Procrastination Sans

How your feelings and habits fuel your procrastination

Why do we procrastinate on doing things? We think that “it is not the right moment to do this” or “I am not ready for this”. These are all manifestations of the high quality standard that we impose on ourselves.

The desired result from completing a task becomes our identity. We have become attached to the outcome because we want only the best for ourselves, hence we want the best result. A painful sign of perfectionism.

Facing a task with high quality standards we may never get to complete it. How often are “the planets in perfect alignment”? Having high requirements may never get us to the ideal time when the task can happen. After all the chance of having all the ideal circumstances, especially if we have defined them in great detail as requirements, is next to none.

It gets even worse when we put our feelings in, as a pre-requisite: “I have to be motivated in order to do this, but I don’t feel motivated now”.

Motivation

Motivation is a feeling. Like such, it is not under our control.

We believe that we always have to feel a certain way in order to complete a certain task. This belief only adds an unrealistic item to the list of requirements for starting and further lessens the chance of even beginning to work on the job.

If we ditch the belief, that we need a certain feeling for a certain type of job that needs to be done, we give the task a chance to happen in spite of us as a factor. To do this we must change the habits associated with execution. The cue that leads us to execute, to be precise.

Anatomy of a habit

A habit consists of 4 parts: cue, action, reward and desire for the reward. The first three are essential, but the fourth is what gets you moving trough the chain.

The desire for the reward is what makes us, upon receiving a certain cue to perform a certain action. For example:

“It is sunny outside(cue) so I will take a walk in the park(action) because walks in the park make me feel good(reward) and I want to feel good(desire for the reward).”

Can you guess where we are heading with this?

The habit, that you have formed, for achieving the task that you are postponing relies on a variable that you have no control of, yet you want it to happen in a certain moment. What if the time has come but the incontrollable variable signals “it is not the time”?

Lets assume that you have the task of “cleaning the living room”. This is the routine action that will lead you to the reward that you actually desire—”to live in a clean living room, because it makes you feel better”. If the requirement for cleaning the room is “I have to feel motivated to do it” then motivation, among others is now part of your cue. Now, cleaning, when relies on feeling to be started, is a lot less likely to happen. If you are not a housewife who gets insane when she sees dust(“dust” is her cue), which of these two has the bigger chance of happening:

  • I have the desire to clean the living room -> I clean the living room -> I feel good in a clean living room

or

  • I clean the living room every Sunday. Today is Sunday -> I clean the living room -> I feel good in a clean living room

Procrastination – Motivation = Results

Feelings are transient, but for most of our goals to happen we need consistent results. To achieve them we need to regularly put in effort. That’s the reason why many great writers have set daily quantitive goals (“3 hours of writing before work”, “2 pages of shitty drafts before breakfast”) instead of quality related ones. This way they have turned their goals in routine actions so as to remove the dependancy on feelings. There is no place for feelings when something has to happen regularly. “I don’t feel like the sun will set today” sounds absurd, doesn’t it?

This, of course, does not imply that to fight procrastination you have do the thing you postpone every day. In fact braking down a big goal into a small daily habit can be an useful approach, but that is not the point here.

To get over procrastination you just have to accept that you don’t need the feeling of “motivation” as a cue for action. Change the requirements instead. Find a time when this task has to be done and do it. Accept your lack of motivation or lack of the desire as the trigger for starting. “When I am not in the mood for cleaning the living room(I am not motivated) I will do it, so that I can enjoy the cleanliness after that”.

Still having trouble starting? Begin with just 5 minutes of work or use the famous (10+2)*5 productivity hack, which focuses you on working, not on feeling.

Further reading: “The Power of Habit” and “The Antidote”

Certainty will push you forward

Be certain. There is no need for plan B as it distracts you from achieving plan A. Lack of certainty is what holds most people back. Yet certainty is the thing you need to have in yourself so as to push everything you want forward.

Be driven and with desire to create. This will increase your confidence, which will increase your motivation. Having those two at your disposal will make your dreams come true.

Feeling like something is missing?

Well maybe it is time for you to start doing what you should be doing? Wrong definition.

The things that excite you and you think you should do someday in the future. This is what you really need to do and deeply want to do. The future is now. They won’t happen if you postpone them constantly. What will eventually this lead you to will be disappointment, unhappiness, dissatisfaction and stress. Despite that, as Steve Jobs and many other say “…in order to produce great work, work that changes the world you really have to be excited by what you are doing. How else are you going to put that extra effort that will make your work exceptional?”

Eustress and distress

What is stress?

Probably all of you have been stressed enough to notice the negative effects of stress, at least once in your lifetime. This is distress — the kind of stress that depletes you from your energy and if you are prolongedly exposed to manifests in your body in the form of a disease.

What is eustress then? Not the exact opposite, as many of you may have thought. This kind of stress is the one that develops you. Or better said: “you develop from it”. Stress that comes from expanding your comfort zone to a level that you can bear.

To ease you in distinguishing between the let me give you some examples:

Distress
Having a quarrel
Eustress
Creatively thinking how to evade quarrels

Distress
Doing an important task under the imposed constraints of limited time, ability and/or other resources.
Eustress
Playing a challenging game before the point you get frustrated.

Distress
Trying to understand a concept in your textbook, one of the fifty you need to know for tomorrow’s test. And it is 2 A.M. already.
Eustress
Calmly reading a book explaining a novel concept you have hard time understanding but you are really interested into doing so.

Recap

What is eustress for one can be distress for another. The difference is perceptual. The common point in the above examples is that you feel “stressed out” (experiencing distress) when you are forced to do something beyond your point of comfort and way after the comfort-zone-expanding area of eustress. Eustress brings you out of your comfort zone, too, but you decide how far you can go and still feel OK. The moment you pass that boundary you begin to experience distress.

How you can use this

Knowing the above monitor the way you feel during your everyday activities. The moment you feel a negative emotion you should stop, before it gets destructive(you will notice it only after it passes the boundary of eustress). Leave the place where you felt the stress, let your mind clear and take a rest. You will notice an increase in your productivity and morale levels when you return to work after the break.