Overcoming Procrastination and Its Stress
Quite a number of books have been written about overcoming the habit of procrastination and the stress that results from having neglected tasks accumulating on your to-do list — a to-do list whose very creation itself is probably another victim of procrastination. Surely the irony of a book written for habitual procrastinators is not lost on you, with the conspicuous chicken-and-egg conundrum of how to overcome procrastination in order to read a book on how to overcome procrastination.
Most of those books boil down to three words: Just Do It. Of course, that is also the Nike slogan, and a charitable interpretation of why the authors refrained from distilling their 300- or 400-word tomes down to 3 or 4 words would be that they feared legal retribution from Nike.
So how do you overcome procrastinating tendencies and Just Do It? The answer might be found in the quick retort of the couch potato: I Just Do Not Want To Do It. Attacking the problem logically, one would think that overcoming the vice of procrastination is simply a matter of learning to switch on your wants and desires. Clearly if you wanted to do something, there would be no
procrastination with which to contend. Therefore, what we are seeking is a way to trick the mind into wanting to do something. Maybe we can find a way of doing this if we examine some of the things that the mind naturally gravitates toward and wants to do. We may thereby be able to find a useful principle that will enable us to live up to the battle cry of Nike.
It is a basic tenet of both theoretical psychology and common sense alike that we want to do that which makes us feel good. After all, there is no great exertion against mental inertia, no epic battle against the forces of sluggishness when it comes to sitting down for a gourmet meal and fine wine. Nor does procrastination rear its head when it comes to enjoying a good movie or a moment of intimacy with a loved one.
Barring some technological or medical breakthrough, however, doing the ironing or balancing the checkbook will never take on the tremendous appeal of more sensuous and sensual enjoyments. Where does that leave us?
As any used-car salesman will tell you, if you cannot hide the unappealing nature of the Volvo, put some lipstick on the pig by throwing in a chrome CD player. And when it comes to procrastination, we have many gold toilet seats at our disposal. Simply take that chore which is inherently uninspiring and let it piggyback on something much more exciting.
One way of creating a symbiotic relationship between that which you would love to do and that which you would love to toss into a top hat for a vanishing act at a magic show is to employ the principle of positive reinforcement. Make your enjoyment of that which you would love to do contingent upon the performance of that which you would rather delegate to that ever-faithful servant of the chronic procrastinator, Tomorrow. Your mom knew all about this clever principle when she made your ice cream dessert contingent upon the downing of your spinach.
A deep part of the human brain understands only two phenomena: pleasure and pain. We have already discussed how to associate pleasure with the performance of that which you would keep putting off for another day, left to your own devices. The flip side of the cranial coin is associating the idea of pain with the non-performance of your chore. Introduce dire consequences for a failure to act. One extreme method of doing this might be to have someone you trust help you record a video of yourself in a very embarrassing situation. Then if you fail to Just Do It, your video will grace the pages of YouTube or the inboxes of your coworkers.
A hybrid approach combining a pleasure factor with a pain factor may be your best bet for overcoming the paralyzing and stress-producing habit of procrastination.
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