Your procrastination is self-sabotage. End of sentence. Period. Point blank.
Okay now let’s unpack.
For everyone who has their ammunition ready to fire and say “I get my best work done last minute!” I say, yeah because there are no other options but do get it done at that point. This conversation is not about how effective procrastination is in your life, it’s about improving your productivity and crushing your goals. You cannot procrastinate on important tasks and get important tasks done quickly — they are mutually exclusive.
Why is procrastination considered a from of self-sabotage? Well first of all, what do I mean by self-sabotage? According to Healthline, self-sabotaging presents itself in behaviors or thought patterns that stop you from doing what you want to do. Sometimes it is obvious and overt, but for the most part, self sabotage happens in the depths of our subconscious. Procrastination, according to Dr. Piers Steel, a professor of motivational psychology and author of “The Procrastination Equation: How to Stop Putting Things Off and Start Getting Stuff Done,” is putting stuff off against our better judgement. The word originates from the Latin word “procrastinare,” to leave until tomorrow, and the Greek word “akrasia,” to do against your better judgment.
The reason why people engage in procrastination, despite knowing it is probably not the best solution, and in fact not a solution at all, is because they’d rather put off the task than have to prolong the negative emotions associated with said task. In the words of Dr. Steel, “People engage in this irrational cycle of chronic procrastination because of an inability to manage negative moods around a task.” It makes so much sense if you think about it. I put off telling my parents about my first tattoo because I didn’t want to deal with their outrage. I procrastinated on getting my license renewed because I had to stand in line at the DMV and be miserable waiting on their subpar customer service. On the contrary, I was never a procrastinator in school because I enjoyed writing papers (much like I enjoy writing now) and I enjoyed learning and getting feedback. At the most basic level, procrastination is usually exercised when it’s something we do not want to do, despite the fact that doing that thing may benefit us in the end.
We don’t necessarily procrastinate because we are “scared of the outcome” or because it seems like a daunting task. We might procrastinate because the task seems incredible boring (like standing in line at the DMV), or intimidating, anxiety provoking, self-doubt inducing, requiring patience that you don’t have, and so on. The key is to recognize exactly why you want to procrastinate on a given task and then work to overcome the root cause of your procrastination. The DMV example is easy enough— I realize it is boring and sometimes frustrating to go, but if I don’t go with plenty of time, I could risk missing a paper and having to return another day after my license has expired! Other ones are not so simple; why is it that people procrastinate looking for a new job when they really want a new job? Is it the uncomfortableness of being “on the market,” is it self-doubt of your ability to land a new job, is it anxiety over the interviewing process? Whatever it is, this is something you need to uncover because you can job search, especially if you have a job already. Otherwise you run the risk of procrastinating indefinitely!
Strategies to get Moving
Understand your Limitations
More times than not, our limitations are self imposed. For example, we tell ourselves, I want a new job but I first need to fix my resume, and buy new clothes in case there’s an interview, and practice my interviewing skills, and so on. What we are really doing is stalling. Procrastination allows us to not have to deal with whatever feelings come up when we think about doing something outside of our comfort zone. While the thought of knowing we are procrastinating might make us feel bad, it also feels safer because we don’t have to set outside our comfort zone if we keep finding ways to stall. Other times procrastination is used as an excuse to let yourself off the hook for a job half done. Like when you have a big presentation for work or school, and you wait until the last possible minute to prepare. If you bomb it you tell yourself it was because you waited till last minute but you totally could have crushed it if you tried. If you do well, you reinforce the behavior and do it again next time. Either way, you are limiting yourself from the potential of having prepared, practiced and built the confidence to know you will crush it (and then go out and crush it).
Make a Definitive Choice
Indecision is the twin sister of procrastination. They like to skip the yellow brick road hand in hand. The only difference is that indecision might drive you crazy— having to think about this vs. that, this vs. that, over and over again. The best advice for making a decision is to separate your self-worth from the outcomes. For example, if you make the choice to ask your boss for a promotion and they say no, it is not really a reflection of your decision to ask, whether you asked or not, the answer would have still been no. Another example: you make a decision at work to go with consultants A vs. consultants B, C or D. Consultants A turn out to be terrible consultants and you have to now terminate their contract and hire consultants B. At this point, it doesn’t matter that you “didn’t make the right choice” because you had no way of knowing the future and either way, you have the opportunity to fix it. The fact is there is no such thing as the “right choice” and indecision will only delay you making a choice whether the outcomes are favorable or not; or stop you from doing anything at all.
Welcome Delayed Gratification
The fact that we live in a world that reinforces instant gratification is nothing new. It’s also counterproductive to personal growth and the realities of how to achieve real influence and success in the world. Jeff Bezo didn’t just become rich and successful. There’s not such thing. Using this same lust of instant gratification, we push back things that we want to do or should do because those things produce initial negative emotions and delayed gratifications. Clear example: the thought of working out makes me feel really icky. I don’t want to sweat, I don’t want to feel tired, I don’t want to get up and do it. But like clockwork, every time I work out I feel great afterwards! It’s the delayed gratification of putting your body to work and doing something good for yourself. The key here is to shift your mindset— think long term. In the long run, it is wiser to get going now so that later you want enjoy the gratification. Don’t think about the initial uneasy, instead think about the final reward.
The Bottom Line
First and foremost, you have to know why you are procrastinating despite knowing you want to do it or doing it will greatly benefit you. Once you understand the root of your procrastination, you can work on overcoming or reframing or by-passing the cause whereby minimizing its effect. We all like to think we know ourselves but we often don’t ask ourselves the hard questions, so how will we be able to overcome something like procrastination? The other piece is to take action. It is not enough to know why, you have to use that information to learn, grow and adapt. What use is it that I know I have fear of failure if I never do anything to deal with it? Use this new wisdom you’ve gain about yourself to make a meaningful change. And if you need help, don’t be shy, reach out to me.
Part 3: Confidence is a muscle, Learn How to Train It.
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Articles Cited: Why You Procrastinate (It Has Nothing to Do With Self-Control), How Self-Sabotage Holds You Back