Procrastination: Why, and what to do about it

"Plan a life you'd like to have. Have a little conversation with yourself. As if you don't really know who you are. Cause you know what you are like, you won't do what you are told! You won't do what you tell yourself to do, you must have noticed that! It's like you are a bad employee and a worse boss and both of those work, you know, for you! You don't know what to do and when you tell yourself, you don't do it anyways. You should fire yourself and find someone else to be! My point is that you have to understand that you are not your own servant, you are someone that you have to negotiate with and someone that you want to present a good opportunity to have a good life.'' 

"You have to negotiate yourself - not tyrannise yourself." - Dr Jordan B Peterson

The other week I was having a standard millennial-heavy chat with a good friend of mine (as we sipped knowingly on our piping hot mugs of turmeric lattes, nodding appropriately at natural lulls in the conversation) about the state of affairs when it came to distraction, and how more and more young adults today are beaming with pride at the simplest of acts.

They may, for the sake of argument, celebrate doing their taxes, laundry, or tidying their room as 'adulating'. As embarrassing as it may seem that nowadays, simple acts are seen as the height of hard work and dedication, as I was saying to my friend, I think it goes deeper. 

The feeling upon accomplishing any of the above acts - or just simply take your fancy from any basic gesture of adulthood - is that same sense of relief - and, yes, pride - one finds when completing a task that they've been putting off for a really, really, really long time. The reason we get this feeling is that deep down we know that this was easily a task we could have completed within moments, but choose to put it off for momentary pleasure. That momentary pleasure could look like anything - an extra five minutes in bed, watching Netflix instead of revising, or staying on your phone instead of filling up your planner for the week ahead.  

Thus, when completing what appears to be an 'arduous' task - one that's required you to sacrifice your please in exchange for some kind of pay off, however that may look like - you feel a tremendous sense of pride well up inside of you. Even if it happens to waking up at 11am rather than 12pm. Standards, bar. Set them/it higher, people.

Although I am by nature fairly conscientious (comes with the territory when you have anxiety flare ups and a proclivity towards neuroticism) I used to be one of these people on a lesser scale; eschewing responsibility, basic, tiny tasks such as email replying, and all the other boring stuff in favour of what appeared to be the 'best' choice at the time. That message can wait another five minutes - let me just listen to this song next. Oh, it's fine, I'll tidy my room tomorrow when I have more time, let me just 'relax' for a bit. (Even though I only had one client that day...hard worker, huh?!) Inevitably, minutes turned to hours, hours turned to days, and unanswered emails resulted in unhappy agency bookers thinking I had gone for a temporary sabbatical.

In other words, despite choosing the route to what I believed would make me feel 'better', I actually suffered more by picking instant gratification over longterm character building and, ultimately, happiness.

I used to see procrastination - particularly the way I used to practice it - as a consequence of distraction and lack of focus. And I have no doubt that there is a correlative, nay, causative link here. Yet, even after decluttering my desk, turning off phone notifications, and turning my room into the incense-addled equivalent of an opiate's den, I still found I would forgo essential, basic tasks and choose to listen to the same Tame Impala record  for the third time that day. (As a side note, I think they've gone too mainstream and 'poppy' for my tastes.) Something was missing from my chain of analyses. (Yay, overthinking!)

So upon discovering Jordan Peterson's take on it, I was relieved to see that his unique aspect on procrastination seemed to make sense in the way millennials live and perceive 'adulty' tasks. Simply put, we tend to 1) create a punishing schedule first and foremost, leaving little if any room for enjoyment or hobbies, and 2)  eschew any kind of visualisation of who we want to be in life and why. For instance, if you're a personal trainer like myself, you might want to see yourself as an individual with integrity, who helps clients get results both physically and mentally based on science, decent experience, and cumulative empathy with them as people. I realised that having an end image of who I wanted to be played a crucial part in making me more driven in letting go of the habits that brought me down; the ones that failed to empower me to be the best version of myself.

Secondly, the idea that a daily schedule has to be arduous or painful is a myth at best and noxious at worst. Indeed, as flawed humans, having self-awareness of your faults is a prerogative if you are to improve your habits and reduce levels of procrastination. For instance, if you are trying to lose weight and know that you have a tendency to snack mindlessly on sweets in the house, or tend to lean towards 'boredom eating', knowing this behaviour of yours allows you to make an inner compromise of 'Ok, so if I don't have the kind of food I tend to overeat on in the house, that means I can actually enjoy my meals out with loved ones knowing that I'm curbing this habit.' Similarly, if you happen to be a social anxiety sufferer and chronic introvert, what you actually need (connection with others and social fluidity) is something you desperately fear and resent. Nonetheless, what we find the most difficult is often the stuff most needed in our lives.

 So, by telling yourself that after the party or networking event, you have a few hours completely to yourself to read, re-focus and reconnect, this allows you to actually face your fears, go through the action, and become a slightly better human at the end of it all - and still retaining the things you ensure you enjoy your way of life. It's a win-win.

Further, knowing your traits and pitfalls will ensure you know the best ways to keep you accountable. It might be that you're the kind of person who needs a Sunday completely 'switched off' in order to remain productive for the commencing week. It may be that you require a Google Calendar diary so well organised it would make your average fractal system blush. Whatever the method may be to (prevent) your madness, the key is learning who you are and your traits in order to distinguish which system works better so that you may regulate your routine in a progressive manner. 

Confront your bad traits before they'll you down and make you a number ten lobster.

Confront your bad traits before they'll you down and make you a number ten lobster.

Know thyself to know thy system - let the rest fall into place, and pretty soon you won't be That Guy making an Instagram story of their 'Sunday admin despairedemojiface'.

Seriously, dude. Every friggin' fully-functioning adult does this. You are not a special snowflake.


NB: For further on this topic, I'd recommend watching Dr Peterson's talk - and maybe listen to it while cleaning your room. ;)