- Scott H Young - https://www.scotthyoung.com/blog -

Procrastination – Introduction (Series)

Have you ever procrastinated before? Of course you have, we all have. Procrastination is feeling that you know you should do something but you don’t do it. For some procrastination is a minor annoyance wasting their time. For others, procrastination constantly restrains them from leading a life they would truly enjoy.

Procrastination – Series

Introduction (Understanding Procrastination)
Break It Down [1]
Start Now

This is the first part in a three part series dedicated to helping you to stop procrastinating, whether it is with boring chores or taking massive action in improving your life. Although the exact causes for procrastination can vary considerably, I have found that a single strategy for handling procrastination will work in almost all cases. That basic system is to understand the cause of the procrastination, break it down and then start immediately. Although it sounds fairly simple, I’ll go into considerable depth so you can best execute this plan.

Understanding Procrastination

The first step in overcoming any procrastination you face is to understand exactly why you are procrastinating. Although sometimes procrastination can seem irrational and inexplicable, it all stems from the same root cause. The cause of all attempts to put off taking action is simply this, at some level you believe that taking action will cause more pain than not taking action.

That explanation, that you either consciously or subconsciously believe that not taking action will be less painful than taking action is the reason you are procrastinating. Unfortunately this explanation is fairly generalized, so we need to go deeper. If you are putting off doing something because you believe it will be more painful, why?

There are many reasons why you believe that taking action is more painful than not taking action. Since there are so many possible causes, I’ll go over the main culprits as they tend to cause almost all procrastination. These culprits are fear, stress and lacking energy.

Once you understand why you procrastinate, you have more control in taking the steps to conquer it. Although the same basic strategy of understanding, breaking down and starting immediately will work in almost all cases of procrastination, by understanding the exact reasons you are putting off taking action you can customize these steps to improve their effectiveness.

Procrastination From Fear

The worst cause of procrastination and often the hardest to remove is fear. Fear is the body’s natural method to force you to procrastinate. Whenever your emotional limbic center of the brain perceives that something you are about to do would be especially painful it creates the emotion of fear to keep you from taking action. Even with this incredible drive to not take action, fear can be overcome.

The first part of defeating procrastination that is caused by fear is to admit that you feel the fear. This step is crucial as it will be impossible to overcome any fear you feel while you are still in denial. If the fear you are feeling is completely irrational, your conscious mind may have a hard time accepting that you actually fear it. Unfortunately, without admitting the fear exists, you cannot fight it, and lose all power to control it.

Whenever you are procrastinating anything your first question should be to ask whether fear might be a factor involved. Admitting you feel fear and that it is the source of your inability to take action is the first step in overcoming it. Don’t worry if the fear doesn’t make any sense, or if you feel stupid or immature for experiencing it, just admit you feel it and you can move past it.

Some fears are deeply routed in our biology while others are adapted from past experiences. If you happen to be a heterosexual male and you wondered why you find it so difficult to approach and talk to a beautiful woman, you might be surprised to realize that fear is deeply routed in your biology. In tribal days when man lived in groups of around a hundred people, rejection from a female could lead to social proof that you were inadequate and your gene pool would end there. In today’s world where you can interact with thousands of people who aren’t directly connected, so this fear doesn’t make much logical sense.

I have already written extensively on how to overcome fear in this article [2], if you are interested in learning more about how to deal with this emotion.

Procrastination From Stress

All procrastination works at an emotional, not a logical, level. Your emotions have a very poor ability to plan for the future and tend to worry mostly about what is of immediate concern. As a result, the reason it is so easy to put off running errands or household chores is simply because you feel they will be stressful or boring compared to alternative activities. Even if they will cause more pain in the long-run if they aren’t completed, your emotional mind doesn’t seem to consider this.

Defeating procrastination that is caused by stress or the belief that a different activity would be more enjoyable is easier to defeat than procrastination caused by fear, but it can still pose a problem, especially if it is recurring. Just like all forms of procrastination, defeating procrastination caused by stress starts by admission that it is stress that is causing it.

If you are putting off doing an errand, admit to yourself that you think it will be boring, frustrating or painful. If you are avoiding starting that project, admit to yourself why you don’t want to do it. Own your emotions. Once you recognize that it is stress that is causing your procrastination, you can begin to fix it.

Procrastination from a Lack of Energy

Poor energy management [3] can be a primary cause of procrastination. What this means is that your body is putting off doing an activity because it simply doesn’t have the energy to continue doing it. Although this can sometimes be the case, generally if you feel too tired to do something, you don’t blame procrastination. Instead, a lack of energy can be the culprit when subconsciously you believe that doing something will be too demanding even though you consciously believe that you can do it. As a result, you can’t explain why you don’t want to do something.

An example of this would be going to the gym. Many times you subconsciously feel that going to the gym will be exhausting even though you consciously recognize the need to go. Because exercise often invigorates rather than depletes your energy reserves, this excuse isn’t usually rational, but an emotional reaction.

Similar to dealing with procrastination from stress and fear, you need to start by owning the emotions that are causing you to procrastinate. The process of breaking down procrastination will work in a situation caused by a lack of energy as it will in other cases, but it can’t start until you recognize this problem.

Procrastination from a lack of energy can often be helped by temporarily boosting your current energy levels as well. Closing your eyes and taking several deep breaths can often restore mental clarity and energy. Similarly, doing some quick exercises can get your blood flowing and pique your physical energy levels.

Procrastination Explained

All procrastination is caused because taking action seems like it would be more painful than doing something else. When fear is the culprit, it is a biological reaction indicating that taking action could be dangerous. When stress is the cause, your body feels that doing a different activity would be more enjoyable or less frustrating. When a lack of energy is the cause, your subconscious feels that you don’t have enough energy to take on the task at hand.

The first step in conquering your procrastination is to understand what the root cause is and to own that emotion. Without taking responsibility for emotion it is incredibly hard to overcome. Emotions take effect whether you consciously accept them or dismiss them. At least through acceptance, your conscious mind can take action to stop the processes that are causing the fear, stress or fatigue.

Procrastination can be a minor nuisance or a debilitating effect on your life. In the next article I will explain how you can take an understanding of the cause of your procrastination to break down the action into manageable chunks. In the final article I’ll go over methods that can allow you to start taking action immediately and banish that procrastination forever.

Procrastination – Series

Introduction (Understanding Procrastination)
Break It Down [1]
Start Now