“The future is always ideal: The fridge is stocked, the weather clear, the train runs on schedule and meetings end on time. Today, well, stuff happens.”
– Hara Estroff Marano in Psychology Today
Like nearly every other human being on the earth I suffer from procrastination. My procrastination is also coupled with perfectionist tendencies but, that topic is for another post.
I was reading a blog post on procrastination and it must be the first time I ever heard procrastination framed in such way that wasn’t related to organization and didn’t make me feel like a failure for not being able to fix it. This quote really drove home the point for me:
Procrastination is all about choosing want over should because you don’t have a plan for those times when you can expect to be tempted.
You are really bad at predicting your future mental states. In addition, you are terrible at choosing between now or later. Later is murky place where anything could go wrong.
Now on some level I knew procrastination was related to the inability to delay-gratification but, the article didn’t make me feel like a child for being unable to do it, it just made me feel human. As a human I hate to admit that I am incapable of choosing to delay gratification but, lets be honest that is something we all struggle with and it goes way back in human evolution to impulsively not delay things like sugar or using resources while they are available. So I admit it, I’m an instant-gratification junky. I have tendency to believe that in the future that somehow the conditions will be more suitable to get to work done but, as any procrastinator knows this is simply not true.
I now have a new mantra when I’m trying to get work done and I feel the urge to just check Facebook quickly or watch that one episode. I used to view my future self as someone better at work but my mantra goes something like, “future you is evil, do something while you can!!”. Now this seems a little ridiculous I know but, I’m amazed how it has worked. Especially when it comes to school work, as any professor I have ever had can tell you, I’m a notorious last minute worker. There are many reasons that complicate this but procrastination as a failure to predict my future mental states is one of the major contributors. Now it hasn’t fixed my procrastination completely but, I don’t want to fall into the fallacy of thinking that just because there isn’t an instant and easy change that it doesn’t work.
In addition, I try to no longer frame things I have to do as “I will” but rather as “will I?”. I wish I had the reference handy but, this article discussed how people are more likely to complete a task if they don’t make it something they have to do (I will) but rather frame it as a choice (Will I?).
Combining my new mantra (“future you sucks at work”) and framing my work as “will I?” has been helping me create a new model of approaching work in my head. Sometimes it feels a little ridiculous to go through these phrases and repeat them to myself but, as I have discovered sometimes you are just going to feel a little ridiculous in order to fix things.