Behavioral procrastination refers to prematurely stopping what you started. This can be an activity you want to do, such as taking a health initiative, starting a hobby, or advancing a work project.

With a burst of hope you take an initiative to get in good physical shape.  You pay your money to a fitness center and quit after a few weeks. You take up a hobby.  You buy the tools and materials and they stay in boxes and bags.  You gather ideas from your staff and ask them to work up plans for a new product. The problem is that promising and profitable new initiatives rarely leave the drawing board. In these and other ways, behavioral procrastination is among the more costly forms of procrastination.

If you count yourself among those who lose rewards because they stop  mid-stream, and you want to change course, let’s look at three networked tactics for gaining clarity and persistently following through on what is beneficial to do.

Teach Yourself to Think Differently

Behavior procrastination is a deja vu experience. You’ve been there before where you’ve invested energy, time, and money in an activity that remains partially done.

It’s important to be aware of what goes on when you follow a behavioral procrastination pattern. You already know that you start and stop priorities prematurely. That’s probably no mystery. However, are you aware of what happens just before you stopped?  What did you tell yourself about stopping?  Did you suggest to yourself that you’d later return to advance the project?  Your answers to these questions can help illuminate your steps along your path of clarity.  

I'm confident that you have examples of exceptions to this pattern. You start promptly. You work at the activity. You bring it to closure. You benefit from your efforts.  What’s the difference between the times that you start and finish and the times that you quit? Is it the type of task? Does this have anything to do with your expectations? Your answers can advance your movement along the path of clarity.

Do you have a plan to divest yourself of needless distractions? If you are like many, you hadn’t thought through what you would do when you come to a crossroad between continuing and circumventing. In fact, this metacognitive awareness is an often overlooked and underused personal problem solving ability. However, by thinking about your thinking, feelings, and, actions, you may see points in a behavioral procrastination cycle that you can act to change.

You can help yourself see behavioral procrastination patterns and trends by using a procrastination log. You record your behavioral procrastination experience.  You check out what you are thinking, feeling, and doing. Once you slow down the tempo and see what is going on, you’ll find you have choice points to change direction and bring closure to your priority activity.

Teach Yourself to Feel Differently

Fantasies can feel fulfilling. What you wish to do can happen in a twinkle. However, most worthy accomplishments require sweat equity.

At the first emotional signal of inconvenience, you may avoid paying the toll and sit by the wayside as did the hare in Aesop’s fable, The Tortoise and the Hare. A swift rabbit bet a slow turtle it would win a race between it and the lumbering turtle. The race began. The rabbit spurted into a lead. Then the overconfident rabbit slept by the wayside as the turtle ambled by and reached the finish line first. Sometimes overconfidence leads to delays and then to losses. The maxim, “slow and steady wins the race” also applies.

Partially finished tasks pile up for different reasons from self-doubts to false expectations to a reluctance to expend energy.  Whatever the cause, you may experience a general feeling of incompleteness. You may mentally put the tasks in the closet, however, that doesn’t mean that they will permanently disappear.

How do you feel at different phases of a behavioral procrastination cycle? For example, how do you feel when you start the task? At the point where you start to stall out, how do you feel? As partially completed tasks pile up, how do you feel? Now, if those feelings were to speak to you, what might they say? Your answers may help you develop another layer of insights about what happens when you quit mid-stream. Listen to the messages of your emotions. Sort out what makes sense and what is subterfuge.

Do your answers to these emotive questions sharpen your sense of clarity?

Teach Yourself to Act Differently

At first, you look like you are in charge of what you are doing.  You plan. You organize. You start. You gain ground. As with all forms of procrastination, at a point in time you start doing something non-productive. These behavioral diversions are like bottom drawer activities, such as texting instead of working on the priority project you started and once decided to finish.

An important step on the path to clarity is to recognize when you’ve come to the crossroad between continuing and circumventing. However, even if you recognize the “great divide” you have no guarantee that you won’t still circumvent what you started by diverting and detouring.

It’s an illusion that awareness, by itself, is sufficient to change patterns. Although it can be highly helpful to see your choices with clarity, you won’t get beyond the joys of self-revelation without investing sweat equity in order to benefit from your desired future accomplishment. That means pushing yourself when the going gets tough. Grind it out. Accept that not everything that is worth doing is fun to do.  Briefly, if the place that you want to reach is upstream, you won’t get there by drifting downstream.

Behavioral economists who researched my observations on behavioral procrastination found many things. One is that you are better off not starting something you won't finish. That’s a partial truth. It's also limiting conclusion that presumes that people don’t change patterns. How are you to know what you'll finish before you start? If you know how to change a behavioral procrastination pattern, and practice what you know, you can avoid needless losses and make many desired gains for yourself.

For more on the thinking behind procrastination, see a free multimedia on Combatting Procrastination Thinking. For more on combatting procrastination in general and behavioral procrastination in particular, double click The Procrastination Workbook

© Dr. Bill Knaus

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