If ever there was proof that everyone is creative, we just have to look at the ways we manage to avoid doing things we don’t want to do. We suddenly have a fascination for hoovering dust bunnies, or we create a myriad of reasons to justify putting off going to the gym we pay for every month. We jump hoops to leap out of the way of a looming deadline. It sometimes takes more energy to avoid something than it does to complete it. So what’s going on? Is procrastination laziness or some kind of fear? Fear of failure, fear of being judged on the end result, fear that it won’t be perfect, fear of change, fear of taking the wrong path?
Fear of Finishing?
People have struggled with procrastination or habitual hesitation going back to ancient civilizations. The Greek poet Hesiod, writing around 800 B.C., cautioned not to “put your work off till tomorrow and the day after.”
Some people say, so what’s the problem, we get stuff done in the end. But at what cost? One of the first studies to document the pernicious nature of procrastination was published in Psychological Science back in 1997. APS Fellow Dianne Tice and APS William James Fellow Roy Baumeister, then at Case Western Reserve University (now both at Florida State University) say “despite its apologists and its short-term benefits, procrastination cannot be regarded as either adaptive or innocuous…Procrastinators end up suffering more and performing worse than other people.”
So can we get ourselves to budge when we have bolted the door against a task we need to get done or a choice we need to make? Most people know what the right thing to do is, and they have the intention to do it but our fears and flaws get in the way. Of course we can make the right changes but we have to do it in small, easily manageable increments or nudges. There is the famous Nudge Theory tactic which was implemented in the men’s urinals in Amsterdam airport. Men were encouraged to aim into the urinal by the introduction of an image of a housefly etched at the back of the urinal. Without word instructions men starting to direct their flow and the men’s toilets became much cleaner places.
APS Fellow Joseph Ferrari, a professor of psychology at DePaul University is a pioneer of modern research on the subject, and his work has found that as many as 20 percent of people may be chronic procrastinators.
“It really has nothing to do with time-management,” he says. “As I tell people, to tell the chronic procrastinator to just do it would be like saying to a clinically depressed person, cheer up.”
We need to get creative, we need to make the completion of tasks more fun, simpler and automatic than the tantalizing distractions we are seduced by. We need to reduce the gap between good intentions and faltering action. We need to build our confidence in our abilities to finish what we started. When it comes to making decisions we need to understand our core values so that we can nudge ourselves to make a choice based on knowing what is really important to us. We can make the changes we want to see and we can improve our lives and our world in the process. We conquer our fears by building in tricks of the trade used by those who successfully beat procrastination.
- Identify & use your core values to help you see how completion of a task or the making of a decision will be beneficial to what you believe makes you happy
- Nudge Theory- nudge yourself towards the tasks with mini-tasks and rewards
- Habit stacking- control immediate impulses by establishing healthy, fixed daily routines
- Accountability- even world-class athletes have coaches or get a buddy and you can jolly each other along
- Manage intrusive negative thoughts- through emotional regulation strategies such as non-negotiation self-talk, power poses and other practical aversion and re-framing tactics such as deep breathing, 30 second meditation moments.
- Focus on consequence- the pain of avoidance versus the satisfaction of a job well done, a fit healthy body, the sight of your book on the shelves of the airport book shop, time for a hobby, money in your bank at the end of the month.
- Visualise the best outcome. Big Hairy Audacious goal-setting and stimulating, enticing vision boards so you can see beyond the immediate blockage.
- Self-appraisal methods and a reward system. There’s nothing like giving yourself a pat on the back for a job well done.
Want help with procrastination and its underlying fears? Work with me and together we’ll get you busting those blocks. For a free 30 minute consultation email: Lou@createlab.co.uk