Are you a procrastinator?

20 March 2017 - mindful practices

Procrastination is something we all face because it is rooted in a basic human emotion: fear. We procrastinate on something because we fear it may cause us a certain amount of pain. Procrastination occurs when we lack enough self-regulation to deal with pain and instead give in to our other pain-free urges.

What are the major ‘pain points’ / reasons for procrastination?

1. Our expectations

When faced with a difficult or overwhelming task, those with lower self-confidence don’t expect to succeed. We doubt our ability to do it, and think about the large amount of hard work and pain needed to complete the task. The fear of failure stands in our way. In contrast, those with higher self-confidence are more likely to continue on, and expect to gain opportunities for valuable lessons and skills.

2. The value we place on a task

If we don’t enjoy doing a task, that is, find it boring, unnecessary or unpleasant, we tend to avoid it. That is why we tend to procrastinate on “boring and tedious” things like doing our taxes or housework.

3. Our impulsiveness

We tend to irrationally value instant gratification over long-term rewards. Waiting is painful. This impulsiveness leads to procrastination because we give in to distractions that are more attractiveones that give immediate albeit smaller rewards, such as replying simple emails or watching TV.

How do we overcome procrastination?

Step 1: Be aware

Be mindful that you are procrastinating, or about to procrastinate. Once you catch yourself in that moment and label it as procrastination, you’re able to choose what to do about it.

Step 2: See it as an opportunity, not a problem

Once you notice that you’re procrastinating, or about to procrastinate, see it as a helpful alarm that something is preventing you from getting started. Now you can find out what it is rather than mindlessly going along with the urge to delay the task.

Step 3: Reflect

Why exactly are you procrastinating? The reasons could be any that are listed above, manifesting themselves in such thoughts:

• “I’m afraid I won’t do a good job.” (Reason for procrastination: Expectation of failure)
• “I don’t see why I have to do this now.” (Reasons: Lack of value and/or impulsiveness)
• “This project is huge and will take forever to complete.” (Reason: Impulsiveness)

Step 4: Find appropriate solutions for the different reasons

Reason 1: Expectation of failure

Tip A: Reverse your worries.
Failure makes you dread doing something. Instead, thinking of possibilities motivates you into action. Notice when you’re doing negative self-talk: What if it doesn’t work? What if I do a bad job? Transform your worries into encouragement: What if this makes a difference in my overall progress? What if I learn many lessons?

Tip B: Microsize it.
When there is just so much to do, we get overwhelmed and don’t start at all. Divide your huge and difficult task into smaller, easier ones. Completing one small task motivates you to keep going. Celebrate each completion and remind yourself that you’re capable.

Start anywhere (perhaps something you’re most excited about). Don’t judge your work—remember that it’s always easier to edit something later than to stare at a blank page. Just start on one small thing, and the rest will flow from there.

Tip C: Get regular check-ins.
When you’re full of self-doubt, find someone you trust and check in with them about your work and feelings. Entrust them with checking in with you regularly and giving you feedback about your concerns and progress. This will offer you both encouragement and positive peer pressure.

Tip D: Be okay with failure.
“You have to be willing to be bad at it in order to get good at it.” – Mary Going

Failure is normal and a part of life—it doesn’t affect your self-worth and is the only sure way to success. Accept your limitations. Trying and getting started are successes in themselves.

Reason 2: Lack of value

Tip A: Complain to yourself. (You’ll realise it’s not that bad.)
It’s so boring. It’s so painfully tedious. Since it’s likely that we’ll complain about doing these tasks, do it while doing the tasks. Channel all that energy into getting things done. After you’ve finished the task, ask yourself if it was really as bad as you thought. Did you stop complaining before you finished? Now that it’s out of the way, how do you feel?

Tip B: Make it fun.
We value things that excite us. For example, make housework a competition with your housemate. See who can fix the light bulb first. Challenge a co-worker to see who gets a better design out by lunch.

Tip C: Create meaning.
Tedious tasks like filing tax returns or cleaning the kitchen may have little value to many of us. Think instead about how purposeful they actually are. Filing your taxes means that you’re now in a financially independent situation, something to be grateful for. Cleaning the kitchen means that your family gets to enjoy a nice, comfortable space.

Reason 3: Impulsiveness

Tip A: Create guardrails.
Willpower alone often isn’t enough to resist the attractive little distractions that litter your room. Once you accept that, you’ll start finding a trick or two to help. The first thing to do would be to eliminate the possible distractions. Make a list of things that lure your attention and relocate them for an hour to focus on the task at hand.

Tip B: Create a reward system.
Use your cravings to motivate you. If you really want to watch a TV show instead of doing your work, deny yourself the reward till you’ve completed a specific goal. Keep the delay between the task and reward short so that you’ll feel more motivated. For example, tell yourself that you can scroll through Facebook for 10 minutes after just 30 minutes of work.

Step 5: Practise self-compassion

Expect lapses—we’re all human and it’s perfectly normal and okay. It’s more helpful to try to understand yourself than beat yourself up about it. Remind yourself that success isn’t measured by how many times you stumble, but in this case, how quickly you get back up. Keeping your lapses brief is almost as good as never having lapsed.

Do you have other tips to overcome procrastination? Let us know at

- The Mindful Company Team