by Kasia Sowińska

Let’s talk about procrastination – the habit we’ve all fallen victim to at some point, when we delay tasks, often replacing immediate actions with more pleasurable activities.

What Is Procrastination and Why Are We Doing It?

Procrastination is not merely a lack of time management or laziness; it is a complex psychological phenomenon. Researchers say it’s a strategy to manage discomfort and regulate unpleasant emotions associated with the task we are putting off – like anxiety, self-doubt, frustration, insecurity, boredom, just to name a few. Procrastination is linked to wanting instant rewards instead of holding out for bigger, delayed benefits. It’s as if part of our brain decides that watching funny videos or cleaning the wardrobe is better than getting the delayed task done. The immediate short-term reward is that we don’t feel what we don’t want to feel.
We may also fall into the illusion of working better and more efficiently under time pressure. When we postpone doing the task until the last minute, we believe that we will be motivated by the deadline pressure and it will improve our performance.
This can be partially explained by the Yerkes-Dodson law. According to this principle, our performance improves with increasing arousal, but only up to a certain threshold. Beyond that point, performance begins to decline once we become overwhelmed or distracted.

The Consequences of Procrastination

Putting things off can bring a sense of relief and make us feel better for a moment, but it’s not an adaptive strategy in the long run. The longer we delay the task, the harder it may become to complete it. The emotions associated with the task may get more intense, we are getting more stressed about it, and we perpetuate the cycle of delaying, avoiding, and feeling bad about ourselves.

How to Tackle Procrastination

  1. Stay in the moment and be curious: Notice the impulse to procrastinate, take a pause, and bring your attention to your body – notice the sensations and emotions. Do they change or shift once you give them your attention?
  2. Break tasks into smaller steps: Big tasks can be scary. Cut them into smaller bits, and see if they seem more doable. What is the first doable step you can possibly make?
  3. Do the reality check: Start doing the task (if it’s helpful, give yourself a specific time frame, like one minute just to get things started) and see if it’s really as hard as your mind thinks it is.
  4. Practice self-compassion: Self-compassion encourages a more forgiving and realistic perspective, allowing us to accept our imperfections and mistakes as part of the learning process and reducing the likelihood of procrastination. Practice supportive self-talk, involving encouragement and kindness rather than self-criticism.
  5. Allow yourself to procrastinate: Give yourself permission to procrastinate for, let’s say, 15 minutes and be curious about it. Does procrastinating feel any different when you bring awareness to it?
  6. Bring your resources: Surround yourself with your resources, the things that you like when doing your task, if possible. For example, if you are to do your taxes – create an environment that you enjoy: prepare your favourite tea or hot chocolate, put on the music you like, get your blanket, bring your pet around.
  7. Imagine your future self: Imagining yourself in the future can evoke emotional responses. Positive emotions associated with imagining achieving your goals can serve as motivators to take action. You’re also more likely to consider the long-term implications of your choices and act in a way that benefits your future self.
  8. Get some backup: Share your goals or ask someone to keep you in check. Having someone there for support and a bit of friendly reminder can make a difference.
Overcoming procrastination is a journey of self-awareness and self-compassion. By understanding the psychological roots of procrastination and implementing strategies to address it, we can achieve our goals with greater ease and satisfaction. Remember, progress may not always be linear, but every small step forward is a victory worth celebrating.
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