Have you ever thought about WHY you procrastinate? Well, of course, you have, that’s quite a stupid question. But have you really? Have you admitted yourself, without deception, the real reasons why you’ve been putting off things you need and want to do for so long?
Why is it that you still haven’t started writing the book you’ve been thinking of for the past few months? Why you still haven’t started to train for the 10k race? Why haven’t you yet dived into writing the school essay or work on your side-hustle project?
The thing is, we are all lazy sometimes. We do lack motivation here and there. And yes, our priorities change over time. But it still doesn’t explain the real reasons why you procrastinate.
My name is Anna (but you can call me Anci), and I
am a procrastinator know a thing or two about procrastination. Procrastination is one word that defines the past few years of my life. To be exact, anything between the age of 19 and 25 is one big blur for me.
Based on RateSetter survey of over 2000 adults from 2015, people spend about 218 minutes a day procrastinating. That equals to 3 hours and 38 minutes a day. Or, in other words, to 55 days a year lost just on procrastination. Considering that procrastination has been a massive part of my life ever since I was 13, and got much worse after high school, I can quite boldly say that I’ve spent at least 715 days procrastinating. That’s almost 2 whole years of my life. F**k me.
Back to my “blurry” years and why the hell am I even telling you all of this (I have a point,
at least I hope trust me). I did go to school, I had a boyfriend, and later on, I did get a job, but basically 99% of the time in among those things consisted of binge eating, shopping or planning for binge eating, hating on myself for that, and procrastinating on watching endless series, and YouTube videos. And trust me when I say that after 6+ years of binge-watching YouTube videos, there’s not much I haven’t seen. I’ve watched gameplays even though I don’t play games, cringy pranks I’ve hated, DIY videos I’ve never tried, and so much more. At a certain point, I probably even knew more about the lives of YouTubers than I did know about my own.
I was unhappy, unfulfilled, unmotivated, depressed, and always surfeited. But all those years, I knew deep down what made me procrastinate that much. I just never truly admitted it, and I honestly didn’t put too much thought and meaning into it. Therefore, I was never really able to do anything about it until recently.
Finding your reasons WHY
The reasons why I procrastinated were pretty simple. The problem was I never really asked why. I falsely believed that procrastination was just me being lazy. I thought that it’s a trait I was born with, and there’s nothing I can do nothing about it.
But, if I only ever asked myself why I procrastinated on each and every task specifically, I’d find out it’s because I:
- was unhappy with the way I looked and felt (both physically and mentally)
- was binge eating and gained tons of extra weight
- studied a major I didn’t like, I felt stupid and not good enough
- didn’t know what I wanted to do in life
- had confidence level zero
- isolated myself from everything and everyone, so I spent 99% of the time alone, in my room, binge eating, procrastinating, and hating on myself even more
Figuring out the reasons why you procrastinate won’t solve your problems overnight. Some of them, as in my case, may even need the help of a professional. But knowing why you avoid doing XYZ will help you to do something about it.
Maybe you’ll find out that the fear you have is entirely irrational, and with a little bit of help, you can get that task done pretty easily.
Maybe you’ll realize that you’ve been avoiding something because you don’t feel happy, passionate, and fulfilled about it. You may then decide to change the direction you’re heading in and find something that will be more meaningful to you.
Maybe, like me, you’re simply afraid that your lifelong dreams won’t turn out as good as you want them to be. So, you concluded it’s better not to try at all because if you never try, you’ll never know.
My reasons why
I’ve recently come across Carrie Green’s video on procrastination, and I tried to think about the real reasons why I’m procrastinating on things that I’d love to do. Here are few of my to-dos I procrastinate on and the reasons why I think I’ve been avoiding them:
- my health (balancing nutrition and sports goals) – fear of change (even if for the better), inconsistency, waiting for better moment (my future self will do it), fear of never being as good as other runners or athletes
- my blog – fear (what I have to say doesn’t matter) imposter syndrome (who am I to tell anyone what to do; why should anybody care), inconsistency, fear of not being as good as others
- my career – fear of starting (not knowing where to start), imposter syndrome (I know nothing and suck at everything)
- my hobbies (learning French and Russian, piano, yoga, reading,…) – inconsistency, fear of sucking at things despite trying and working hard, waiting for better moment (my future self will do it)
And so on.
Some days I don’t want to play the piano, read a book, or go for a run because I’m tired, upset, or just lazy. That’s natural; I’m human. But usually, the real reason why I tend to postpone things that matters to me is different, and not as shallow as feeling tired or not in the mood for it.
You can notice a clear pattern in my tendency to avoid things – I’m afraid (of the change, of the unknown, of failing), I compare myself with others, and lack consistency in anything I do. And therefore, I postpone everything to my future self. Tim Urban explains the “future you” as your better version. It’s the picture-perfect person you have in mind when postponing your tasks – it’s the person who you think will do all the work. I highly recommend reading his articles on procrastination because he’s both hilarious and painfully honest.
Honesty is what we all need, but us procrastinators may need an extra dose of it. We need to stop lying to ourselves and acting like we’re going to do XYZ tomorrow, or on Monday or next month, or next year without some major changes. If you’ve postponed the XYZ more than once, chances are you’ll probably do it again, if you don’t change your approach to it. Life’s too short to afford constantly shifting our dreams that we want to fulfill and the life we want to live, to one day eventually.
Writing down things you procrastinate on the most and identifying the reasons why you can’t make yourself do something can help you to look at things from a different perspective. You rarely ever can fix an issue without knowing the cause. I mean, you can, but usually only partially, and only temporarily.
Turning “why not” into “why yes”
A few days ago, I could give you all the “why nots” in the world to doing anything. I felt sick and demotivated. I’ve worked overtime, went shopping, and got barely half of what I needed. I was tired and bloated because I ate three slices of bread with peanut butter and jelly right after dinner. On top of that, I wasted an hour and a half watching a stupid TV show. Yet, I gave myself one “why yes,” peeled myself off the couch, and continued on this article.
Now that you figured out what you procrastinate on and what are the most probable reasons why you keep avoiding those things, it’s time to turn your reasons “why not” into the reasons “why yes”.
It sounds sweet and easy, but how the heck does you that? By breaking down each problem into problem-solving actionable steps.
In my example, in the blog category, I identified the three main reasons why I procrastinate on writing articles and pushing the content to the world:
- 1. I’m afraid (fear) I won’t have anything valuable, interesting or meaningful to say
- 2. I’m feeling like an imposter (imposter syndrome) implying I’m not eligible to write about things I want to write about, and should I ever succeed in anything, it will be based on a blunt lie and fraud
- 3. I lack consistency
Now, I can take approach each reason “why not” step by step, and try to figure out what I can do about it to reduce the time I spend procrastinating on them and increase the time I actually spend doing them. Let’s break them down:
One of the main reasons why I procrastinate on writing is fear. I’m afraid of failing. I’m afraid of succeeding. I’m afraid of not being good enough despite putting in the work. I’m scared I’ll find out I really don’t enjoy what I’m doing. I’m afraid others will be much better at what I do. I’m worried that no matter how hard I’ll try, I won’t succeed.
Success is something that no one will ever guarantee to me or to you. I can’t affect the outer circumstances either. But what I can do is I can look deeper into things I have (or can have) control over.
Let’s say I’m afraid I’ll suck at writing. Luckily, there’s a simple solution to this – to write as much as I can.
I can search for tips and tricks on how to write. I can use grammar tools. Read other posts to see the writing styles of others. Get inspired. Google similar articles covering the topics I want to write about. The chances are there will be thousands of them, and yet, there is a point of view and perspective that I can bring to the table. And again, write as much as I can to improve my writing.
Although the fear of my writing not being good enough may be eligible sometimes, and won’t ever disappear 100%, that’s life. We all try, fail, learn, and grow. As long as I’m honest and have good intentions, I know I’ll be good to go.
When I first heard of the imposter syndrome two or three years ago, I was like “Wow, that’s me, how did I not know about that?!”
Yes, our feelings of not knowing enough and not being knowledgeable enough are legitimate. But that’s so much we can do about it. In today’s online world, there’s nothing easier than signing yourself up for an online course, watch a dedicated video, or listen to an educational podcast. Find an e-book covering that topic, connect with more experienced people. You can find plenty of things for free.
I still don’t feel well-versed in all areas of my interests, and I’ll probably never fully will since there’s always something more I can learn or try. But the more time I spent educating myself in things like marketing, copywriting, social media, the less intense the imposter feeling is.
Lack of consistency
Being consistent in anything I’ve ever done has been a huge struggle for me. Why? I can think of two main reasons.
Number one, I’ve hardly ever lasted long enough to see any results. Being it the distance I was able to run, the foreign words I was able to memorize, or something as unimportant as how many followers I was able to get on social media. So, I gave up. I came to the conclusion that thing was just not meant for me.
Number two, I’m afraid to make that commitment. I’m afraid that once I undertake to do something, I’ll sign to a certain expectation I’ll need to meet each and every time. If I say I want to study French for 3 hours every week, it would mean I should be getting better every week, and month, and year. But what if I won’t? What if I’ll still suck at French 6 months later, and I’ll still struggle to differentiate between l’accent grave and l’accent aigu?
Fortunately, there’s one simple answer to that (yes, I’ve said it a few paragraphs earlier) – if you never try, you’ll never know.
Staying on track and being consistent does feel like a pain in the 🍑 most of the time. But imagine yourself 6 months from now. Which thing would you like to tell yourself – “Wow, I’m glad I started six months ago. Look where I’ve got so far.” or “Damn, I wish I started six months ago. I wonder where I’d been by now.”
Don’t set yourself up for failure
You will have a much clearer vision after you figure out what you’ve been avoiding, why, and what you need to do about it. But one thing you should remember is not to put too much on your plate from the very beginning. Otherwise, you’ll set yourself up for failure.
I know I need to improve my writing and post articles consistently, but I’m very well aware that if I commit to posting every other day, I’d fail. It would make it impossible for me to stick to it, it would scare the s**t out of me, it would only make me angry with myself, and it would only lead to one thing – procrastinating even more.
As tempting as it is, don’t go into the “all or nothing” mindset. Instead, start slow and set yourself small, realistic goals. Just like you can’t expect yourself to run a marathon if you’ve never run before, you can’t expect to go from procrastinator to the most productive person in the world overnight. (But if you did, I bow to you, and please shoot me an email because I need to know how you did it.)
Set yourself a teeny tiny goal, like a timer for 5 or 10 minutes to work on your desired task and see how it goes. I started by setting myself a goal of writing 500 words the next day. To my surprise, I wrote well over 1300 words. Why? Because a 500-word goal is doable, and it doesn’t put that much pressure on me. Also, a few minutes after I started, I got into the “flow mindset,” and it was much easier to just keep going long after I passed the 500 words mark.
I’m sure you’ve experienced plenty of “flow mindsets” before. Let’s say you have a sink full of (days) old dirty dishes waiting for you to wash. You originally planned to do it two days ago. You almost washed it yesterday, but today’s morning seemed like a better option. The thing is, you’d probably normally leave it there for even more hours. But since you ran out of clean mugs for your coffee and bowls for your oatmeal, it’s now or never.
You consider all acceptable options, from searching for any usable plastic bowls and paper cups in your household, through washing just one mug and one bowl, to actually driving to a store and buying new dishes. Since you found no paper cups to use, your favorite mug and bowl are at the bottom of the dirty dishes pile, and dressing up and driving to the store requires too much effort, you came to an inevitable conclusion. Washing the dishes seems to be the only possible (and reasonable) option.
So, you turn on your favorite music, and you dip your hands to the sink. Although you hate your life at first, you wash the dishes, piece by piece. Twenty minutes later, it’s all done. It wasn’t that bad, after all, was it? Since you’re in the “mood,” you pick up the clothes you “accidentally” scattered all over the house and put it in the washing machine. You then take the trash out, pay the electric bill, and make yourself some nutritious breakfast. And all that was done because you were in the “flow mindset.”
Few final thoughts
Don’t rely on feeling motivated. In my opinion, motivation is extremely overrated. As a procrastinator, I’ve had tons of motivation from multiple sources, yet, I found myself still facing the same problem – not doing it.
Although I think procrastination becomes a habit and a way to simply “deal with things” by not dealing with them, each thing, each task, and each responsibility that you put off may have its own, different reason why you don’t want to do it.
Writing them down and trying to figure out what it may be for each of them can help you find a solution to what it is that you’re afraid of.
Start now, think later. Once you’ve planned yourself a small, actionable, and reachable task, just do it. I know that the silliest and most stupid thing you can say to a procrastinator is to “just do it.”
But what I mean by that is not to overthink it. If you promised yourself to go for a 10-minute walk today, then just go and don’t think too much about it (I realized this is a pretty stupid example in the current pandemic situation, but you get the point).
Once you start niggling in whether you should or shouldn’t go for a walk, whether or not you have time for it, or whether or not you’re in the mood for it, chances are you’ll talk yourself out of it. I’m not implying to do everything recklessly and without a second thought, but if you need to do something you’ve been procrastinating on, don’t overthink it.
I hope you found this article helpful or at least inspiring in some way. Here’s one helpful quote I’ll leave you up with today that I want you to remember every time you’ll start giving in to the reasons why not:
“It’s better done than perfect.”
 RateSetter. The Great British Procrasti-nation [online]. 2015. Available at: https://view.joomag.com/gbp-the-great-british-procrasti-nation/0993581001422464245?page=15