Procrastination–it’s a plague we all struggle with sometimes. Why DO we do it, and how can we stop? Hmm…age-old questions!
If you search “Why do we procrastinate?”, you’ll find no shortage of articles and videos proffering an answer or several answers. So here I am, adding my little scream into the vast echo chamber. 😉
Reasons to Procrastinate
Some of the answers, according to these search results, are “temporal proximity” (is it a work assignment due tomorrow vs. one that’s due in two months?), “lying to oneself” (ex: “I’m more creative under pressure”), “absence of structure” (ex: having the freedom to pull out a cell phone and peruse social media at any time at some jobs), “shifting blame” (ex: “I would do X, but I need my coworker to do Y”), etc.
Here’s another common answer I relate to in my own behavioral patterns: we procrastinate because of how our brain weighs risk or labor against reward. If we subconsciously believe the reward isn’t worth the risk or labor, we procrastinate. When I put off cleaning out a junk drawer, my brain has decided the benefit of a clean drawer isn’t worth the work of organizing/disposing of/putting away all the contents of the drawer. On the other hand, I don’t put off brushing my teeth in the morning because my brain determines the reward of having a clean, non-morning-breath mouth is worth the physical effort of completing the task.
Reflecting on the Reasons
Bearing the root cause of procrastination in mind, I’ve begun to reflect on some penetrative questions when I find myself doing so–
- Why exactly am I procrastinating on this? I.e. do I expect it to take a long time, be super tedious, be intellectually challenging, etc.?
- Considering the answer to the above question, should I get over it and just do it (i.e. quit being lazy) or can I do something to make the task less intimidating?
If I can find ways to make the task less intimidating, my brain may not fight as hard against completing it. I’ve been applying this logic to cleaning. When I spend 30 mins-1 hr straightening up part of my home each day, I spend more time cleaning throughout the week; if I make grand plans to clean and organize multiple areas in one pass, I procrastinate day after day. I don’t dread tasks when they seem less burdensome.
[Sidenote: it’s crazy how emotions play into the risk & labor vs. reward dynamic in our minds. When I get in those random moods where I have that cleaning/organizing itch (does that happen to y’all, too?) my brain suddenly weighs the reward much higher…then, I want to do all those things I usually put off!]
Avoiding the Procrastination Pattern
Funny enough, I’ve noticed procrastination leads to more procrastination. This is why 90% of people cannot maintain a regular exercise regime throughout their lives [I made up the statistic, but I bet it’s close to accurate]. Maybe you’re in a great routine of going to the gym for a few weeks. But then, you got busy and had to miss a day. Then, something came up a few days later, so you had to miss again. As they say, the rest is history; fast-forward six months, and you haven’t worked out in four.
This can be a dangerous pitfall for writers like myself–and, really, anyone with a hobby/passion. When we start skipping writing time and let it inch down, down, down the priority list, the same thing happens as with the gym scenario. Six months later, you’ve let the writing muscle atrophy, and a blinking cursor haunts your dreams. This is why I need to blog. I never want to unthinkingly go months without “picking up the pen.”
The “procrastination pattern,” though not irreversible, can still be dangerous. It’s “dangerous” because it can scare us away from a task for a long time or even forever, which is unfortunate when it’s a natural talent or something good for you. Here’s what I think happens–
You put off a task because your brain sees the risk/labor as not being worth the reward. The more you put it off and/or the longer it’s been since you’ve done it, your brain will see the risk/labor of that task as even higher. Thus, the longer/more you procrastinate on a task, the more your brain urges you to procrastinate on it.
If I went to the gym last week, I face a much smaller psychological hurdle with going back than the person who hasn’t set foot through the door since Lord-knows-when. If I’m in a semi-regular writing routine, I’m far less intimidated by a blank page than the person who’s let their passion fall through the cracks of life.
The good news is, once we understand these things, we are empowered to do something about them. If we’re procrastinating on tasks, we can reflect on why and try to mitigate the reasons. Knowing about the procrastination pattern, we can be more diligent to NOT fall in that trap. And if we have fallen in that trap, we might just need to *mentally* give ourselves a swift kick in the pants, defy our brains, and climb back on the horse.
Thanks for reading! Since I’m practicing “social distancing” right now, I’ve had more time for cleaning and organizing…making procrastination less justifiable, haha. What do you tend to put off? Let me know in the comments.