The True Reason Why You Can’t Stop Procrastinating

Why Do We Procrastinate?

The reason why we procrastinate is because of a concept called time consistency. This concept indicates that the human brain places more value on immediate rewards than future rewards. So when we are faced with two choices, we are attracted to the choice that provides the immediate reward.

This is why the internet and your phone are some of the biggest distractions; they provide instant stimulation. The more time we spend engaging in behaviours that provide immediate rewards, the less likely we are to value activities that provide future rewards.

Equally, we procrastinate because we’re trying to avoid the emotional labour involved in doing a task that provides future rewards. These activities include things like: studying, house chores and exercise. We’ve made a judgement that a task is going to be frightening, painful, tedious, strenuous, or challenging, compared to the instant reward we can get from actions like eating and checking our phone.

Once we’ve made that judgement, it becomes cemented in our minds, so we go to great lengths to avoid doing that task. Even if it’s a new task that we’ve never done before, our mind makes a judgement on whether the task will create pain or pleasure. If our mind assumes the task to be painful or negative, it will procrastinate to avoid doing that task. Or, if there’s a task that provides a quicker reward, our mind will usually choose that.


What Happens When Procrastination Accumulates?

When you procrastinate, it feels like you’re saving yourself from the pain associated with doing the task, but that’s not what happens. Counterintuitively, you’re building up more tension and pain than if you just did the task in the first place. 

Procrastination is about staying in your comfort zone. It feels like nothing bad can happen as long as you remain in your comfort zone. But by procrastinating, you’re making the situation worse for yourself.

Imagine that you need to tell someone some bad news, but you’re hesitant about telling them. For example, you made an error that cost your company a lot of money. The easiest thing to do is be honest and let your boss know immediately. But rather them telling them straight away, you say to yourself that you’ll deal with it tomorrow.


The Consequences of Procrastination

What happens when you delay telling your boss until tomorrow? You carry this psychological burden with you, knowing that you’ve yet to break the bad news, and you have to do it tomorrow. If you had told them straight away, you would have been relieved of this burden. But now, you spend your evening thinking about how tomorrow will play out. 

You feel like you’re preventing yourself from pain, but you’re worsening the pain. It might have been a painful five minutes when you’re delivering the news, but after that five minutes is over, you wouldn’t need to think about it anymore. 

There are two consequences of procrastinating here: Firstly, you have to carry his psychological burden with you until tomorrow. You’re not going to feel relaxed because, in the back of your mind, you know you need to deliver that news tomorrow. 

Secondly, the fear or nerves that you are feeling will be even worse tomorrow. It’s going to be even harder to speak to your boss tomorrow because you’ve created this case in your mind of how difficult it will be to tell them. You’ve made it to be such a big deal that you’re going to feel more nervous about telling them tomorrow.

The more time and energy you spend worrying about something, the more painful it will become. You can think of procrastination like a wound. If you put antiseptic on it immediately, you might encounter a brief sting, but you’ll ensure the wound doesn’t get infected. But if you don’t apply the antiseptic straight away, the wound can get infected, leaving you in more pain than you would have experienced if you had used the antiseptic initially.


The Mindset for Eliminating Procrastination

If you’re a procrastinator, then you’re overestimating the pain of taking action and overestimating the pleasure of putting it off. When you need to do something that you don’t want to do, your mind highlights the discomfort of doing it. It’s picking out all the negatives of taking action. It’s also highlighting all the positives of not taking action, like staying in your comfort zone and not having to deal with any pressure. 

However, your mind is ignoring all the negatives of not taking action. It’s not factoring in the psychological burden you have to carry, all the stress that builds up from resisting, and how much worse it will be to eventually face the problem after delaying it. So when you’re aware of how many issues it’s creating, this will put you on the path to correcting the procrastination habit,

A smoker knows cigarettes are bad for them on a logical level, but they’re not independently and consciously thinking about that. Only once they intentionally think about how cigarettes affect their lives do their habits start to change. Hearing on the news that cigarettes cause cancer is different from a doctor showing you an x-ray of your lungs. Once you make it personal, that’s when you become aware of the damage caused by your bad habits.

You know logically that it’s not good to procrastinate, but that’s a surface-level understanding of why you shouldn’t procrastinate. Once you pinpoint something specific, that’s when the change happens. In the example above, if you foresee how your evening will be ruined by the thought of having to deliver bad news to your boss tomorrow, you’ll be more likely to deliver the news immediately. 



You're Exaggerating The Resistance

A task like sitting down to do your taxes isn’t that daunting to start, but your mind makes it seem daunting because of your resistance. There’s nothing extraordinary or challenging about the task. All you need to do is sit down at a desk and concentrate; this is something that everyone has done at some point in their life. 

However, once you develop a habit of procrastination, you’ll face resistance to start even the smallest of tasks. It feels like the pain comes from the thought of doing the task, but the pain comes from your resistance. If you were to do the task immediately without procrastination, there wouldn’t be any negative feelings or resistance.

Procrastination completely zaps your energy; the more you resist, the worse you feel. In the back of your mind, you have this task that you know you should be doing. Different parts of your mind are battling each other. Your higher self wants you to be productive, and your lower self wants you to be lazy. So you’re in this continuous tug of war. Procrastination can make you feel mentally exhausted. 

It’s important to realise that procrastination only has power over you when you resist. As soon as you stop resisting, the negative emotions will stop. But how do you let go of resistance? 


Allowing Yourself to Feel the Resistance

To let go of the resistance, you simply feel into the emotion. Rather than resisting the task at hand or trying to eliminate any negative emotions, just feel whatever emotions are there. You’re so fixated on avoiding the task that you aren’t even aware of what sensations you’re feeling. 

You should try to pinpoint exactly where it is in your body that you feel the resistance and what qualities it has.

For example, if you’re feeling defeated, your legs might feel weak. If you’re feeling stressed or aggravated, your arms and chest might feel tight. If you feel confused or exhausted, your head and neck might feel heavy. Is it a consistent sensation, or does it come in waves? 

If you’re able to sit there and experience the sensations in your body, then you’re able to overcome procrastination. As you keep your awareness on these sensations in your body, the emotions will start to subside. The reason they subside is that you have let go of the resistance. You’re no longer trying to escape the present moment. 

It feels like you’ve been resisting a daunting task, but you’ve actually been resisting your imagination of how daunting you think the task will be. So when you feel into your emotions, you are separating the negative sensation from the task.

When you’re running away from your emotions, you can’t see what’s causing you to feel like this. But when you turn to face your emotions, you can see that your resistance was the problem, not the task itself.

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