WHY DO WE PROCRASTINATE?
There are a ton of reasons we procrastinate. Probs quite ironic that I’ve sat with just that first sentence written for about 10 minutes, just appreciating the scone display in the café I’m working in.
We procrastinate because we’re stressed, we just don’t want to do something, or because we see the task as something negative. Or, the biggie for me, fear of failure.
Maybe you’re just waiting for the ‘right place, right time’ to do something, and ‘right now’ never seems to be it.
Whatever the reason, you’re probably your own worst enemy when it comes to putting something off that you know you need to do.
I’ve been digging into research on procrastination, it’s effects, and some strategies we can use to try and tackle it. Because I know procrastinating is one helluva problem for us all.
So, procrastinating can result from feeling disconnected from our future selves; or, as a result of a breakdown in our self-regulating mental processes.. This means it’s easy to ignore potential negative consequences of procrastinating.
This is pretty likely when you think about doing something you feel negatively about. If a task is boring, frustrating, difficult, or lacks quick results, it can lead us into a fairly bad mood when we think about doing it.
In other words, we ‘give in to feel good’, and feeling good can be achieved, in the short term, by avoiding the task.
Preach, right? I constantly avoid things I know are good for me because they’re scary, or hard, or I tell myself I don’t have the energy, or that I’ve earned a break. Sound familiar?
WHY IS PROCRASTINATING SO BAD?
The shit thing is, procrastination doesn’t just mean you miss deadlines. It can have really negative consequences for health and wellbeing.
Think about your resolution to get fit. You bought the gym membership, you know it’ll make you feel good when you’ve done a workout, and it’ll help you towards your fitness or health goals, but you still don’t go.
The negative health impacts here are that you miss out on an opportunity to make yourself stronger, fitter, and grab some of the mood-boosting effects of exercise.
Procrastination is also linked to stress which, in turn, has a negative impact on your physical and mental health.
Research has shown that procrastinators experience high levels of stress, and lower levels of self-compassion.
Although this research used mainly undergraduates as their participants and their circumstances are obviously different to the general population, it’s definitely worth considering that trying to boost your self-compassion to have a healthier attitude toward yourself ain’t gonna do you no harm.
STRATEGY 1 – MENTAL IMAGERY
Ever heard of oneirotherapy? Nah, me neither until today. It’s all about visual imagery and imagination.
Some people have had success reducing their procrastinating habits by imagining themselves in the future.
To get the best effect, you really have to imagine being in your future self’s body. Thinking about the feelings and sensations involved: the sights, smells, touch, tastes of being your future self.
It makes a lot of sense. Consider how procrastinating might effect your goals and imagine how that will impact you in the future.
Tips for mental imagery
- Question yourself to prompt details in the scenario and really make it vivid. The clearer the image, the better.
- Consider yourself from both a first and third person perspective. So, how will you look, think and feel in the future and how will others see and respond to you?
- Make sure you have time to really focus on this, in the same way you would a meditation session – quiet room, no distractions.
Take the example of exercise, again. Imagine yourself standing in a room in 6 months’ time. Describe the room – is it light? Are there any other objects or people in the room with you? Where are you exactly? What are you doing there?
Start to notice your appearance. What is the expression on your face? Is your haircut the same? Are you wearing makeup? Pan down. What does your body look like? Is it different from how you see your body in the present? Do you have a tan? Do you have any new scars? Tattoos? Have you gained or lost anything? Weight? Muscle tone? How do you feel about that? Do you look stronger? Do you look healthier? How do you feel about that?
And so on.
I read a really interesting dissertation where participants did some ‘future-self-focused’ mental imagery exercises. They showed a decrease in procrastination afterwards.
The point is to make yourself in the present feel more connected and more empathetic toward your future self.
Because of the vividness of the images about your future self, you might procrastinate less as you’re more readily aware of the consequences.
Mental imagery is something that is probably quite new to a lot of us. But, I urge you to give it a try.
STRATEGY 2 – SELF-FORGIVENESS
Another strategy is to forgive yourself for procrastinating.
Apparently, if you forgive yourself, and move on, you’re more likely to just crack on without delay next time.
This was a key finding in some research, again with students, who’d forgiven themselves for their initial procrastination studying for exams. They then showed less negative emotion in the time between exams and were less likely to procrastinate before the next lot of exams.
Self-forgiveness wasn’t related to performance in the first exams, but it did predict better performance in the second set.
The idea is that you acknowledge that procrastination is a disservice to yourself and you can move forward without the weight of guilt to hinder you in the future. You try to let go of that negative emotion and you can positively approach the task next time.
STRATEGY 3 – VISION BOARD
This is just kind of based on my own experience. I have a secret board on Pinterest which is my ‘vision board’ for the future. I pin any images which make me excited for the future.
Things like: fitness inspiration, interior décor, business tools, personal appearance stuff, pictures of happy families, pictures of awesome summer BBQs and travel snaps….you get the idea.
I add to this whenever I feel like it, but it’s particularly useful for when I feel like putting something off when I know I shouldn’t.
Whenever I feel like I just can’t face working, or networking, going to the gym, or doing something for personal development, I look at my future vision board and it reminds me that, to get the life I really want, I need to do the thing I’m putting off.
At some point, when I have a more permanent residence, I’d love to make this vision board physical. It’d be a great thing to have up in your office if you have one.
Procrastination is a problem we can all face, but I’d love to know if you’ve found a way to stop, and how that’s impacted your life. Share in the comments, or drop me an email.
Share your vision boards with me, I’d love to see them. I might even make mine public for accountability!