Thursday, November 29, 2012

Overcoming Procrastination

This post is only for those who think they have the capacity to do something more with their lives but are plagued by the phenomenon known as procrastination. 

Procrastination is a term used in psychology to describe the action of replacing important or high-priority actions (such as paying your bills) with tasks of lower priority (such as checking your Facebook account). 

Freud, my least favorite intellectual in western history, said that our attraction to the Pleasure principle is what caused procrastination. 

Essentially, we seek out pleasure and avoid things that are painful or cause us suffering. As opposed to the Reality principle, which describes how people will wait until after they've eaten dinner before allowing themselves to enjoy dessert.  

In order to overcome procrastination, we must first begin with understanding what it is and why we procrastinate: 

  1. We feel overwhelmed by the negative emotions that consume us when in our imaginations we envision a task as being unpleasant (we live out the conflict in our minds before we do it).
  2. We are so overwhelmed by what we imagine that we give up (without trying), believing that there's "nothing we can do to fix it".
  3. The task we imagine seems so lofty in our minds that we imagine all the ways we'll fail. The result is that we do not try out of our fears of failure (embarrassment). 
  4. We're "too busy" taking care of other important things (going to work, taking care of kids, studying, managing our environment - internal or external). 
  5. We're so confused by the complexities we imagine in our mind that we can't decide what to do.
  6. We're plain tuckered out. We're exhausted. We can barely hold our eyes open at the end of the day and the only thing we can mentally or physically process is food and mindless television. Whatever it was that we had to do can wait until tomorrow. That's life. 
  7. We simply do not like negativity or have "issues with conflict," so we avoid it like the plague (whatever the repercussions).

Do any of those scenarios sound familiar to you? Do any of those scenarios describe a moment when you put off until tomorrow what you could have done today? 

Most likely, yes. We've all procrastinated on something at some time during the course of our lives...  and lived long enough to see how that decision bit us in the butt. 

So, what do we do (finally) to overcome procrastination? 

The key to overcoming procrastination is in the story we tell ourselves. We feel sick to our stomachs the moment we tell ourselves a story about an event that is going to make us feel bad. The moment we believe we will feel bad, we do. This is where anxiety comes into the picture.

Imagine if you will that you must call your phone company to dispute a bill (you were charged for something that you shouldn't have been charged for). You can either (1) imagine how difficult it will be to change the representative's mind; after all, they're just in it for the money and these days nobody listens or does what's right, or (2) you can tell yourself that it will be one of those times when you get a really cool person on the phone who will not only fix the bill but will give you a credit for your trouble. 

Wow! That's a great story! All of a sudden calling the phone company doesn't feel as bad as it did 5 seconds ago. Calling with that attitude makes it more likely that you yourself will be more friendly over the phone and potentially inspire someone else to act in this way. 

Knowing that the stories we tell ourselves affect how we perceive the world, how we feel inside, how we come off to others, and how we ultimately influence our environment presents us with the gift of new experimental logic, namely: If I can change the stories I tell myself, how will that change the outcome of everything I experience in life? 

There are dozens of very helpful tips for overcoming procrastination, but none of them work until a fundamental change of perspective occurs within one's self. 

We are the actors in our own life's play. We might as well write a nice story for ourselves, irrespective of what's playing in Theater number two. 

Moral of this story: 

Tell yourself a nice story because you're going to have to live it.

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