The 4 Real Reasons Why You Procrastinate (No, It’s Not Laziness)
Did you know that the word procrastination is actually derived from the Latin word ‘procrastinare’, which means ‘deferred until tomorrow’. Isn’t that funny? That’s exactly what most of us say when we’re procrastinating! ‘Ahh, I’ll do it tomorrow’… But as we all know, we usually say the exact same thing tomorrow and eventually, we postpone the task to the very last moment — or we end up never doing it at all. That is why procrastination slowly but surely takes your ambition to the grave if you do nothing about it. Without you even realizing it, you slip into the habit of procrastination.
Every time you postpone your work, you strengthen the chains of procrastination. Then one day, you notice how much inner resistance you feel towards practically any type of work, no matter how simple the task. And that’s when most people label themselves as lazy. But the truth is, you don’t procrastinate because you are lazy. Procrastination has completely different reasons for existing. It’s rooted much deeper into your own mind. But before we dive into the 4 real reasons why you procrastinate, I want to talk about the underlying concept that forms the basis of why people procrastinate.
The Never-Ending Battle: Present Self vs Future Self
Procrastination can best be described as the behaviour of acting against your better judgment. It’s when you do X when you know you should actually be doing Y. It’s when you’re watching Netflix when you know you should actually be writing your book or studying for your exam. In those moments, your present self is not aligned with your future self.
You see, we practically have two version of ourselves. First of all, we have a ‘future self’. This version is the one who sets goals, and dreams about how great and successful our future will be. This version also realizes the importance of hard work, consistency and getting the job done. But then, there’s our ‘present self’, and the present self is the one who is responsible for actually sitting down and doing the job. It’s my present self that is currently writing this blog post, not my future self (which came up with the idea and goal for writing this post). The problem is that the present self prefers instant gratifications over long-term rewards, and therefore the two versions clash often. Where the present self wants to watch Netflix or play Call of Duty, the future self wants to get this blogpost finished. Yet, it’s only the present self who can get the job done, not the future self.
When the present self and future self aren’t aligned with each other, we start to give in to instant gratifications like social media, Netflix, video games, fast-food or other distractions that make us feel good in the moment. In other words, this is when we procrastinate. Yet, sometimes the present self and the future self are completely aligned with each other. Our present self actually feels motivated to sit down and do the work that our future self demands and expects. In those moments, our actions finally match our ambition. This is by no means random, although it often may feel like it. When your present self and future self are aligned, you’ve somehow applied some of the strategies shared in this post without even realizing it.
The 4 reasons that we’re going to discuss next are all based on the principle of your present self not being aligned with your future self. And of course, I’m going to share some strategies and techniques that serve as antidotes to procrastination. Essentially, by applying those techniques, you can start to align your present self and your future self so that you’ll no longer procrastinate anymore.
Reason #1: The Lack of Clarity
For most people, procrastination is an issue of not having enough clarity. When you lack clarity about what exactly you need to work on, when exactly you should be working on it, how you’re supposed to do it effectively, why you need to do it in the first place and what your priorities are, you’ll procrastinate. It’s as simple as that. As soon as any of these factors are unclear, your brain will start telling you that it’s too difficult, too uncomfortable and it’ll cost too much energy to work on your tasks, so it’ll start convincing you to do something easier, like watching Netflix. Your present self simply won’t feel like working when all (or some) of these elements are unclear.
Our brain is simply designed to preserve energy and to avoid uncomfortable, unknown situations. And when we lack clarity about what to work on, why to work on it, how to work effectively on it and when to work on it — we create a very uncomfortable, energy-draining and unknown situation for ourselves. So what’s the alternative? Do something comfortable, something familiar, something less energy draining. Do anything besides working on what we’re supposed to be working on. Therefore, it’s critical that you start to create clarity on your work process in order to remove the friction that causes procrastinative behaviour.
How To Create Clarity In Order To Stop Procrastinating
Maybe your goal is to ace your upcoming exam, but you have an infamous track record of procrastinating on studying for your exams (like I used to). In that case, simply ‘studying for your exam’ is way too vague and unclear. You’ll experience a lot of resistance and it’ll be very likely that you’ll procrastinate on this task. The key is to get precise. Very precise. For example, instead of saying to yourself ‘I need to study for my exam today’, create a solid battle plan. One that is precise and that leaves no room for interpretation anymore. So, a battle plan filled with clarity is one that says ‘From exactly 09:00 to 11:00 I’ll study chapter 4 and from 15:00 to 18:00 I’ll study chapter 5’. This way, you know exactly WHAT to do and WHEN to do it. It’s simple changes like this that will help you massively in order to overcome procrastination.
Make sure you remove every piece of guesswork from the equation. Know exactly what it is that you’re going to work on today, so set a few goals for the day. Know exactly when you’re going to work on what task, so schedule your entire day in your calendar. Know exactly how to do something effectively, so practice, read books, follow courses and practice some more. Know exactly what still needs to be done in order to achieve your goal or complete your project, so create a list of all the tasks you can think of that are involved with its completion. And lastly, know exactly why you need to work on your tasks at hand in order to create the ultimate clarity.
Once again, remove every piece of guesswork from the equation and you’ll start to feel a lot less resistance towards your work. When you streamline the process and remove all of the friction, it’ll be so much easier to stop procrastinating and start working instead.
Reason #2: Lack of Motivation
Besides the lack of clarity, another very common reason why people procrastinate is that they lack motivation. When you don’t feel motivated to do something, you feel so much resistance towards doing the task that it feels like fighting against Mike Tyson in his prime. You need to tap deep into your willpower and self-discipline, and that’s something which most people have a lot of trouble with. At those moments, procrastination sees its opportunity. Before you know it, you’re watching Netflix again.
Despite our good intentions and ambition, we find ourself postponing our work and choosing immediate rewards over future rewards. This concept is what behavioural scientists call ‘time inconsistency’. Our present self does not feel like doing the work that our future self expects or demands.
The reason why our present self is not aligned with our future self is because of the fact that our present self links too much pain towards doing the activity that we’re procrastinating on — and too much pleasure towards the replacement activity (such as playing a video game for example). Our present self would much rather go for the instant gratification of procrastinating instead of going for the delayed gratification that comes from doing the task. When this is what happens to us, we commonly refer to it as ‘not being motivated’.
How To Generate Motivation To Stop Procrastinating
In order to generate the necessary motivation to stop procrastinating and to start working, I recommend you use two strategies. First of all, you need to start to make the long-term consequences of procrastinating immediate, so that your present self feels the pain of not taking action right now. You need to get to the point where not taking action becomes more painful than taking action.
We can do so by focusing on all of the ways our finances, health, business growth, personal growth, relationships and self-image will suffer if we continue to adopt the lousy behaviour of procrastinating and postponing our work. Think about what it’ll cost you in all of those major areas of your life if you fail to take consistent, massive action — and thereby fail to achieve your main goals. Clearly imagine it and truly feel the pain of not taking action. That is what will generate the necessary motivation to start working right away.
Second of all, you need to change your mental state of mind. Our state of mind determines exactly how we think, feel and act within the moment. When we lack motivation, we are usually in a lousy state of mind. Our present self just doesn’t feel like doing the right things. Instead, binge watching a series on Netflix with a bag of chips next to you seems like a much more appealing alternative. To counter this, we need to ‘hack’ our mental state of mind by doing certain habits and activities.
For example, go for a short exercise or do some push-ups to elevate your heart-rate and get the blood flowing, do Wim Hof breathing exercises to generate energy, take a cold shower (my personal favorite), meditate, visualize, say some affirmations, watch a motivational video (yes, it’s corny, but it does work), review your goals or read a few pages in an inspiring book. Do everything you can in order to feed your mind and body empowering and motivating messages. You’ll feel your mental state of mind change quite rapidly. Before you know it, you are in a so-called ‘peak state’ of mind. From here, it’s MUCH easier to stop procrastinating and to start crushing it instead.
Ps. If you are truly serious about breaking the procrastination habit once and for all, feel free to download my 18-page guide ‘How To Stop Procrastinating’ right underneath. I’ll share 7 strategies (different ones than in this post) to help you stop procrastinating, powerfully get things done and finally crush your goals.
Reason #3: Fear
Fear is a massive reason for procrastination. Yet, most people have no clue that fear is the reason why they procrastinate. Fear creates excuses that seem legitimate enough so that you’ll stop taking action and go back to your comfort zone. Fear gives you the reasons you need to fall back into procrastination.
Fear leads people to not start that business, not write that book, not record that song, not approach that stranger or not start that YouTube channel. Fear is that little voice inside of your head that tells you it’s a better idea to watch a funny cat video on YouTube instead of calling that potential client. Fear is what tells you that it’s already too late to write that blogpost or record that video, so we better just do nothing and scroll through Instagram instead.
Fear will try to block you from doing anything that involves any type of vulnerability to criticism, external opinions and potential judgement (this is called the fear of rejection or social ridicule). It’ll try to block you from doing anything that can possibly mess with your identity and self-image, even if it could potentially make your life a lot better (this is what they call ‘success sabotaging’ or the ‘fear of success’, look into it). Fear exaggerates the risks and consequences of failure to such an extent that the fear of failure prevents us from taking action.
In other words, fear is holding you back from achieving the best things in life — without you even realizing it. While the future self is motivated to become a big success, the present self fears to do the work because of the potential pain from failure, rejection, ridicule or even success — and therefore decides to procrastinate instead.
How To Overcome Your Fears To Stop Procrastinating
Firstly, identify your fears and write them down on to paper. Write down exactly why you fear rejection, failure, success, ridicule or anything else. By identifying and writing down your fears you set a major step towards overcoming it. It may sound strange, but once you see your fears written down on paper, it’s not that intimidating anymore.
Secondly, identify and write down the realistic worst-case scenario. Again, by putting your worst-case scenario on to paper, it starts to become less intimidating. Furthermore, by writing down your worst-case scenario at a moment where you are completely calm and rational, you truly make sure it’s realistic. This is much better than the over-exaggerated scenario that our mind starts to create when we are fearful and thus irrational.
Lastly, do the ‘rocking chair’ test. See yourself at the age of 80 or 90, sitting in a rocking chair. How would you feel at that moment if you knew you didn’t do certain things you wanted to do because you let fear control you? How would you feel if you let short-term fear lead to long-term regret? Really take a moment to imagine this in your mind. Use this feeling of regret as fuel to bash through your fears and do it anyway. Apply these three principles and it’ll become easier to dance with your fears and take action despite it. The more action you take, the more you’ll notice that your fears will weaken. Remember, action is the number one antidote to fear.
These 4 universal fears can either kill your goals and ambitions or they become your compass for action.medium.com
Interested in learning more about how fear is limiting you? Check out my blogpost above!
Reason #4: Lack of Momentum
According to the laws of physics, something that’s already in motion requires a lot less force to keep in motion, compared to trying to get something in motion that’s standing still. If your car has ever broken down by the side of the road and you needed to push it to a safer place, you know what I’m talking about. The beginning is by far the hardest part. You need to push with all your strength and effort in order to get the car moving. But once you managed to do that, it’s not that hard to keep the car rolling forward. It requires a lot less energy and strength from your side. This works exactly the same when it comes to you and your work.
If you’re already taking some action (no matter how small), it’s much easier to keep taking action or even increase in pace. However, when you’re not taking action, you’re essentially standing still. And according to physics, an object that’s standing still is a lot harder to get in motion. It requires a lot more of your willpower and mental strength to get started. At those moments where we are standing still, procrastination will find its way to creep in again. The longer we wait to gather momentum, the stronger the inner voice of resistance will become.
Therefore, it’s critical that we start to get into motion and get some momentum behind us. As soon as we have momentum, we don’t want to stop. We don’t want to procrastinate. We want to move, take action, hustle and get stuff done.
How To Create Momentum To Stop Procrastinating
When creating momentum we should keep things as simple and low-barrier as possible. And that’s where the 15-Minute Exercise comes in. Let me explain the 15-minute exercise:
Step 1: Pick out the task that you should be working on.
Step 2: Set a timer for 15 minutes.
Step 3: Work for 15 minutes on the task.
That’s it. Simple right?
The reason why the 15-minute exercise works is because we’re starting to get in motion by simply working for a limited amount of time. We went from standing still to moving — and according to the laws of physics, something that’s already in motion requires a lot less force to keep in motion. That’s exactly how momentum works in our mind too.
Anyone can work for 15 minutes, and that’s why it’s so effective to gain momentum. Instead of being intimidated or overwhelmed by a challenging task, it’s much more approachable to just sit down and work for only 15 minutes. The trick with this exercise is that you probably won’t stop after the 15 minutes end. In fact, it’s much more likely that you’ll continue. You’re already putting in the effort. You’re already in motion. That will definitely help with keeping procrastination on the low.
Now Do It
Reading about the reasons for procrastination and the strategies to overcome it is one, but implementing them is two! Without taking action, you won’t see the results you desire. So go out and implement at least one of these strategies today!
And, if you are truly serious about breaking the procrastination habit once and for all, feel free to download my 18-page guide ‘How To Stop Procrastinating’ right underneath. I’ll share 7 strategies (different ones than in this post) to help you stop procrastinating, powerfully get things done and finally crush your goals.
To Your Personal Growth,
Founder Personal Growth Lab
Ps. If you’ve ever said to yourself ‘I’ll do it tomorrow’, you absolutely NEED this guide. More than 134 people have already benefited from it and started to crush it since I released this guide last month.