Thursday, 22 September 2016

Putting the 'Pro' In 'Procrastination'

What is it that makes the future a more appealing time to start or finish a task than the present? The one I always hear is “I work better under pressure” - but truth be told, this roughly translates to “I work when I have no other choice”. We’ve all been guilty of procrastination, but there are a few of us that suffer from a chronic procrastination- an awful, destructive, self-sabotaging inclination to delay the inevitable, often until the point of failure.

To the normal procrastinator, it’s merely a case of enjoying the here and now briefly, before getting to the unpleasant reality – a day of Netflix or a night in the pub, with normal service resumed in a timely manner. But for a sizeable portion of us the day of Netflix turns into a multi-series binge, a week of reorganising the house from top to bottom, or three weeks of sitting with a blank Word document, an open textbook, and Facebook on a 3 second refresh cycle.

For us chronic procrastinators, the reasons for this unhelpful psychological schema can be varied, but for most of us, it’s rooted in fear. What if what I do isn’t good enough? What if I’m wrong? What I fail? The anxiety and stress of these deeply ingrained fears often lead us down the path of inactivity, until we’re so crippled by inertia that suddenly not even trying becomes the best option. If I’m going to fail, it may as well be by my own hand. Yes, we know, we’re probably not going to fail, and no, we will never know until we try, but using logic to solve an illogical problem just doesn’t work – like fighting fire with oil. We are all of us, masters of self-deception – a skill made possible by the majestic feats of mental gymnastics we’re each capable of.

I wish we could just get on with it, but it’s a bit like telling an alcoholic not to drink, or a sad person to cheer up, in fact – rather than have any positive effect, it’s often the opposite – the sad person feels worse because they can’t just cheer up, the alcoholic feels worse because they can’t stop drinking and so turns to the bottle for comfort, and the procrastinator gets wrapped up in their uselessness that they can’t even fathom beginning the monumental task at hand – which leads us to the next problem...

The more we procrastinate, the smaller our window of opportunity grows, causing our task to grow bigger, and what should have been a 5k walk, turns into a 5k run, then a 10k run, and before you know it, we’re trying to sprint a marathon. And it’s usually only when the starting pistol of the marathon sounds, that we spring into action. Or “I work better under pressure”.

The only real way to overcome this crippling attitude is by getting clean, and the only way we can do that is by trying new things, by just starting the damn thing when we say we will. Easier said than done, but it it’s doable.

Break it down, start off slow, reward as you go.

Who knows, we may even learn to enjoy not working under (so much) pressure.