When was the last time you put something off that you really ought to have done?
Procrastination is something we all do. But did you know, by procrastinating you are risking more than just a deadline? People who put things off are more likely to experience greater stress, worry and guilt. It’s even linked to being in worse physical and mental condition . In other words, it’s not to be taken lightly.
If it’s so bad for us, why do we procrastinate?
Try an activity: Think back to the last time you put something important off. What was it? What did you do instead? How difficult did it “seem” at the time? And why did you “really” put it off? Make a mental note of your answers for later.
Here’s my example: writing a blog. What I should have been doing was crafting and publishing new, unique content. What I actually spent a lot of time doing was playing around with WordPress themes. Hours of fun in fact 🙂
Crafting and publishing new content is not difficult. Getting people to read it is, however. The fact is that I have little control over who actually reads my blog. And, rightly or wrongly, I’ve come to associate page views with my success as a blogger.
When specific examples are written down, it’s easy to see why you and I procrastinate. In most cases, we procrastinate because are scared to fail.
Activity time: Now reflect on your answers from earlier. Does this sound familiar?
By avoiding something and therefore never finishing it, you cannot fail. Likewise, by switching to an activity that you have full control over, such as watching TV, you cannot fail. Psychologically it’s much easier to take the safe option. The issue, however, is that this logic is fundamentally not compatible with your long success or happiness.
How do you break the cycle of procrastination?
In today’s culture, where judgements are typically made based upon 30-second interactions and social media profiles, too many people associate success with the approval of others. Granted, a bit of this is healthy. It’s a powerful motivator to improve.
If you rely too much on other’s approval, however, you can become paralysed with fear. And this can quickly turn to watching TV or getting drunk as a form of avoidance.
To combat this, try reframing what “success” and “failure” mean to you. John Wooden, the legendary college basketball coach, famously puts it that “Success comes from knowing that you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming”.
This shifts the definition of success to something that you have control over and that seems more achievable. We can all “try our best”. As a result, your stress levels will decrease and you’ll feel more relaxed about the task in hand.
One final activity: Next time you find yourself wanting to put something off, I challenge you to apply John Wooden’s mantra and not feel more relaxed about the situation. Notice, what happens to your stress levels? Do you still want to procrastinate?
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 Sirois, F. M., & Tosti, N.. (2012). Lost in the Moment? An Investigation of Procrastination, Mindfulness, and Well-being. Journal of Rational-Emotive & Cognitive-Behavior Therapy. 30 (4), 237–248.
 Sirois, F. M.. (2007). “I’ll look after my health, later”: A replication and extension of the procrastination–health model with community-dwelling adults. Personality and Individual Differences. 43 (1), 15-26.