You know what procrastination feels like. You just don’t feel like doing whatever it is you’re supposed to be doing. Instead of cracking on with the task at hand, you search for distraction and find it in even the most mundane of tasks. Your closet needs tidying and there’s no time like the present. Even ironing your clean laundry becomes an irresistible idea.
Procrastination has become the 21st Century buzz word for anything from a little bit of displacement activity to full-on debilitation. It’s totally subjective too, as one person’s much needed downtime is another’s wasted opportunity.
Procrastination is hardwired into our genes and has its home in the amygdala – the most primitive part of our brain. This lizard brain, as it’s sometimes known, works at a subconscious level to meet our most basic needs: fight, flight, fear, food, and fornication.
What causes us to procrastinate?
Fear and the perception of danger. Fear of the unknown. Fear of change. Fear of not being good enough. Fear of failure. Fear in any one of a thousand different guises stimulates a protective response.
Unfortunately fear is a primal instinct that has a hard time distinguishing between real physical danger and minor cases of embarrassment. It simply senses your unease or vulnerability and acts to ensure your survival.
If the thought of filling in your tax return makes you feel queasy, your procrastination kicks in to protect you. If launching your first blog is making you feel vulnerable, then bam! Your fear response is there to save you from it.
Fear has a strong aversion to change and the unknown, as it sees these as things which may hurt you. If it spots even a tiny hint of danger, it has to act. As a species, we wouldn’t have survived so long if it wasn’t so quick to respond.
Should you push through procrastination?
In a similar vein to the “no pain, no gain” exercise slogans, we’re encouraged to “push on through” or to “put in the work” to defeat our procrastination nemesis. But should we? Could doing that cause more harm than good?
There are certainly times when it’s worth pushing on through the pain, so you can come out stronger but at other times, it’s genuinely more destructive than helpful to keep on pushing. Sometimes some things simply aren’t supposed to be. But how do you know when that’s the case?
Use procrastination as a guide
Let’s take a step back for a moment and think about procrastination as a useful response rather than as a problematic one. It is, after all, just your mind’s way of getting your attention and letting you know that something’s not right or that it needs to change. Bear in mind that it could be worth taking note of what it’s got to say.
Listen to your gut feeling
Perhaps your procrastination is trying to draw attention to legitimate concerns that you’ve tried to suppress or that you haven’t been willing to admit. Maybe you’ve been feeling like you have to do something but, actually, you know deep down that it isn’t right for you. Maybe you’re feeling coerced into making particular choices to please those around you.
To determine whether or not to listen to your fear, ask yourself what kind of danger you’re faced with.
Type 1: Danger, danger!
These fears relate to actions or decisions that could do you actual harm, physically, mentally, emotionally, or financially. For example, maybe you should delay quitting your job because you know deep down that you’ve no real back-up plan. These are the times when procrastination is truly justified and you shouldn’t just push through.
Type 2: Something’s not right
These are the niggling feelings that just won’t go away. These fears aren’t as serious as those in Type 1, but they’re a clear an indication that you know that you need to make changes.
Type 3: False alarm!
These are the choices or tasks which, while unpleasant, embarrassing, or tedious, won’t actually hurt you. An example is the fear of doing a presentation, the vulnerability you feel when you go public with your blog, or the stress of starting your tax return.
These are definitely times when it’s OK to push on through and get things done.
You have choices. Pushing through procrastination isn’t necessarily heroic and quitting isn’t necessarily cowardly. Procrastination doesn’t always have to be the enemy. Perhaps you could even consider making friends with it? Maybe?
What makes you procrastinate? How do you deal with procrastination when it strikes?