“I’ll think about it tomorrow. After all, tomorrow is another day.” Scarlett’s well-known final lines from Gone With the Wind have taken on huge proportions in our lives today.
Procrastination is a behavior that affects all of us at some point or other, and 25% of us are chronic procrastinators. It’s as though we’re saying, “The sooner I put it off, the more time I’ll have to catch up!”
When it comes to self-sabotage, procrastination rules. You intend to do something and yet can’t complete (or even start) acting upon that intention. You get lost in your own deliberations, making excuses to justify a delay. And you make this decision yourself; you can’t pass the blame on to anyone else. You undermine yourself, and sometimes in wasting too much time you can waste a lifetime.
Looking at this from one aspect, the fact that you can procrastinate shows you are in charge of making your own choices; that you are not a machine programmed to follow instructions without variation. You are a conscious being, and the self must choose to act. That’s the good news!
It also places the responsibility squarely on you. And procrastination can make you feel guilty, frustrated, incompetent, or depressed, and it can make you feel like avoiding those who are counting on you. And that’s our clue on where procrastination comes from: the emotions. While you may know intellectually what you ought to do right now, you don’t feel like doing it. So you focus on the short-term: feel good now, and worry about that task later. Short-term gain equals long-term pain.
There are three basic reasons people procrastinate. Most commonly, you avoid things you don’t like to do or that upset you in some way. A distasteful task makes you feel uncomfortable and you’d rather avoid the negative emotions.
Secondly, you might procrastinate because your intentions are vague or weak. Poorly defined intentions or goals can be part of the problem – and part of the self-sabotage. It is impossible to structure behavior against a poorly defined goal. Hence, you can put it off by saying, “I’ll figure that out later.”
Thirdly, you may be easily distracted and/or impulsive. You might think, “It will only take a minute for me to check my email, update my Facebook page, find that recipe, read that blog…” and before you know it, an hour or two (or three) has passed.
Goodness knows there is plenty in the world to distract you! Whether it is responsibilities at work, at home, or in your community, everyone wants your attention and commitment. The whole world is competing for your time and attention with marketing that is designed specifically for you. It is personal, appealing, and distracting.
So how do you overcome procrastination? One of the simplest and most effective solutions is to just get started – anywhere – on a task. The moment you think about putting off the next step, recognize that you are getting ready to procrastinate, to give in to feeling good…and also feeling guilty.
Start with baby steps. Aim for a little progress. Research indicates that engaging in some kind of action fuels motivation and changes perception of the task. You may find that it’s not as bad as you thought, and “a task begun is a task half-done!” Imagining how proud (and relieved) you’ll be when the task is completed is a strong motivator, too.
Transform feeble goals into effective plans for action. Be specific about how you are going to proceed: “In situation A, I will do behavior B to achieve the goal of C.” When situation A arises, you won’t have to think about what to do, you will already have decided that and won’t “need” to put it off while you “determine” what to do. The task then becomes a response, not a need to plan. Tell yourself exactly when and where you will act.
The solution to distraction lies in recognizing what distracts you and then either deciding to eliminate the diversion (“I will shut off Facebook while I’m on the computer.”) or declaring an intention to indulge it at a specific time once some work is completed. Again, research indicates that a little strategic planning helps support your resolve.
Changing habits takes time and practice… and patience. Pat yourself on the back when you have made a positive change away from procrastination. Be sure to keep your thoughts and feelings realistic and specific so that you don’t fall in to the “I’ll think about it tomorrow” pitfall.
Being honest with yourself about when and why you procrastinate will help you avoid that self-sabotaging behavior. It can help to make a public declaration to help you get past procrastination. What are you planning to do? Leave your ideas and commitments here in the comments.