I’m happy to say I managed to beat procrastination to write this article by just getting started. Maybe beating the procrastination habit will and can bring a lifetime of positive impact... My thoughts here are based on the work of Dr Tim Pychyl - an expert in the field of beating the procrastination habit, with expert articles discussing positive change.
Why do we put off something that could be done today until a later date?
Firstly, it was found that people are not good at forecasting how they will feel in the future. So, they make a decision (i.e. put some task off) that makes them feel better in the moment, and believe that feeling will continue into the future, when they can take the delayed action. But of course they find that good feeling has faded and the drive to complete the task is diminished, often resulting in further procrastination. That cycle continues until we get close enough to the deadline that the urgency to complete the task overwhelms the urge to put it off.
Secondly, we are not familiar with our future selves. In other words, we see our future selves as a stranger, and so don't consider them in our decisions.
When Marge Simpson once warned Homer that someday he’d regret not spending time with the children, he replied that “his future self would”, adding insightfully, “I don’t envy that guy.” Why would we take a decision today that would benefit someone we don’t know (yet)? And so the cycle of putting things off begins...
So how do we break the cycle?
Here are a couple of steps you can take. As with anything, it’s down to you to take these steps, and I always advise, focus on the process, let the outcome find it’s own way to you.
Firstly, self-awareness! Realize that your future self is not a stranger, it’s you, and you’ll be feeling and experiencing whatever we set up for ‘that guy’ today. That needs to come from inside.
Secondly, some real life actions…be specific about intentions, and make it a habit. Rather than saying “I’ll do my tax return this weekend”, say to yourself “I’ll do my tax return at 3pm on Saturday afternoon”. Even better, write it down, or put it in your calendar. There’s an extra level of commitment there that just might get you over the hump.
Here’s another one…need to set off the laundry in the morning before you go to work?…leave the basket in the way of the front door, you’ll have to do something before you go, may as well get it started. Simple things, which are effective if you have the will, and the only limit is your own imagination.
Finally, adopt this mantra ”just get started”. You don’t have to commit to finishing that task, just commit to starting it.
Here’s a great example. If you hate going for that early morning run when it’s raining and/or cold, just commit to getting into your gear and stepping out of the front door, then you’re allowed to go back in and back to bed. What are you really likely to do once you’re stood outside?
So just get started, and see what happens. It’s helpful in these cases to detach the feeling from the task. The statement “I don’t feel like it” is not relevant to performing that task. Push through that, break that link, and “just get started”.
What do you think? Let me know in the comments!