It’s so easy to think how icky you’re supposed to feel when procrastinating. You might think, I’ve been there. I’ve been a terrible procrastinator. Surely, procrastination is the thief of time I’ll never get back … But is it all really just a phase? Should unlearning procrastination be easy, too?

Procrastination is a learned habit. (Yes, a habit, that thing that essentially shapes our future.) The good news is that it can be unlearned, although it might not be easy.

Ten to twenty percent of adults are chronic procrastinators. That might sound terrible, but chronic procrastination is not a psychiatric diagnosis, although it’s associated with stress and anxiety, poor performance at work, and generally reduced wellbeing.

Do you go to bed late? If so, why? In case you didn’t know, there’s such a thing called bedtime procrastination, something I’m guilty of. I used to think I missed a lot of things (read: everything) had I gone to bed early. Never did I wholeheartedly accept that what I could do now could be done now, and tomorrow’s activities tomorrow. All in all, it had been the fear of missing out. Trying to pacify the fear is procrastination.

Understanding Procrastination

Why do we procrastinate, anyway?

Let’s state the obvious first: We procrastinate because we can do something else more fun. Sometimes it doesn’t even have to be more fun when your task is uber-boring and you think you’re the only one in the universe who’s doing it.

Seriously, why do it, right? Why couldn’t you do what everybody else is doing, and be happier and have fun, too? If your friend always talks about the latest films, then why not binge-watch, too? Now ain’t that fun while at the same time you’ve added another topic for discussion the next time you hang out with that friend.

So, boredom. A bit of procrastinating shouldn’t hurt. It’s a no-brainer.

But what if you regularly do your self-pep talk already and know that you should embrace the boredom? You know it but after maximizing all your powers, you find the task overwhelming, and your brain just goes numb, and dumb, to identify what to do next.

The second reason we procrastinate: It’s just freaking overwhelming.

And then you start looking for inspiration in standing up for a while and having a walk, or perhaps reading another amazing book, or heck, just watching your favorite episode of Breaking Bad—again.

The third reason, which I’m not really sure whether it’s the root reason of it all … is fear. Are you sure you’re only bored (to death) when you sit down to finish a paper due next month? You think you’re just overwhelmed because you stumbled upon an idea you know nothing about?

You just might have the fear. Fear that it’s not going to work out—that your life is never going to work out as you imagine. The fear of failure. Or the fear of being ridiculed by people you care about (they are people who apparently care about you, too). The fear of losing people you like.

Fear is crippling. What’s worse is that it disguises itself as something else, showering you with short-term comfort but compromising the work that could allow you to reach your true potential.

Make no mistake; we assume here that you love the work you do—not everything about it, perhaps, but it’s work you have to be doing you can’t imagine doing something else.

If you’ve been procrastinating over your work, or career, for years (do you see progress?), then there must be another one you deserve better.

Change your thinking.

Countless times I’ve put off tasks I needed to finish, but then I’ve realized I wasn’t really happy working in the particular job. I’ve been working in a job that seemed to have kept me from something I really liked, from the kind of people I wanted to hang out with, and from the lifestyle I dreamed of.

I decided that I wanted to stop procrastinating, to take my time back, to truly learn outside the walls of an organization that restricted growth … at least from my point of view.

It’s one of the reasons I’m transitioning to becoming a writer. It might be the epitome of change, because I feel like I’m doing the 180-degree turn, career-wise. But this is my version of it.

I still struggle with procrastination: having to sit in front of my beloved computer, wondering whether someone would get to read my posts, and hoping to somehow change their life a bit for the better. But through the short time I’ve been writing, I’ve been learning to set my mindset straight: waste no time.

I’ve been writing words when I was in my past self/identity/job writing numerical equations I wasn’t sure I really cared about, and now I actually have the opportunity to maintain a blog and write for a living—what the hell is stopping me now?

Your reasons are different from mine, most probably. Your way of thinking is unique, for sure.

Are you doing it for your family? For your happiness? Are you doing it for a cause?

We try to find fulfillment in life. Once you discover what provides yours, you’ll work for it. It starts in your head.

Forgive yourself.

Forgive yourself for procrastinating for the first time (or for the umpteenth time?) and you’ll less likely procrastinate on your next try.

Procrastination yields stress and anxiety. Just imagine avoiding a responsibility, temporarily, knowing that you’re going to do it later anyway, when you could do other errands just as important.

Procrastination provides immediate gratification. But it is a silent killer—it can kill your best future self, the self that would manage your relationships, finances, or health.

Past is past—it’s the truth that enables us to objectively detach ourselves and move on. Forgive yourself. Blaming yourself won’t help.

That’s why it’s very important to be honest with yourself when you commit to forgiveness. Forgiveness is settling with the past, being permanent as it is. Go back to the mocking question “Why are you even doing it?” You want to reach a goal, but there are sacrifices along the way. To start your battle, your war, be honest with yourself.

It’s a wonderful combination: Moving on from mistakes and unpleasant attitudes, and facing tomorrow knowing in your heart that you’re not fooling yourself.

Fantasy: It depends.

It feels good to believe that you’re going to become the millionaire you portray in your mind. Or have that toned beach body. Or fix, as if magically, a damaged relationship.

However, fantasizing can be detrimental that it can blow expectations out of proportion. When this happens, obtainable goals—SMART goals—can be compromised.

Instead, what you should fantasize—or visualize—are the processes involved in achieving a certain goal. For the beach body example, you could visualize walking your way to the gym, or the hassles that could hinder you and looking for easy workarounds.

Visualize a realistic process or goal you can nail, right now, instead of that which doesn’t happen in months or even years.

Always look for the easiest way to start.

Creativity sure doesn’t hurt when you use it for the sake of starting.

The idea is that if there’s something you’d like to commit to doing for a very long time, make the necessary adjustments just so you could start. For you’ll more likely finish what you start. Sounds ridiculously simple, right? Because it makes perfect sense.

It’s called the Zeigarnik Effect. The Zeigarnik Effect states that we ought to remember the details of an ongoing task—more than a finished one—and this draws us to finish that ongoing task.

The key is to start, or in a parallel universe, continue. Even though overwhelming and mind-boggling. Huge tasks can be broken down into smaller ones, and if we only look at the whole picture, at how huge those tasks are, we will get discouraged and might not start at all. Find the easier way to attack just so you could start.

On the other hand, make distractions a bit more of a hassle to do. Make it 20 seconds away. Or a minute. Or two. That would depend.

Bury the great films in multiple layers of folders in your computer, or better yet, move them to an external drive so that when the urge of binge-watching comes yet again, you’d have to stand up, go to the living room, and get it from a drawer. How many minutes would that take?

Make it easier for you to start, and harder to waste time. Ridiculousness sometimes is nice when procrastination’s slowly eating away your future.

Do the right thing for the wrong reason.

todoist Blog discusses a method Dan Ariely calls Reward Substitution, which allows us to handle negative emotions while doing work.

I’ll tell you how I put this method into practice, to illustrate. I’ve been committing to doing exercise at home, five days a week. This period of my life has been so far the most active because of it.

Exercise is a good thing, as you already know. But let’s be honest here; would you normally see its beneficial effects immediately after a workout? Hell, no. These are what come to mind: exercise is so tiring; these body fats won’t go away soon; I’d rather have that perfect cup of coffee.

However, I have a wrong reason: I love music but I’m the easily-distracted type of guy. Work periods need to be quiet.

So I wouldn’t insist on myself the life-changing benefits of daily exercise—I just want to listen to my damn playlist. Especially that a workout session could be finished in only 20 minutes—a very short period in my existence.

This kind of mentality actually encourages me to discover even more music, and eventually pushes me to exercise anyway. It works. I feel great after workouts.

Reward Substitution is like procrastination: it’s not procrastination because you get to do—or start—the work, which in most cases is the only thing that matters. It’s satisfying short-term gratification, while productively moving closer to long-term goals.

In a sense it’s a revelation. Not all hard work is actually that hard.

Discomfort is part of it.

The following should be familiar to you by now … Boredom is discomfort. Being overwhelmed is discomfort. Fear is discomfort. You could argue that a multitude of things in between is also discomfort.

If you love procrastinating, like everybody else, but at the same time loathe it, then you simply have to learn to face discomfort, live with it, and carry on anyway.

I believe I’ve been a chronic procrastinator in my past self (when I pretty much had no idea how the self, or the world, worked).

Discomfort is a liar. It made me believe that I’d be at least 1% better if I just looked for some inspiration somewhere before doing the grunt work. It cost me years of ignorance, of helplessness, of believing that I’d die as the small person I’d always been.

Discomfort tells you to just delay it, but it doesn’t tell you that in doing so you also delay learning about all the amazing stuff.

Just do it. It won’t matter, at this point, whether you’re going the exact direction fate has been making you figure out. Procrastinating is delaying. If you want to reach the place so bad and you have to walk, why not start walking now? Your feet are going to hurt, but should that stop you? Discomfort is part of it all.

Consider therapy.

Psychologist Tim Pychyl says that chronic procrastinators might need therapy to better understand their emotions and how they cope with them through avoidance.

Dr. Joseph Ferrari, on the other hand, agrees with Pychyl. Chronic procrastination, according to Dr. Ferrari, is linked to personality challenges like ADHD, passive-aggressive tendencies, revenge, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Procrastination should be okay from time to time, but if it becomes habitual that it jeopardizes daily tasks, even though you’ve read and learned a lot about it already, then maybe it’s about time you visited a therapist.

If you feel that approaching a therapist is too much, you could start with discussing with a friend the kinds of stress you both experience. Friends are nice to have around anyway!

Think About It

Overcoming procrastination is a bit about mindset and hugely about managing our emotions.

It’s about emotional resilience.

You don’t need resilience only after a storm passes by your life. You also need resilience to bring back the fighter attitude in starting and finishing a task or project, to maintain the sense of excitement you felt when you were just starting, and to hold on to the fulfillment of pursuing your purpose no matter what happens in your lifelong commitment.

You might feel alone, because not everybody, especially those dear to you, don’t really support what you do. But they are not you. They don’t know what you want, and don’t want. They don’t have the right to tell you what to do, even if they feel entitled.

You might feel impatient. Because at some point you have compared yourself with your friends or other people your age. Time seemed to have passed so fast you feel left out. But remember that great things most probably take time.

You might feel that you’re unable, that you’re only running in circles, that you’ve already lost.

There are a lot of damn excuses to procrastinate, or even stop for good. I’m not going to tell you that it’s supposed to be easy—that managing emotions is easy. But every time you sit down (or stand up) to do the work, you succeed in taming your own Instant Gratification Monkey, you move a step closer to your grand goals, and you beat procrastination—one step at a time.

You are now procrastination’s silent killer.

(Top image: David K)

Please share this post if you liked it!