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Tips to Stop Procrastinating and Motivate Yourself

Do you find yourself putting off doing tasks that are unpleasant to you? Do you wait till the very last minute to start tasks? If you procrastinate, then you are with the majority of Americans. Studies show that about 50% of adults chronically procrastinate, and up to 95% of them can identify a task that they procrastinated on. Generally, people will procrastinate on tasks that they find difficult, unpleasant, stressful, or boring. We rarely will procrastinate on things we find fun!

The Effects of Procrastination

When you engage in procrastination, it can have negative effects on you and your life. Some of these effects might include:

  • Feelings of guilt and anxiety

  • Lowered self-esteem

  • Increased stress

  • Fear of failure

  • Missed opportunities

We all know this, and yet many of us continue to procrastinate. Why is this?

Why do we Procrastinate?

As mentioned above, we procrastinate on tasks that we find unpleasant. We can think of procrastination then as a way of coping with unpleasant emotions and moods such as boredom, insecurity, frustration, anxiety, frustration, resentment, or self-doubt.

So, when we procrastinate, we avoid these negative emotions which is implicitly reinforcing because it relieves the experience of negative feelings. This makes you more likely to procrastinate again in the future when you are faced with this negative feeling or mood. In this way, procrastination acts more as an emotional regulation problem than a time management problem. This is why time management strategies just don't work!

However, the relief given by procrastinating is very short-lived. We then can find ourselves feeling guilty and engaging in some really negative self-talk. This can lead to a negative emotional loop with will just cause you to avoid and procrastinate more in the future.

Some Info About Motivation

I just listened to a Ted talk on motivation that I loved and so I thought I’d share the information with everyone. The TED talk was by a psychologist named Ayelet Fishback who has made it her life’s study to research procrastination, and what motivates us. Here are the main points she made:

1. Firstly, there is nothing wrong with you! Everyone can engage in some procrastination depending on the situation. So, she makes it a point to say you should modify the situation and your outlook, but don't think you have to change yourself!

2. Monitor your progress. As you are working towards a goal or an objective, take a look back at what you have already accomplished. For example, if you are studying, look at what material you have already covered and that will be more motivating for you to continue on (as opposed to looking forward to all the things you still have to do).

To study this, they ran an experiment with people standing in line for an amusement park ride. They found that people who looked back and saw how far they had already come in the line would be more likely to stay in line until they actually got on the ride. People who were all focused on the line in front of them, ie how much farther they still had to go, were more likely to get out of line.

3. Negative feedback. In general, receiving negative feedback is difficult and demotivating for people. People also have difficulty learning from negative feedback. She points out that when you try to accomplish some task, you already have some vision in your head of what will happen in the end. For most of us, this vision is of us succeeding. If you receive negative feedback, it clashes with your inner image. What generally happens then with most people is they tend to shut down and aren’t able to take in the feedback.

Since we can’t avoid negative feedback, and we don’t want to because it will help us to grow and improve for the future, how can we better manage it? She suggests that to cope with it, you teach someone something that you have already learned on the topic. This will help you to overcome the effects of the negative feedback and improve your motivation to be able to continue on the task.

4. Intrinsic (vs extrinsic) motivation. When something is intrinsically motivating, it is something that you enjoy and are motivated simply by doing it. Think of times when you really get into what you’re doing and the time just flies by. Consider this experiment: students were asked to listen to either a Beatles song or an alarm. They were paid for doing so, being paid more for the less enjoyable task (listening to the alarm). So the song is intrinsically motivating, and the money is an extrinsic motivation for listening to an alarm. In the end, the students were asked if they thought they had chosen the right task to do, and the students choosing the alarm task thought they had chosen the wrong task! The takeaway here is to choose something that you enjoy and the task itself will be motivating. So if you are wanting to start exercising, then find one that you actually like to do!

So now we know a little bit about motivation and how we can increase it in ourselves. Bow for some tips....

Tips to Stop Procrastination

  1. Limit the daily decisions that you have to make. We all live with some decision fatigue these days, we simply have too many choices and decisions throughout the course of a day. So try to set up your day for fewer decisions. Meal plan for the entire week at once. Set out your clothes for tomorrow before you go to bed. Set routines into your day like going to the gym every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday so you don't have to decide whether you are going or not in the morning of the day.

  2. Remembering that procrastination is an emotional regulation problem, deal with your emotions! If you notice that you are starting to procrastinate, stop and ask yourself what it is you are feeling. Are you bored? Frustrated? Resentful? Whatever you're feeling, acknowledge it and be kind to yourself about it! Practice a little self-compassion. It's ok that you are bored and don't want to do something. Sometimes simply being kinder to yourself can make a world of difference.

  3. Going a step further with self-compassion, forgive yourself for the times that you have procrastinated! Putting a guilt trip on yourself will only make the problem that much worse and make you that much more likely to procrastinate again as it brings on feelings of guilt.

  4. Consider what the next step is for you to take, and do this with some sense of curiosity. For example, ask yourself, "What is the next step I would take on this if I were going to do this task? (Even though I'm not going to do it)" Maybe I would open the document next and put on today's date.

  5. Review what you have already accomplished. Remember the people waiting in line for the roller coaster? When they saw how far they had come already, it motivated them to continue. Checking how much material you have already covered will help you to continue studying.

  6. Make what you want to do as easy as possible. For instance, if you plan to go running in the morning, place your running shoes by the door so you can easily find them. Conversely, make distractions as hard as possible to do. Maybe put your phone on the charger in the other room, turn off the TV, or have a designated study room free from electronics.

Closing Thoughts

Procrastination is something that we all engage in from time to time. However, if you have been using it more than you are comfortable and find that it’s causing problems in your life and would like to talk more about this, or about self-esteem treatment, please follow the link. I would love to talk with you.


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