The Greek poet Hesiod cautioned not to “put your work off till tomorrow and the day after” in a poem written around 800 B.C. Humans procrastinate and ever since the human race has existed, procrastination has existed also.
Research shows that people who procrastinate struggle with saving money and that they miss more medical visits. Thousands of Americans lose money while rushing to prepare their income taxes before the 15th of April.
It’s pretty clear, procrastination is harmful.
But what is procrastinating?
Procrastinating is more than simply putting something off until tomorrow. True procrastination shows complete failure of self-regulation. In science settings, it is defined as a voluntary delay of some important task we need to do.
“What I’ve found is that while everybody may procrastinate, not everyone is a procrastinator,” says APS Fellow Joseph Ferrari, a professor of psychology at DePaul University. “It really has nothing to do with time-management,” he says. “As I tell people, to tell the chronic procrastinator to just do it would be like saying to a clinically depressed person, cheer up.”
Why do we procrastinate?
The causes of procrastination seem to be obvious. You just don’t feel like doing it. You’re lazy. You’re disorganized. You don’t care. But, as Ferrari says, procrastination stems from much deeper psychological issues, and often it isn’t just a matter of setting your mind to it.
There are a few surprising reasons one might procrastinate. For example, if you’re a woman that grew up with authoritarian father, you are more likely to procrastinate later in life.
There are also a lot of procrastinators that put off work because they are afraid to fail or succeed. This seems counterintuitive, but our minds seem to think this is a good reason to put things off. It is hard to acknowledge your shortcomings, and procrastinating is a way to go around it.
If you are a procrastinator, the most important thing is to acknowledge that your desire to put things off until tomorrow is deep ingrained in your mind. You might need coaching to determine why you are a procrastinator and what you can do to overcome it, but there are also plenty of exercises you can do at home.
The comfort zone
The process of overcoming procrastination usually starts at the end of ones comfort zone. When you are able to admit that something needs to change and you need to take action, you are already halfway there. For most of us (but not all) the comfort zone is a mental place, not a physical one – It’s a pattern of avoiding certain tasks and behaviours.
To stay in your comfort zone means paying a huge price. It’s a tiny echo chamber where your ideas are the only ones that are validated. If you step outside of your comfort zone, you will meet new people, have new opportunities and get in new relationships. It’s the only way we can make our limited time on earth worthwhile.
The reversal of desire
The so-called ‘reversal of desire’ is fully explained in this book, which I highly recommend you read, but I also wanted to mention it here. You can begin the process of reversal by visualizing the pain or dread you’re avoiding as a black cloud in front of you. You’re probably fed up with the ways in which this pain has held you back in your life and career, and you need to tell yourself that you’re determined to conquer it. Then it’s time to propel yourself through the cloud and out to the other side—this is how you set yourself free.
If you use this tool every time you feel like avoiding something, and thus procrastinating, it will help you to change your life profoundly. You will get in the habit of moving through pain every time, instead of avoiding it.
To stop procrastinating means to move forward. Take a moment and ask yourself ‘waht kind of life do I want to live?’ The choice is entirely yours.
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