Procrastination: The Perfect Enemy

Author Steven Pressfield very precisely explained about procrastination it in his book The War of Art, in which he said that it is the thing that keeps you from doing your work.

There is always a resistance that you want to get this work done but for some reason, you avoid it at all costs.

A few months ago, I was talking to my students about the time management and how to get all the work done in the specific allotted time. Our discussion reminded me about one of my favourite Ted talks that I’d watched a while ago and that was ‘in the mind of a master procrastinator’ by Tim Urban. And after hearing that, I got a very deep insight into what is procrastination and how it actually works.

Procrastination is not any kind of mental illness. It’s more about the decisions that we make of not doing the work that we are supposed to be doing but to do it later instead. Sometimes, it feels like we are having an argument in our head it’s like one part of your brain wants to work and another part of your brain wants to play GTA 5. And for some reason, we always manage to convince ourselves that we will do it later.

As a teacher, I got the opportunity to observe very closely, what exactly goes inside those young minds when students procrastinate. And after doing some ample research on this topic I found out something very interesting.

When you procrastinate two individual parts of your brain are essentially battling out with each other. The first part is called the prefrontal cortex and this is the part of the brain that does all the higher and more rational thinking. And the second part of the brain is called limbic system which is quite a primitive part and is directly connected to your pleasure centers of the brain.  Thus, this part only deals with things that give you immediate satisfaction. And that’s essentially what you are battling against. The immediate satisfaction of say playing video games versus the long-term satisfaction of actually being productive.

Now, to understand this problem let’s get a bit more into the rabbit hole. Our limbic system gets more powerful whenever any temptation that you have to do something other than work becomes more tangible. For example, the temptation to check your Facebook messages becomes more tangible when you hear that little notification sound telling you that you have a new notification.

In this world of procrastination, there are mainly two types of procrastinators. The first one is a situational procrastinator whose behaviour depends on the specific task that they have to do. And if they don’t like it they will push it off and try to avoid it. And the second type is chronic procrastinator; these are the people who face lots of trouble finishing any task at all. They generally have a tough time getting anything done. The chronic procrastinator’s worst nightmare is when an unpleasant task combines with their high impulsivity and lack of self-discipline to create a whirling cesspool of panic.

Most of us don’t even understand what procrastination is. The reason why we procrastinate is not what you think. Procrastination has nothing to do with work. It is a stress reliever. It is rather a tool that we all use to give ourselves relief from stress that we feel. You might be stressed about money, health or something going on at work. And the way it is related to your procrastination is, you are stressed out and got work you need to do but instead of doing it you go online waste an hour looking on Facebook. And when you do that it makes you feel good but just for a very short amount of time.

A lot of people think that procrastination is about willpower or it means that you’re lazy but it is all wrong, it is all about your stress.

The cure for procrastination is very simple and you might not be very willing to hear this and it is to take action. The way that you cure your procrastination is to act in spite of the resistance and fear that you have.  The more you procrastinate the worse it gets but if you break that cycle then it may come to an end. My best advice on how to get yourself started on taking action is to look at what you have to do and ask yourself that, what is the smallest easiest and next step I can take towards my goal?

For example, if your big project is to create a huge article, then maybe that easy small step is to open up your word document and start writing something that comes up in your mind. And after you completed that task asks yourself that same question again and proceed with further steps. So, you’ll find that once you’ve taken a baby step, and keep doing that over and over again. You’ll eventually build a momentum and will find yourself in a flow.

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