You promise yourself you'll stop procrastinating, feel good about the decision, and then continue procrastinating. You want to stop feeling tense. You procrastinate on coping. Instead you slug down a stiff drink. You temporarily feel better. The next time you feel tense you repeat this cycle. When you dance with procrastination in these and other ways, you may experience momentary relief. You may not expect things to turn out badly. Yet the same sorry results reoccur.
When you feel good about a decision to delay, you get a paradoxical reward for procrastinating. This reinforces the opposite of what is in your enlightened interest to do. That's why it's paradoxical.
Paradoxical procrastination rewards are short-term emotional fixes that normally lead to long-term pains. Rewards that follow procrastination decisions to delay are specious in the sense that they reinforce impulsive reactions. These rapid rewards for procrastination support negative results. They are the mirror opposite of rewards for positive efforts.
You can find many paradoxical rewards for procrastinating. Here are three:
1. You cave into unhealthy impulses and urges and feel relief. You're on a diet. There is a chocolate cake in your refrigerator. You are in conflict about eating a piece. You decide to take a small bite. You feel relief in ending the conflict. But all you've done is procrastinate some more on following through on losing weight.
2. You tell yourself you need to feel inspired before you start a project you know will be frustrating. You feel good about your reason for delay. You feel comforted by a whimsical belief that you'll feel inspired some day in the future.
3. When delay follows delay you have a clear procrastination problem to face. Still, you continue to feel relief following new promises that you'll do better later.
Sometimes you'll get a double reward. (1) Relief following finding a way to delay. (2) When you get involved in a pleasurable diversionary activity, pleasure rewards distraction.
Procrastination rewards interfere with actions to achieve positive goals. You tangle yourself in procrastination distractions. You don't get to the heart of what troubles you. You don't develop quality solutions for resolving reoccurring procrastination problems. Let's see what you can do to change paradoxical reward patterns using a productive reward system.
Reversing Paradoxical Rewards
For rewards to be effective, in supporting responsible actions, they follow productive actions. Here are two actions you can take today to reinforce actions that can lead to long-term positive results.
Pick one of the two following activities and do it within the next hour: (1) Write a short essay about paradoxical rewards and rewards you think may be productive because they reinforce personal effectiveness. (2) Speak with a thoughtful friend about paradoxical rewards and how to create a better reward system. Usually you'll get more ideas and clarifications about your options with this interaction. Then, decide on a priority activity. Use this as an opportunity to experiment with using productive rewards.
Experiment with a procrastination reversal technique where you reward yourself for delaying acting out a procrastination impulse. Let's say you have a term paper or business report to do. You agree with yourself that you'll chip away at the task for one-half hour. At the end of that time, reward yourself by doing something pleasurable. If drinking a cup of tea is pleasurable, that's your reward. Then work for another half-hour. Give yourself another short-term reward that brings you pleasure, such as reading your favorite news column. Plan these rewards beforehand. Follow this pattern for the next two weeks. Then fade some of the short-term rewards as you enjoy more of the longer-term benefits of a job well done.
You can get at least three positive psychological rewards for executing this proactive process:
1. You show yourself that you can impose reason between impulse and reaction, and this sense of mastery can feel good.
2. You show yourself that you can engage constructive actions that substitute for impulsive actions. That helps build confidence. Confidence feels good.
3. By stretching your ability to self-improve, you can cycle out of a paradoxical procrastination reward pattern. This shows that you can organize and regulate your actions to achieve a positive result. This rewards your growing ability to avoid distractions and stay on track.
I recently did a first ever Internet workshop for the public on procrastination. If you want to dig deeper into procrastination, you can listen to a free Podcast of the program at www.smartrecovery.libsyn.org.
A free, brief, eBook accompanied the workshop: Beat Procrastination Now.
My latest book on procrastination is End Procrastination Now! Use it for self-improvement guidance.
Dr. Bill Knaus