Leveraging as a Strategy to Defeat Needless Delay

How to leverage self-control to beat procrastination

Posted Dec 10, 2010

Lever lifting the world
A lever is a powerful tool. The simple machine involves the strategic use of force at a distance from a fixed point (fulcrum) to gain mechanical advantage for lift. As depicted in the image, it would seem we can lift the world. Well, there's truth in this notion. We can leverage self-control to lift the weight of the world off our shoulders.

We can certainly create what feels like the "weight of the world on our shoulders" when we procrastinate. Emotionally we feel it as guilt. Our needless delay undermines our perception of self, we suffer from a lack of motivation and believe that "we'll never get it done now." We need some sort of internal mechanical advantage to lift such a heavy psychological burden off our backs.

Fortunately, the philosopher Chrisoula Andreou from the University of Utah offers us some insight into how to construct this lever. She helps us recognize that although we may fail to have self-control in one area of our lives, perhaps the lack of self-control or willpower to act on our intention to exercise, we probably do have self-control in other areas of our lives.

Professor Andreou argues that we can leverage our self-control from one area of our lives to our advantage in an area of our lives where we aren't meeting our own expectations. In her own life, she got herself to keep her exercise intentions by making her Friday dinner out (something she looks forward to) contingent on exercise that week. No exercise, no dinner. The thing is, although she couldn't seem to force herself to get to the gym, she knew she was able to withhold dinner if she failed to exercise. She did have self-control here, and, as she writes, ". . . this did the trick, and I finally started working out" (p. 206).

The result was that she leveraged her self-control around this reward to get her to act on her intentions. I talk about this at greater length in an iProcrastinate Podcast episode.

The key thing for now is trying to identify the potential levers in our own lives. I've been doing something similar for years without realizing that it was the same sort of leveraging of self-control. I have great self-control when it comes to making effort to care for others. Not so much when it comes to taking care of myself. What I've found is that my dutifulness in caring for my dog-sled team (11 happy huskies who want me away from my desk and outside with them) leads me to self-care, as I do get outside for some fresh air, exercise and stress release. It's not the same as withholding a reward as in the example above, but it's a similar notion of leveraging self-control in one area of my life to my benefit in another. Where I wasn't able to convince myself to get out and exercise, I was successful at getting out for some exercise when I used self-control to meet the needs of my dogs.

Being strategic is always important in the challenging process of self-change. Leveraging self-control from one area of our lives to help in another where we have less is a useful strategy for helping to defeat procrastination.

Andreou, C. (2010). Coping with Procrastination. In C. Andreou & M.D. White (Eds.) The Thief of Time: Philosophical Essays on Procrastination (pp. 206-215). New York: Oxford University Press.