Why People Procrastinate and How to Snap Out of It

“Only put off until tomorrow what you are willing to die having left undone” Pablo Picasso

Have you ever put off completing a task? You know you had to send your coat to the dry-cleaners’ a week ago, and yet it is still lying on your couch. You had to help your father learn to operate his new computer but each time he calls, you find other, more important work.

Goals such as losing weight, detangling a complicated relationship, or completing a project may leave you facing a confusing dichotomy – you know they are necessary and you want them done, but you don’t want to do them.

This is the meaning of ‘procrastination’ – the action of delaying or postponing something.

Being a chronic procrastinator is neither easy nor enjoyable.

Initially, it may seem as though you’re relaxed. But when the reality of last-minute work finally hits, fear sets in. This fear leads to increase stress. Increases in stress are known to decrease concentration and productivity, thus affecting your work.

The worst part is that getting out of this pattern is not easy. Most procrastinators procrastinate even fighting procrastination!

Thus, procrastination can be a serious impediment in one’s life.

But Why Do I Procrastinate?

Whether it’s putting off a divorce, quitting a job, or achieving a dream or goal, there is only one reason for procrastination – fear.

There are many different kinds of fear that can underpin procrastination.

  1. Fear of Success – This is a fear of achieving your goals, wishes, and dreams. What can drive this fear is the thought of being scorned, in case you do rise too far above others.
    For example, with working parents I notice what can be underlying this fear, is the thought that family time will have to be traded for success.
  2. Fear of Failure – This is a fear that you might not succeed. Ironically, this fear can also drive people to achieve. CEOs and celebrities find that a healthy dose of fear of failure can be a catalyst for taking action. And yet, when this fear swings too far – where it takes over – it can cause inaction with thoughts such as
    “What if I fail?”
    “I am scared to fail?”
  3. Fear of Not Knowing Enough – There is a great safety and comfort in knowledge. Knowledge is power. I wonder if anyone will ever know enough!
    Knowledge emerges from experience and experience comes with trial. This fear arises when you assume knowledge can be amassed without experience.
  4. Fear of Being Underqualified – This is common amongst students jumping from one degree to another or one qualification to another. It is also common amongst adults applying for jobs. No matter how many degrees and qualification there possess, it never seems to be enough.
  5. Fear of Others’ Opinions – This fear arises especially when pursuing the creative arts like dancing, music, which traditional backgrounds frown upon.
  6. Fear of Destitution – This is a common fear amongst those whose marriages have deteriorated but put off formalizing the process for the want to not be lonely. Thus, they procrastinate divorce and stay in dead, broken marriages.

So How Do I Stop Procrastinating?

I am reminded of the song Love and Fear by Morcheeba.

Fear can stop you loving, love can stop your fear.”

There is only one way to stop – love. Self-love – to love one’s self so much that there is no room for fear. Here are a few steps you can carry out on a daily basis towards this goal:

  1. Stop Over-thinking!
    What can be crippling with procrastination is the thought that precedes action.
    Shall I? Shan’t I? Should I? Shouldn’t I?
    These thoughts can paralyze any action towards a goal or outcome. Often, we cannot know what the outcomes of our actions will be until we act. And the worse that can happen is a failure! And even failure has at least 5 hidden gifts.
    Thus, suspend overanalysis. I call the state of suspension of overanalysis ‘The Neutral Zone’. It is the space where you can pause and take stock of what you really want.
  2. Ask Your Heart if You Really Want to Do It
    Sometimes procrastination emerges because your goals have changed. Putting the fear aside, connect with yourself and ask whether you still want to accomplish your initial goal of action. Ask, “Does this still feel good? If I wasn’t scared, would I still want to do this? Does it feel positive to aim for?”
  3. Just Do It!
    In the words of Susan Jeffers, feel the fear and do it anyway. Fear is nothing but an emotion in your head. Sometimes, you need to take the leap over fear and jump into action. I was in Rishikesh a few months ago facilitating a Breakthough Coaching with NLP workshop at Yog Niketan ashram at the banks of the River Ganga. On one of the days, we planned a trip to the banks of the sacred river for participants to dip in the holy waters and, as per Hindu belief, cleanse their past sins. As I placed my feet in the icy waters, I immediately shuddered. “It is too cold,” I thought to myself, “I cannot take a dip.” I really did want to get into the waters but my fear held me back. Eventually, I decided to keep my feet in the water for a while. In just a few minutes, I was ready to plunge in. It was freezing! And yet I felt incredible. The chilled river was both refreshing and rejuvenating. And once I had taken the plunge it was no longer scary. On the contrary, my body became accustomed to the water’s temperature. This taught me that once you’ve taken the leap, nothing is too difficult to overcome!

Procrastination is not undefeatable. The reasons you are procrastinating are all within you. All you must do is look inwards, find them, and use these 3 simple tips to defeat them.

So go ahead and introspect – stop overthinking, realize your true goals, and just take the plunge!

Love Dr Rangana Rupavi Choudhuri (PhD) with Ashni Acharya

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