The Delusion of Tomorrow: How to Overcome your Habit of Procrastination

The definition of procrastination is “the action of delaying or postponing something.”

So what causes procrastination?

According to psychologist Professor Clarry Lay, a prominent writer on the subject, procrastination occurs when there’s “a temporal gap between intended behavior and enacted behavior.”

Procrastination is a form of resistance. Our perception of a task greatly affects our motivation to do said task. For example, if your view of a task is that it will be too hard, too tedious, too uncomfortable, boring, scary or negative, you will inevitably put it off and have a resistance towards that task.

The biggest misconception of procrastinators and those observing them is that they have time management issues. However, usually it is emotion management which is the true issue. Not wanting to do a task because it is overwhelming or negative must be met with a willingness to do the task in hand, regardless of emotional state or mindset.

In this video, Tim Urban gives a Ted Talk about being Inside the mind of a master procrastinator.

Tim says that procrastination can come when we have too much focus on doing things that are easy and fun. We want to live in the moment and do the easiest task now. However, the best thing to do is to seek balance.  It’s necessary to do the least fun activities which need to be done, even when we don’t feel like it.

Have you ever heard yourself saying”I’ll start tomorrow. I’ll lose the weight tomorrow?” More dangerously, we can often hear ourself saying, “I’ll burn off the extra calories I ate tomorrow.” “A little bit more won’t hurt.” Only more often than not, tomorrow turns into  a few days, days turn into weeks and weeks turn into never. You’re placing your present self above your future self and not seeing the bigger picture.

To use weight loss as an example, it’s usually very easy to set goals. “Oh, I’ll lose 30lbs in 30 days,” we say. “I’ll burn 300 calories a day and only eat 1200. Easy.” When the day to start comes around and the first day or two you do fantastically. On day three however, someone offers you a slice of cake although you’re already over your daily calorie limit and don’t have time to gym, or so you tell yourself.

“Well, it’s okay I can do extra time at the gym tomorrow.” This perpetual cycle repeats itself and you say “well I’ll burn off all the extra calories at the end of the week.” I don’t know about you, but trying to burn 3000 calories in one day is no easy feat.

And yes, I have tried the latter, only managing about 1,500 which took me many hours and a lot of mental energy and willpower. I didn’t want to do any exercise for the next few days after either. So although it’s not fun, glamorous or sexy, consistency and sticking within your daily targets really are important and does work in order to see results.

As an INFP (google Myers Briggs if you’re unsure), I’m typically less prone to routine and more akin to a spontaneous, sporadic lifestyle. Some personalities may be more focused on the moment and others may be more future focused, however we are all procrastinators to some degree.

That being said, we are all capable of setting goals and sticking to them. DISCIPLINE is the key word here. Saying you’ll do what you said you would, even when you don’t feel like it. It’s time to stop believing the lies you tell yourself that tomorrow you will start to make the change in order to get you where you need to be. Start today!

“I want to change, but where do I start?” “How can I overcome my habit of procrastination?”

  • Set Deadlines – For both your short term and long term goals
  • Get Organised – Schedule your goals and actions in advance, daily, weekly and yearly
  • Keep yourself motivated and remind yourself of the end goal or your ‘Why’
  • Focus on one task or one main goal at a time. Don’t allow yourself to get interrupted and allocate block periods of time to complete tasks.
  • Realise that the time will pass anyway. Regardless of if you complete the task or not, the time will still pass so you don’t need to be afraid to fail.
  • Admit that you may not feel like doing something, but make a commitment to do it anyway. Your emotional state should not determine whether you will do the task in hand.
  • Break down tasks into small steps and just start the first step. Motivation usually follows momentum and once you start it will be easier to continue.
  • Be grateful of the time you have and make a commitment to spend it in the best way you possibly can
  • Take action in spite of how you feel as once you build momentum, you will be able to keep going.

When you make an activity a should, must or need, resistance starts to build up in your mind and body, since your mind usually doesn’t want to do what it has been told to do.Therefore, tell yourself that you have a choice, that you don’t have to do these things. This creates an association of choice and positivity and you don’t have to do these things. Also, allow the feeling of resistance in your body. Don’t resist, just allow yourself to feel the resistance. Your mind will make things seem worse than it will be in reality.

You can also embrace the Sedona Method to release yourself from resistance.

  1. Embrace your feeling e.g. bad mood and don’t want to go to the gym. Allow yourself to feel the feeling. Ask yourself “Could I let this feeling go?” Yes / No.
  2. If yes, ask yourself “Would I let this feeling go if I could?” Yes / No.
  3. Finally, ask “When would you let it go, if you could?

Repeat this cycle three to four times, and you will find your emotion will dissipate. If the resistance is strong, repeat up to ten times.

4.Accept a positive emotion. “Could you allow yourself to get excited about this?” Yes / No.

5.”What’s one way which you can make it exciting for you?” Find a little thing you can get excited about and allow yourself to feel the emotion of the excitement.

6. Take five to ten minutes to visualise yourself doing the activity which you are procrastinating e.g. going to the gym. Visualise it in vivid detail, with all the feelings and actions involved e.g. driving in the car to your favourite music.

7. Become an observer of your procrastination, without trying to change it. Imagine stepping outside yourself, allow yourself to procrastinate and observe yourself doing that e.g. not going to the gym. As you become the watcher, you will become consciously aware of your procrastination and therefore less likely to keep putting it off. Self sabotage generally only happens in the sub conscious.

For more ideas, Zen Habits has a list of 10 Ways to Do What You Don’t Want to Do.

It’s okay to be a dreamer. A visionary. Some of us are more prone to this than others. However, monitor the amount of time you spend dreaming up new ideas and ensure you schedule time to take action on them. Here are some great quotes from the book of Proverbs on work versus rest.

‘Those who work their land will have abundant food, but those who chase fantasies have no sense.’

‘A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest—and poverty will come on you like a thief and scarcity like an armed man.’

Hedonic vs Eudaimonic approaches

Aristippus, a Greek philosopher,  believed that the goal of life is to experience maximum pleasure and he embraced a hedonic approach. An alternative concept rose, that of eudaemonia, originated by Aristotle, who believed happiness to be a vulgar idea.
Aristotle stressed that not all desires are worth pursuing, as although some may be pleasurable, they may not produce wellness and that happiness would be found doing that which is worth doing. The ultimate goal is to realise human potential. You can read about this more in depth here;
The reason I’ve mentioned these approaches is to highlight that we don’t always need to be happy to feel content and fulfilled. It is better to do tasks if they will benefit you in the long run, than to put them off for temporal pleasures, as that will detract from your long term wellness and happiness. Spend time on those things that are worth doing and you will live a more enriched and abundant life.

What is it that you’ve been putting off? Ask yourself why and take a step today to move towards your goals. Your future self will thank you.

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