In 1988, Nike started the campaign, “Just Do It” which is ultimately the worst advice for those of us who tend to procrastinate. Procrastination is delaying action that usually involves uncomfortable feelings such as stress, guilt or criticizing thoughts, negative self-judgments, etc. The slogan “just do it” is simply not an effective response to completing tasks, especially if those tasks are associated with negative experiences; as result, some people when procrastinating indulge in pleasurable activities, lower priority tasks, socializing, engaging in distractions and daydreaming. For instance, Jack was assigned a term paper that was 75% of his grade. Instead of working on it, he went to college parties & binged on Netflix; he kept telling himself, “I’ll start the paper after I do…” or when thinking about writing the paper, his mind had thoughts like “it’s too difficult, I have to relax first;” when the final week of the term approached, Jack spent all night writing his paper.
While procrastinating behaviors make us feel better, because it reduces the stress in the moment, it also makes completing the original task more daunting, the more we avoid completing a task, the more that it becomes harder and harder to complete and the feelings of stress, fears of criticism, fears of making mistakes, continue to increase as well.
For example, when thinking about writing, Rebecca, a novelist, quickly comes up with thoughts such as: “oh boy I should be focusing on my writing; if I don’t spend enough time I won’t be able to make it, I need to start focusing, what’s wrong with me, why I cannot just sit down and write a page, or even a paragraph. What if no one reads this book? What if no one likes it?” Forty five minutes later, she didn’t write anything and continues to engage in those types of worry thoughts.
Chronic procrastination, or too much of postponing behaviors, may easily result in an overall crisis for not meeting responsibilities or commitments in a personal, social, and professional level. Here is a new challenge, because this state of crisis, some individuals seek more information when faced with a decision, hoping to have “all information” so they can be “certain” they’re making the “right decision.” Unfortunately, we can’t always find certainty. Instead, the excess of research and information is overwhelming and may lead people to experience “analysis – paralysis.” Distinguishing information seeking for problem solving versus information seeking because of worry is a very important skill to develop to overcome procrastination. Worry about not finding the right decision and trying to decrease uncertainty looks like “I need to know the right decision, there has to be a right decision, and I need to figure that out; I cannot let anything bad happening; if I make a mistake it will be a disaster so I have to minimize that at all costs; I need to be careful, and I better watch out.” Those worry thoughts undoubtedly lead to “procrastinating behaviors.”
The more we search for certainly, security, and comfort, the more we create a spider web of worries. Why? Because life never will give 100% security about anything, and that’s the business of being life. No exceptions; this applies to you, the reader, to me, and to everyone one.
There are not guarantees in life, and the more we seek them, the more we back away from making decisions, postpone actions, and quickly become prisoners of “worry.” Procrastinating behaviors are just a way to get paralyzed in life.
What you can do
Your first task is to play detective and identify all those thoughts, emotions, and sensations that show up to you when you’re thinking about completing a specific task; this discovery will help draw attention to why some tasks might trigger more procrastination than others.
Next step is about learning to “have” the thoughts, emotions, or sensations that show up without acting on them when completing the task you’re working on. This step can be challenging because you’re being asked to do your best to stay with certain degree of discomfort. You can choose whether you act on those internal experiences or not, you don’t have to do anything you don’t want. However, we would like to invite you “to choose” your response based on what really matters to you. Your choice.