Key Points: So, why do we procrastinate? Procrastination can really be a pain in the… you know what, and trying to overcome it can be a struggle. This is the start of a comprehensive article and video series that will help you beat procrastination in no time. In the upcoming articles and episodes, we will dive deep into some highly effective methods. But we can only beat what we understand, so today, we will get a clear view of what procrastination is1Check out this definition of procrastination and this list of different definitions of procrastination by different people. and why we procrastinate. And you might be surprised about the secrets of procrastination. In short: If you want to beat procrastination, watch the video and read on!
What is Procrastination?
Postponing or Delaying an Important Task in Favour of Less Important Things
Of course, we all know that procrastinating means not doing an important task but spending our time with other, less important things. That doesn’t necessarily mean that we are wasting time. When you are procrastinating, you might actually be doing something meaningful – just not the one thing that is most important and should be completed soon.
Acting Against Better Judgement
When we procrastinate, we are usually well aware that what we are doing is not in our best interest. We know it will actually harm us. But many times, we just don’t seem to be able to muster up the necessary self-control and motivation to do what we are supposed to be doing. Instead, we keep acting against our better judgement.
But procrastinating isn’t the same thing as being lazy. It’s more a form of stress relief. You are giving yourself a break during stressful times to avoid dealing with issues that overwhelm you. But of course, this short timeout doesn’t help in the long run. It actually increases your levels of stress.
A Habit, Not a Personality Trait
And here, science comes to the rescue with a life-changing and little-known revelation: Procrastination is actually a habit. Science shows us that all habits, the good, the bad and the ugly, can be broken – with scientific methods.
For that, it’s crucial to understand the anatomy of a habit. So, it’s essential to keep in mind that a habit consists of 3 things: A trigger, a pattern and a reward.
When it comes to procrastination, stress is the trigger, avoiding doing something is the pattern, and stress relief is the reward you get from procrastinating.
Why Do We Procrastinate?
Not Because of the Task Itself But Due to Stress
When you feel stressed, your brain literally begs you for stress relief, and the most immediate form of stress relief is avoiding something you have to do. It doesn’t have to be the task itself that stresses you. It can be, but it doesn’t have to be. It can be anything from relationship problems to financial problems, hating your job or an upcoming appointment with a challenging client later in the day.
All these things cause stress, and of course, we want to avoid feeling stressed. So, our brain hijacks our self-control and decides to open our favourite game app instead because that distracts us from our stress and makes us feel good.
Procrastination as Instant Gratification
You see, the problem is that the human brain loves instant gratification. We want to be rewarded for our behaviour, and we want to be rewarded for it instantly. Procrastination gives our brain the instant gratification it craves. This is a problem in our modern society because most rewards are delayed. When you study for an exam, the reward is a good grade in a few days or weeks. When you need to complete a project at work, your paycheck is also days or weeks away. A healthy diet and exercising don’t have an immediate effect on your weight. The results only show slowly over the coming weeks and months. And so on.
Our “present self” knows very well that it has to plan for our “future self.” But hey, the “future self” is not here to keep an eye on us, so what happens? Once the “present self” is faced with a decision that either causes instant gratification for your here and now or a delayed benefit for your “future self,” things start to become complicated. Do you eat a delicious piece of cake that tastes oh so very good and is available right now? Or are you strong enough to deny yourself this treat in favour of the health of your “future self”? Or, do you indulge in a tiny bit of stress relief through procrastinating instead of working on the book you want to publish as part of your life vision? We have to face such decisions several times a day. Each time we have to decide whether we are on t”team present self” or “team future self.” Choosing in favour of our “future self” always requires much more mental energy than giving in to what our “present self” wants.
No Immediate Negative Consequences
Sure, if we don’t finish an important task in time, there are consequences. At work, your boss gets mad at you, in school or college, you get a bad grade on your test, your health deteriorates when you are older due to unhealthy habits, etc. But you don’t feel these consequences right away, they are in the future, and your “future self” needs to deal with them, not your “present self.”
But we tend to ignore the psychological pain we feel from procrastination before we start to work on our task – this uneasy feeling about knowing there is something we need to do, this nagging voice in our head that tries to urge us to get started. It can really take the joy out of our other activities, but until we get to the point that both pressure and pain are big enough, we don’t get to work.
For example, you don’t start to write your paper until you know that you will have to work throughout the next two days and nights to finish it, or you don’t switch to a healthy diet before you have severe health issues. But what can we do about it?
This is a question we are going to answer in our upcoming articles and episodes.
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