THE PSYCHOLOGY OF PROCRASTINATION – AND HOW TO STOP

THE PSYCHOLOGY OF PROCRASTINATION – AND HOW TO STOP

Shit You Should Care About… Why we procrastinate and how to stop.

Sometimes I sit and think about everything a COULD have done if I hadn’t wasted too much time thinking about every. single. thing. I COULD do.  

I call these moments ‘procrastination inception’. I waste time thinking about all the time I’ve wasted thinking about wasted time. 

Feel free to read that again. 

 As Kanye says, “Time is extremely valuable”, and instead of wasting it on basic girls like he does, I prefer to waste it thinking about how valuable it is, until it runs out.  

It’s a problem. 

 Procrastination has had a strong grip on my life for pretty much as long as I can remember. From putting off filling out forms, to tax returns, to putting away the milk, procrastination doesn’t only manifest itself in bigger, more important tasks, but also resides in the small mundane details of my day-to-day life. 

AS AN EXAMPLE OF ITS MANIFESTATION, I WILL GIVE YOU A RUN THROUGH OF A TYPICAL MORNING IN THE LIFE OF LIV:  

My alarm goes off, and as you have probably guessed, I press snooze. And I’m not joking when I say at least 5 times (because I’ll get up later, I’ll get up later, and I’ll get up later).  

Even though I am now already running against the clock I’ll make a ridiculously time-consuming porridge (sometimes even stewing fruit in the process) because, you know, “nutrition”. 

I’ll then suddenly realise I have only 3 minutes and 30 seconds to eat my luxurious meal, but I eat it in 5 so I don’t get indigestion (prioritisation).  

After a lot of trial and error I’ve discovered that if I get in my car at 8:48am I’ll get to work at 8:59am on the dot. Unfortunately, it’s already 8:47am and I still have to brush my teeth, put on my shoes (shoelaces are left done up because “I’ll do it later”) all while running around the house (I actually run) to find my rogue car keys that I haven’t hung up (because “I’ll do it later”).  

I drive my car on empty (because “I’ll fill it up later”) and I’m at work by 9:02. On the dot. This sequence is repeated every. single. morning.  

 
As I’m sure you can tell, I have the CONSTANT feeling of running against the clock, and to be quite honest it stresses me the fuck out. It seems to be that the more conscious I am of time, the faster it slips away from me.  

At first, I made excuses for my procrastination, treating it as a by-product of my creatively chaotic brain, but I’ve realised that to actually do what I want to do in life, putting off every single task is probably not the best way to go about it. Therefore, I have made the executive decision that 2019 is the year that I kick procrastination in the ass and out of my life. 

 
But to do this I need to isolate my tendency to procrastinate and figure out WHY the fuck I take part in this form of self-sabotage (because that is essentially what it is).  

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DEFINING PROCRASTINATION

 PROCRASTINATION = THE ABSENCE OF PROGRESS  

PROCRASTINATION = THE GAP BETWEEN INTENT AND ACTION  

 Any true procrastinator will know that procrastination is so much more than ‘putting it off until tomorrow’. Procrastination is in fact a complex psychological phenomenon that is rooted in many different areas of thought and brain functioning. 

 Not everyone is a chronic procrastinator by any stretch of the imagination (it’s more like only 20%), but a recent study has shown that 80-95% of students have procrastinated as some point in their university career. The statistic shows that procrastination is widespread even though it is incredibly illogical. So why the fuck do we do it? 

“To tell the chronic procrastinator to just do it would be like saying to a clinically depressed person, cheer up.” – Joseph Ferrari, professor of psychology at DePaul University. 

WHY WE MAY PROCRASTINATE

FEAR…

  • Of failure  

  • Of making mistakes  

  • Of success  

At face value, procrastination seems to be a product of one’s bad time management and poor organisational skills. But after reading psychological studies designed to delve into the depths of this disastrous phenomenon, I have come to learn that these shortcomings are in fact NOT the root cause. It is actually poor emotional regulation that seems to be the main contributing factor to why we procrastinate. 

Psychologists routinely discover that one of the main reasons people put things off until later is because they are scared. Scared of falling at the task at hand. Scared of making mistakes while they do the task. Or even at times, scared of succeeding, as they secretly believe that they don’t deserve to do well?!?!?!  

 This it made perfect sense to me. At times I find myself procrastinating important tasks because I find them overwhelming, and the REASON I find them overwhelming is because I’m am putting a huge amount of pressure on myself to perform to a high standard.  

 It makes the mountain I have to climb seem 10 times higher than it actually is. The more I wait, the more fearful I become of not performing to the standard I know I’m capable of. But then if I wait long enough, I feel a slight sense of relief in knowing that now I don’t have enough time to do the best possible job I can, therefore the issue is time-frame rather than my ability to perform the task.  

 If you also identify as a perfectionist-driven procrastinator I’m sure that this thought process may not be too far off the thoughts that are circulating in your brain. Perfectionism can be super helpful in pushing yourself to create quality work that you’re proud of, but too much perfectionism (maladaptive perfectionism) is what often leads to this fear of failure and therefore avoiding tasks all together.  

 HOW TO STOP PUTTING THINGS OFF AND TAKE CONTROL OF OUR LIVES!!!! 

Step One: Deal with the fear that is holding you back. 

  • Try and identify what you are scared of surrounding the task at hand.  Are you a perfectionist and putting too much pressure on the quality of your work? Are you scared that your skills aren’t up to scratch?  Or are you scared of what others may think about your attempt at the task at hand? 

  • Once you have isolated your fear, try and work on diminishing it. For me it was allowing myself to not create a perfect project straight off the bat. It’s about telling yourself that the most important thing is actually doing SOMETHING and that we won’t improve unless we go through the stages of making slightly shit work, seeing what’s wrong with it and practicing to try and improve.  

 
Step Two: Create a Plan – Break the task down and set deadlines. 

  • Instead of looking at the task as one overwhelming thing that you have to achieve, break it down into smaller parts. This way you will have less trouble starting as the task for that particular moment in time is already much smaller and more manageable. Write down deadlines for each of these tasks to keep you on track in terms of time.  

  • Think of it as the swiss cheese method: keep eating more holes in the cheese until the piece of cheese has disappeared all-together.  

 
Step Three: Recognise the Onset of Procrastination 

  • What are the thoughts that creep into your mind just before you begin procrastinating a task? Is it “I’ll do it tonight”? “I’m too tired”? Or even “I don’t have that resource I need to get going with it”? Whatever it may be for you, try and identify the beginnings of your procrastination so you can nip it in the bud.  

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KICKING PROCRASTINATION RIGHT OUT OF 2019

Let’s make 2019 the year that we no longer get the shit 6pm Friday tutorial because we put off putting an alarm on for the time of sign up. 

The year that we no longer bring an apple and a packet of plain crackers for lunch and look enviously at our friend’s meticulously put together quinoa salad, because we put off making food the night before. 

The year that we no longer run out of undies and consider wearing bikini bottoms to Uni/work because we forgot to do our washing 3 days in a row.  

The year that we actually do the amazing things that we know we CAN do, but may be too scared to put them in action for some reason or another.  

Kicking this awful habit certainly may not happen over-night, so with everything start small and build up. Good luck my friends, I can’t wait to see what we all achieve when we manage to get time back on our side.    

Liv x