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Do You Know Why You Still Procrastinate?

Twelve sabotaging excuses for delaying

Procrastination weaves through life for different reasons. For example, the seductive excuses that we give ourselves make dallying seem palatable and that helps keep procrastination percolating.

We’re a clever species when it comes to rationalizing needless delays. For example, how do you save face when you put off an assignment that you are running out of time to do? Do you say you were ill so others will think kindly of you rather than think badly of you for delaying? How do you excuse yourself from procrastinating on expressing your opinions? Do you tell yourself you’ll start tomorrow after you've read up on the subject?

When you tell yourself that you’ll begin later, and then keep putting something off, you’ve fallen into a tomorrow (mañana) procrastination trap. By adding a contingency for action to procrastination’s web of entanglements, you’ve elevated excuse making to a higher level of self-deception. (A contingency is a condition that you need to fulfill before something can happen.) For example, you tell yourself, “I need to develop will-power before I can do the assignment.” Then you procrastinate because you don’t believe you have the will to act. Meanwhile, you text your friends to complain about the rising price of pecans.

Face it; you probably can’t predict when you’ll meet any indefinite contingency, such as developing will power. What happens if you don’t develop the will to do the assignment?

Examining Procrastination Contingency Thinking

Procrastination contingency thinking is often a mysterious part of an ongoing procrastination process that is both stealth-like and automatic. Some contingencies are especially seductive. For example, few would argue that when you feel motivated to do something, you are more likely to do it. However, thinking you have to feel motivated to do something that you are not motivated to do, usually means that you’ll lose time waiting for motivation to magically appear.

You can deepen your awareness of this tricky contingency process through studying examples. As you read the following 12 sample contingencies, check the ones that sound like something you might do when you procrastinate.

When you put off a timely and relevant activity, are you waiting:

  • to feel inspired?
  • for a guarantee that whatever you do will turn out well?
  • for perfect clarity of mind?
  • to feel relaxed first?
  • to feel comfortable about doing something uncomfortable?
  • for confidence?
  • for a transformative idea to revolutionize your life?
  • to have complete control over your emotions?
  • to have the will to act?
  • for a magical pill to energize you?
  • for freedom from fear?
  • to experience a motivated drive to start what you've put off?

If several of these contingencies sound like something you might do, neutralizing them is not as daunting as it may appear. Rather than multiple contingencies, you have multiple examples of the same problem. By learning how to address one, you can apply what you learned to weaken others. You may automatically jettison some contingencies without additional work.

Combatting False Contingencies

If you don’t like the idea of brainwashing yourself with false contingencies, and prefer to change procrastination patterns into productive ones, here are four things to try:

1. Boost realistic awareness. If you engage in procrastination contingency thinking, and believe your contingency for delaying is valid, look at the results. They may tell a different tale. For example, when you routinely stall on starting, you’ll end with a crisis. Connect the crisis to the thinking. You’ll see you have a choice to change the thinking by acting against it. As a byproduct of this change, you can produce a positive result.

2. Start without inspiration. You can push yourself to start sooner than later, and you don't need to feel inspired to do this. That way you reduce the risk of a last minute crisis. If you doubt that you can do this, dig back into your past. What ordinarily happens when you push yourself to take an enlightened risk? Do you normally do better compared to procrastinating?

3. Look for exceptions in excuses. If you believe you lack the will to stand up for your rights, do you also lack the will to fry an egg for breakfast? Do you lack the will to phone a friend? Maybe you don’t want to do something you find intimidating. You don’t have to like it. For example, if you are sick and tired of not standing up for your rights, is it possible for you to express an opinion about a restaurant? That can be a baby step in the direction of learning to stand up for your rights.

4. Practice 20\20 foresight. This is the mirror opposite of 20\20 hindsight. Instead of looking over your shoulders thinking of what you could have done, you look to your future with concrete goals and plans for timely meeting your responsibilities and for achieving positive results. Your constructive goals give you a sense of direction, security, and, possibly, a fired-up desire to get procrastination contingency thinking out of the way because it interferes with what you want to accomplish. In short, you plan to do--and start doing--what you think gives you the best chance of performing well.

Procrastination is multifaceted and complex. The procrastination contingencies are a common part of this complex procrastination web. Sadly, there is no magical solution for eliminating excuse-making, permanently preventing procrastinating, or for shortening the amount of time you spend procrastinating. However, if you chose to break free from a procrastination contingency excuse-making pattern, here is a work solution. You work knowledgeably and persistently at debunking false contingencies as you simultaneously work your duff off to get reasonable things done in a reasonable way within a reasonable time. That's the do it now way. The more persistently you work in this way, the more rapidly you can disentangle yourself from procrastination’s web.

If you are working against a tenacious, problematic, procrastination, click on The Procrastination Workbook

If procrastination gets in the way of you operating as productively as you’d like, click on End Procrastination Now

Perils of Delay photo by Dale Jarvis of AreaOne Art and Design Fayetteville NC


Dr. Bill Knaus


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