As a child, I was terrified of horror movies – as many children are.
Whenever I watched one, I would bundle up in my blanket in fear, and then stay up all night vigilantly keeping an eye out for any monsters hiding in the closet or lurking outside the window.
But that all changed when I changed my approach to watching horror films. Instead of hiding from the screen, I started sitting forward. Instead of cowering, I would punch the air whenever I thought a monster was nearby. I would even yell out things like “Come and get me!” or “I could take you!” at the screen when I felt particularly frightened.
And when I started watching horror movies that way, I suddenly wasn’t as scared anymore. I started sleeping through the night, and I even enjoyed them.
While it might be a silly example, it did teach me that instead of being reactive to fear, I should start being active in fighting it. When I took a “fight” stance instead of a “flight” stance, I felt more confident and my fear melted away.
What *is* Procrastination?
So, what does this have to do with procrastination? Well, procrastination is often a product of fear.
We certainly don’t procrastinate because we enjoy adding stress to our lives.
We actually often procrastinate out of a fear of failure. We fear not living up to our own hopes for ourselves. We feel stressed to perform well because we care so deeply about what we do that we create high expectations for ourselves which end up causing anxiety because we’re not sure we can meet those expectations.
We fear the pain that will come with actually working on a project or task and then finding that we didn’t do such a great job after all. In fact, we become so afraid of not succeeding, that we put off the thing we really need to get done until the panic sets in, and ironically, we end up doing a rush job that we’re not even proud of.
Procrastination is our minds’ way of trying to avoid these feelings of stress and anxiety. Instead of working on the thing causing our fear – like that homework assignment, or that big project – we turn to distractions that provide short-term, instant gratification and grant us some stress-relief.
The part of our brain that wants us to procrastinate doesn’t understand that we’re setting ourselves up for more pain later. That part of us only lives in the present moment. And in the present moment, the quickest and easiest way to feel happy is to avoid the thing causing our stress and anxiety, AKA the chore, task, or project we want to procrastinate.
For example, you might find yourself scrolling on the internet or listening to music for hours without having accomplished anything you really needed to get done.
You might even find yourself “productively procrastinating.” “Productive procrastination” occurs when we fear doing a particular task, but want to experience the enjoyable feeling of being productive, so we end up doing other, less important chores and To-Dos that don’t really help us move forward.
For example, you might find yourself reorganizing your desk, or rearranging some folders. But these things just make you feel productive, when in reality, you are just spinning your wheels to evade doing the thing you really should be doing.
Of course, this all comes crashing down on us when our deadlines approach. The panic sets in, and sometimes we are able to pull through at the last minute and get our assignment done on time.
But we don’t always have deadlines to save us. Some things have no “due date,” like working out, changing careers, fixing a relationship, or putting more effort into a business. Procrastinating things like these can have terrible consequences because we don’t ever live up to our full potential.
But how is one supposed to ever stop procrastinating if there are no deadlines, and therefore, no panic to step in and save us? How do we avoid procrastination before it even begins?
Step One: Acknowledge Your Fear
The first step to avoiding procrastination is to acknowledge your fear. Determine the reason WHY you have a habit of procrastination so that you can start to think around your emotions. Ask yourself questions like:
- Why is this particular assignment, project, or task stressing me out?
- Do I have high expectations for myself that I’m not sure I can meet?
- Do I feel like I need to live up to previous work I’ve done in the past?
When you get honest with yourself, you end up facing your fear and realizing that it is both very real and currently holding you back.
Step Two: Establish Your “Why?”
The second step to avoiding procrastination is to establish WHY you want to stop procrastinating. Is it because it’s the only way to break through to the next level of success? Because you want to be the kind of person who keeps their word and gets their stuff done on time? Because you want to enjoy free-time later? What will the consequences be if you keep procrastinating?
When we ask ourselves these questions, we replace our anxiety of failure with NEW emotions: excitement about the rewards we’ll receive when we accomplish our goals on time, and even fear of what will happen if we continue procrastinating.
Step Three: Remove Distractions
The next step to avoiding procrastination is to make sure your environment is conducive to productivity. Remove all distractions from your space. I’m a big fan of turning off my phone and putting it in my sock drawer so I’m not tempted to scroll on social media or answer messages.
Step Four: Take Immediate Action
Finally, the last and most important step is to take immediate action. As soon as you realize that you are procrastinating, or that you are even thinking about procrastinating, it’s vital that you take immediate measures to start working on the project you need to work on, even if it’s just a tiny amount.
It is much easier to continue a task than start it from scratch. Once you get the hardest part done with your project – which is just starting in the first place – it’s much more likely you will keep working.
You can take immediate action by setting a timer to work on a small piece of your project for 5 minutes. Seriously, it only takes 5 minutes to get started. After the 5 minutes are up, take a 5-minute break. Over time, work yourself up to the full Pomodoro Method, which breaks your workload down into 25-minute chunks followed by 5-minute breaks.
Just like how I overcame my fear of watching scary movies, when you find yourself procrastinating, take a moment to change from a reactive state to an active state. Let the project or assignment or chore you’re supposed to work on know it can’t scare you. When you acknowledge your anxiety’s presence, you take the first step towards removing it.
Then, attack your procrastination head-on. Take immediate action to curb the slippery slope that is “I’ll work on it later.” Because the opposite of procrastination is not actually productivity (since productivity can be a form of procrastination, as we’ve discussed). The opposite of procrastination is actually courage.
When you gather the courage and determination to really examine your procrastination habits, you’ll find that you do have the motivation to overcome them, get to work, and relieve your stress in a healthy way.