I really wanted to write this article sooner… But when I sat down in front of the computer, I felt compelled to check Pinterest first. And Facebook.
Oh, and I then I found this really interesting article that I got sucked into reading – because research is important, right?!
Somehow I didn’t start writing until it was time to prepare lunch for the kids. No point in starting then. *duh*
Goodness me, how time flies…
Sounds familiar? Then chances are the procrastination beast keeps a tight grip on you too.
Time to bare your teeth and fight back!
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What Is Procrastination?
Procrastination originates from the Greek word Akrasia (“absence of command”) which describes the behavior of acting against one’s better judgment.
You know you show be doing A, but nonetheless, you keep doing B instead.
Somehow one can’t seem to muster enough willpower to follow the logical path of action.
Causes Of Procrastination
This is a difficult one.
Some psychologists argue that procrastination occurs due to something they call “time inconsistency”.
This term refers to the tendency of the human brain to favor instant gratification at the expense of future gratification.
In other words, you choose feeling good NOW over feeling good LATER.
I see how in an evolutionary context, this makes sense – a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.
To me, however, it feels that the root of procrastination is something else. More like a (subconscious) clash of emotions and reason that results in some sort of displacement activity.
Having those titans fight for the upper hand, you snap into an “I’m outa here – call me with instructions when you’re done”-attitude, sneak out of that battlefield and distract yourself with funny animal videos while you wait for the internal battle to end.
Kinda like the overwhelmed chicken that starts pecking at grass as a displacement activity when it can’t decide between fight or flight mode.
Or like scratching your head when you don’t know what to do.
Neither of those reactions makes sense in the given context. They aren’t logical. But they occur regardless.
If you are a serious procrastinator, you know that this habit can drive everyone (including yourself!) to the brink of madness:
- You don’t get anything done.
- You might miss your deadlines.
- Teamwork suffers.
- Relationships suffer.
- You might even risk getting fired.
- You are stressed.
- Your health suffers as a result of being stressed.
The effects of procrastination can be pretty devastating – reason enough to finally break that habit for good!
The Habit Loop
You can look at procrastination as a habit like smoking or snacking.
A habit is something you do unthinkingly in response to a certain stimulation.
Ever heard of the habit loop? As Charles Duhigg describes in The Power of Habit, each habit usually relies upon the same structure:
A cue triggers a routine which leads to a reward. Go through this cycle often enough for your brain to identify this protocol as a useful strategy, a habit loop is born.
For procrastination this loop might look something like this:
Cue: Emotional conflict (reason tells me to do A, my emotions tell me something different).
Routine: Watching YouTube till the cows come home.
Reward: Relaxation, avoidance of conflict.
Breaking The Habit
Actually, studies have shown that you never truly break an existing habit. You can transform it though.
To do this, you need to identify and hijack the existing components of your habit loop.
Identify Your Procrastination Cues
When do you start procrastinating? What’s your trigger?
As I mentioned before, to me it seems like there’s always an emotional trigger at the core of procrastination.
So ask yourself what you feel right before you start doing it.
Are you bored? Overwhelmed? Angry? Sad? Scared?
All those emotions might make you want to run and hide, while reason tells you to pull it together and work on that presentation that’s due tomorrow.
Being unsure which protocol to follow – you don’t follow any of them. You are stuck.
Therefore I believe it’s critical that you identify and address the triggering emotion in order to come up with a workaround.
Hijacking The Habit Loop
Once you identified what triggers your procrastination routine, you can use the existing triggers and rewards to switch out the routine.
Say for example you feel overwhelmed by a big task that you are afraid to tackle.
In the past, overwhelm triggered you to procrastinate and rewarded you with stress relief.
Now that you are aware of this process, you can design a powerful strategy to stop sabotaging yourself: You create a new routine.
Staying with the overwhelm example, your new routine could look something like this:
- Set a measurable goal.
- Break the big goal down into all the action steps you need to take to achieve your goal.
- Prioritize your to-do list.
- Plan ahead and schedule those action steps.
- Concentrate on one step at a time instead of working on multiple things at once.
In this scenario, planners, checklist and tracking sheets might become your new best friends.
As soon as you become aware of feeling overwhelmed and stressed, you get out your planners and start creating your action plan.
They’ll provide you with additional visual cues that help you follow a clear path and stay on track.
And isn’t it incredibly satisfying to check off those checkboxes?! It’s immediate gratification for every step you take.
Hands up who has written down things on their to-do list that they’ve already done JUST to put a checkmark in front of them? *guilty as charged*
So yes, I’d say by starting to use planners and checklists, etc. you’re supercharging your cues AND rewards in this scenario.
You might even create a craving for checking off those boxes knowing that you get closer and closer to achieving your goal.
Which all makes it more likely for your new routine to stick.
Follow the new routine often enough and you’ll successfully create a new habit.
You won’t have to actively think about your reaction to the trigger anymore. It will have become second nature.
Understand why you procrastinate by seeing it as the habit that it is.
By becoming aware of what triggers your procrastination habit, you can hijack the habit loop to work in your favor instead of against you.
In the above example, your new anti-procrastination habit loop would look something like this:
Cue: Emotional conflict (overwhelm).
Routine: Goalsetting – creating an action plan – prioritize and schedule action steps – single-tasking.
Reward: Relaxation, ease of mind.
Woohoo! You brought peace to your inner war zone. Which makes you a hero in my book. =)
Let me know how the procrastination battle is going for you! What are your strategies to come out on top?
PS: If you found this post helpful, please don’t forget to share it with like-minded people. 🙂