All procrastination is delay, but not all delay is procrastination. Procrastination is when you delay by doing something inconsequential while other more important tasks are ignored. We procrastinate because we find it hard to control our behavior when our emotions are involved. For example, we may be afraid to do what we need to because we feel inadequate or because we might fail. No one likes these emotions, so subconsciously we feel if we procrastinate, we will get rid of them. Here are a few ways to combat those feelings.
Start small, but get started. It is much less daunting to say simply to yourself I’m going to start instead of thinking I can’t stop till I’m finished. Do something to ease yourself in. Play some of your favorite music and dance. Take your dog for a walk. Anything that gives you a feeling of self-soothing. Keep it going for no more than 15-20 minutes. The starting can be as little as setting an appointment with your accountant to stop putting off your tax preparation. The difference in your brain when you do an action is amazing. You’ll be surprised how momentum moves you as soon as you make a small start.
Think about ‘future’ you. We often feel disconnected from our future selves. There are face apps that will transform you and show what you will look like with wrinkles and gray hair. Psychologically, we feel more empathy for our future selves when we see that image. People in a study put twice as much money away for retirement when they saw an image of themselves as old. It’s amazing how our minds work! So, if you’re putting off a visit to your doctor, imagine a future you, hopefully, healthy.
Change the stories you tell yourself. Get rid of those excuses. Are you too tired? Rate how tired you are from 1-10. If you feel at a 5 you can at least work on the task for 15 minutes and you’ll be surprised at how often you will work for a half hour or more. Think you have a lot of time left? If you get on top of it now you can do even more later. Afraid of missing out on fun now? Think of how you will reward yourself with more fun later when the task is completed. Don’t have everything you need? You most likely have enough to get started!
Lastly, be nice to yourself. The more you criticize yourself for procrastinating, the more unmotivated you feel, and it is more likely you will continue to procrastinate. Turning self-criticism into more motivational self-talk can also help to overcome procrastination. The best way to motivate yourself is to speak to yourself as you would a friend who was in the same situation, as we tend to be encouraging rather than critical to others.
Kathleen Weaver-Zech and Dean’s Team Chicago