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The Self’s Battle: Deconstructing and Busting Procrastination

Updated: Nov 20, 2023

Procrastination – the enemy hovering in the shadows of productivity, the art of putting off tasks until the last minute, and the endless struggle of many people. It does not discriminate, it affects people from all walks of life, and it often feels like an unmovable mountain blocking us from achieving our goals.

The Vicious Cycle of Procrastination

Procrastination often leads to a vicious cycle. When we delay tasks, they pile up, causing increased stress of not meeting expectations, anxiety from non-performance, and guilt for letting yourself down. This, in turn, can fuel more procrastination as a coping mechanism to avoid these negative emotions.

The Deconstruction of Procrastination

But what lies beneath the surface of procrastination? How does our engagement with our surroundings and humanness contribute to this baffling behaviour? Let’s examine the parts which made procrastination, understand its functions, and explore ways to overcome it.

At its foundation, procrastination is a complex interplay of psychological elements. It is not merely a matter of laziness or poor time management. Although time management could help as a tool to organise our time better, it will only work out to our favour after we have identified the missing puzzles that drive procrastination. Then we can create a systematic plan to manage it.

1. Instant Gratification vs. Delayed Reward

We humans are one of a kind, wired a certain way; to seek instant gratification…ouch. We fancy immediate pleasures over future gains. When we procrastinate, we often choose for short-term comfort and enjoyment, like binge-watching TV or “doom” scrolling through social media, instead of working on tasks with delayed rewards.

It is very difficult to taste the bitterness of hard work and wait for the sweet time when we achieved our goals. So, at times we give too many leeways for ourselves and soon it becomes a norm.

(find some tip to feed our humanness in item no.4 paragraph 2)

2. The Fear of Failure

The fear of failure can freeze us, leading to procrastination. The thought of making mistakes, being judged, or not meeting our own expectations can be so overwhelming that it prevents us from even starting a task. It feels like an attack on our soul (I’m not catastrophizing it, it really felt that way!)

I can relate to my own fear of making a fool of myself when I meet new people, at times I couldn’t put the words to my thoughts coherently aka my brain works faster that my speech, and so I fumbled and couldn’t get my message across to the receiver. This has led me to many self-defeating beliefs about myself and at a point, I just snooped back into my cave hoping these beliefs will dissipate through thin air and time.

And the fact is, nothing gets done when it’s my own tasks and so, I need to weigh my own insecurities against the loss I might have if I procrastinated. So…The loss was too heavy to handle so I sluggishly dragged myself to sit with my fear and had a heart-to-heart conversation.

Viola! I accepted this part of myself and started working towards bringing myself to a better place. (note: it was not an instant fix; I went through many painful past regrets (the what ifs) and still working on my own self-reflection throughout. It is a constant work in progress, but I can see positive changes and that is my daily small dose of motivation that fuels my progress)

3. The Perfect Illusion

Perfectionism is another psychological part that adds to procrastination. We may have a strong desire for our work to be flawless, and the fear of falling short of this ideal can lead to avoidance. In reality, perfectionism often hinders progress more than it helps as we go through numerous changes and failed to adhere to the set timeline.

Just so you know, perfectionism also correlate with anxiety. So, it might be a good idea to look into our anxiety from time to time to see whether it has contributed to our procrastination too.

Shift your radar from perfection to progress. Embrace the idea that it's okay to make mistakes, as they are opportunities for learning and growth. Give your best and be open for changes.

If you can’t shift, engage a professional to give you a bit of lifting. We need some help at some point of our journey why not now?

4. Time Discounting

Psychologists have found that people tend to discount the value of future rewards compared to immediate ones. This phenomenon, known as temporal discounting, plays a crucial role in procrastination. The closer the reward, the more enticing it becomes, and the longer it takes to be rewarded the less enticing it becomes.

So, for us who is working on long term project, it is essential to reward ourselves for the little successes we had achieved to keep the fire burning towards a bigger reward. Nothing is too meagre to celebrate. We need more celebration, create more successes, and add more sweet mementos into our memory bank (feeding our humanness).

Adopt time management techniques like the Pomodoro method, time blocking, or the two-minute rule to structure your work and increase productivity!

5. Task Aversion

In some cases, we procrastinate because we find a task too overwhelming. The overwhelmingness may be due to its complexity, tediousness, or because it's not aligned with our interests and values.

When a task is too complex or tedious, we need to break them down to bite size, so they are more palatable. Breakdown all the daily responsibilities into specific tasks. You will be able to better track the progress moving forward. In the meantime, small tasks can also give you room for improvement because you can detect any misalignments easily if that doesn’t work out for you. Also, evaluate your progress and make changes to smoothen your process.

If tasks are not aligned with your interest and values, and you are struggling, it means that you need to reevaluate your life goals. This is the time to look within yourself whether you have the agency to do something about it? Or there is an internal block within yourself that hinders your agency?

Alternatively, discover what truly motivates you about a task. Connecting with intrinsic motivation can make the work more engaging and enjoyable.

6. The Zeigarnik Effect

The Zeigarnik Effect is a psychological principle that suggests our minds tend to remember and nag us about incomplete tasks more than those we've completed. This creates a mental burden that encourages us to start or finish tasks to relieve this cognitive discomfort.

I called this the worry phenomena. Making a to-do list can help reduce the mental tension caused by unfinished tasks. Write down what you need to do, and as you completed tasks, check them off. This provides a sense of closure and relief from that mental load.

In conclusion, procrastination is a psychological puzzle that plagues many of us, but it's not impossible to overcome. By deconstructing its underlying parts and trying effective strategies, we can overcome this habit and reclaim our productivity. It's a journey that requires patience and self-compassion, but the rewards of increased productivity and reduced stress make it well worth the effort. It is hard to accept the flaws of our humanness. Remember, we are not supposed to be perfect. Progress not perfection.

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