What is Procrastination, and How do I stop procrastinating?

Procrastination – “the action of delaying or postponing something”

Or as the ancient Greeks called it Akrasia. As far back as Aristotle and Socrates humans have recorded observing the conundrum of ‘why people do things against their better judgement’. Why do we put things off and lack in self-control?

Why do we do procrastinate?

Behavioural Psychologists put it down to rewards and time.

If you can have a small reward NOW, then that can be a  more powerful motivator than a large reward later. This is known as Time Inconsistency.

Our Future self is very good at setting goals, but it is our Present self that takes action, and our present self is motivated by what happens now.

If you stay on the couch, where it is nice and comfy, that, can be perceived as being a greater reward than the future possibility of, being fitter and healthier, should you decide to get up and go for a run.

The Present self is all about instant gratification.

So to move from procrastination to taking intentional action we need to move the rewards. We need to find a way to motivate and reward ourselves to take action here and now in the present.

1. Temptation Bundling – this is a system created by Katy Milkman, at the University of Pennsylvania. The idea is to bundle a behaviour that will do you good in the long run, with a behaviour that feels good in the near term.

You are more likely to find a behaviour attractive if you get to do something you enjoy at the same time. 

The neat little trick is that you ONLY get to do the fun behaviour when you are doing the thing you have been procrastinating about.

Eg You love checking your social media.  You want to eat more salads.

Solution – You ONLY get to check your social media when and if you are eating salad.

2. Create consequences for procrastination

Accountability and penalties are proven ways to help ‘incentivise’ people to take intentional action.

If you skip doing your 10 press-ups when you wake up, nothing big is going to happen. But if you skip meeting your friend for a run leaving them standing in the rain and dark wondering where you are, you feel a bit more responsible. Or if you sign up for a session with a personal trainer, forget to show, but then have to pay them $50 anyway, you become more aware.

Finding an accountability partner, a friend or colleague who can check up on your actions is a great way to stop procrastinating. You can also set up financial penalties if you don’t do what you intended, like giving money to charity. 

Or you can keep a jar, somewhere visible where you get to put in a counter, paperclip, some money, every time you do what you intended. You can also take some out every time you skip.

It can be immensely satisfying watching that jar fill up, and then rewarding yourself when it gets to the top.

You can also use a habit tracking app of which there are many, including the most popular ones Stickk and Habit Share

Is Procrastination a sign of something larger?

 If you find that you are procrastinating lots of the time, not just one single project, then there is a larger mindset hack needed. Thoughts and emotions are keeping you from doing what you want to do.

Remember that thoughts and emotions influence what we feel, but they don’t determine the actions that we take. We often assume that successful people must be different from us, they don’t feel the way that we do, they don’t have the same difficulties. This just isn’t true. Talk to any actor if they get nervous before going on stage and you will find that the answer is a resounding Yes! What’s different about them is that they choose to take action, they notice their feelings and emotions and then go on stage anyway.

How can you take action in spite of the negative thoughts you are having?

Our imagination is a powerful thing. Mark Twain once said, “I have been through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.” Many of us spend an enormous amount of time and energy worrying about what might be. When we procrastinate the pain that we are experiencing is usually in our heads and goes away once we get started taking action.

And No, You will not feel more like it tomorrow!

Here are some top tips to reduce the amount you are procrastinating in your life in general:

  1. The Two Minute Rule (David Allen) – instead of adding it to your to do list, if it will take less than 2 minutes do it right away.
  2. The Five Second Rule (Mel Robbins) – if you feel an impulse to take action on a goal, move within 5 secondsor your brain will kill the idea.
  3. Lower your standards – imperfect action is better than no action. Editing is always easier than a blank page.
  4. Break things down – what is one small thing you can do straight away, or what small actions can you bundle together?
  5. Grow your Self Control Muscle – practice the art of self control. Think of it as a muscle you can train just like going to the gym. A recent study has shown that self-control is linked to success in every area of life.
  6. Schedule it – put it in your diary exactly when, where and how long for. Make it an appointment you have to keep
  7. Promise yourself a reward
  8. Control your environment – remove temptations and distractions.
  9. Practice stoicism and prepare for the worst – if you are being held back by worrying about the consequences. Then take the time, write them out and plan for them.
  10. Forgive yourself. Remember that we are all human, it’s normal to make mistakes. Acknowledge the feeling and let it go, choose to move on.

Good Luck!

Here is a link to a fantastic book club that I myself follow and have read many books from, there are lots of great titles including ones on procrastination.

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