing the thing that makes us feel bad, rewarding ourselves with instant gratification. When we do this, it can easily form a habit. We feel great because we’ve had that instant gratification, and we’ve also made a great plan for the next day. We keep trying to chase the good mood, and delaying the activity, and it keeps going in a cycle.
Pychyl writes that it’s not that we don’t have internal conflict about this: When we procrastinate, our emotions are driving what we’re doing, even though our reasoning tells us we should be doing something else. This creates what’s called “cognitive dissonance.” No one likes feeling this way, and so we deceive ourselves to resolve the dissonance. We come up with excuses like:
• “I don’t feel like it.”
• “It’s not a lot and I’ve got plenty of time.”
• “It’s not that important.”
• “I forgot.”
• “I work better under pressure.”
So how can we free ourselves from this trap? Here are a few ways to get started:
1. Strengthen your intentions. If you know you have an aversion to a certain task, try to vividly visualize the future impact of completing or not completing the task. Reaffirm your intentions by writing daily “I will” statements, such as “I will work on that project 15 minutes today.”
2. Dispel the number one deception. You don’t have to be in the mood to do a task. In fact, starting in on a task can often help you create the mood. It can take about 15 minutes to get involved in a task and create the mood, because after 15 minutes you are no longer experiencing the negative emotion, you are using other parts of your brain.
3. Identify the triggers that lead you to procrastinate. Make pre-decisions about those tasks or triggers. Come up with “If I, then I” statements regarding those tasks. If you start to procrastinate, you will know to do something. For example, if you say, “I don’t feel like exercising today,” then you know you will do your regimen for at least 15 minutes. You will find that once you’ve gotten to 15 minutes, as mentioned before, it’s likely that you’ll keep doing the task because your brain is engaged in a different way.
4. Plan to control the distractions. Habits have been created by our technology, with its ultimate interconnectedness online and through personal devices. If you feel or hear a notification come through in your inbox or on your phone, try ignoring it. It takes from 7-25 minutes after you get a distraction to get back into concentration on a task, and we’ll often use distractions as an excuse to procrastinate.
If you want to know more advice about overcoming procrastination, I highly recommend reading Pychyl’s book.