The In-The-Moment Procrastination Fix

Why is it that we struggle and strain and still procrastinate on some things, but we feel effortlessly motivated to do others?

As we've seen in previous lessons, procrastination is all about pain avoidance. So, when you're putting something off, it's because there is some association of emotional pain with that thing.

The Emotional Charge

To make this easier to visualize, let's use a simple mental model. Imagine that any given task has an "emotional charge".

This charge can be positive, meaning it's something you find enjoyable, you look forward to it, you aren't afraid of it. When this is the case, you will feel effortlessly motivated to do this task.

But the charge can also be negative. A task can, emotionally, feel like a red hot ball of emotional pain. And we don't want to get anywhere near that. So we procrastinate.

This is on a spectrum. So a task can be highly positively charged, highly negatively charged or anything in between.

So, what can you do to reduce the negative charge and increase the positive charge? Because if you can do this, you can eliminate procrastination.

And the good news is: you can do things to change this emotional charge!

1) Self Forgiveness

We've already done this, but it's worth mentioning here, again. One reason why self forgiveness is so effective is because it reduces the negative charge associated with a task.

If you have previously procrastinated on something and on top of that you feel terrible about it and you beat yourself up about it, that just adds even more bad feelings on top of the already negatively charged task.

Self forgiveness helps us reduce that charge and make a task feel less emotionally intimidating.

2) Meaningful Context

Ask yourself: what is the larger context of this task? Even if this particular thing is something I don't want to do, does it lead to some worthwhile end goal? Is it part of a bigger picture that I can feel excited about?

For example, if I'm procrastinating on editing a video, that makes sense when we just look at the individual task by itself. Video editing is not very exciting and it's not my favorite way to spend my time. It's also quite time consuming and often involves struggles with technial limitations or issues.

Clearly, not a massively positive charge on this kind of work.

But if I think about why I'm making this video, that changes how it feels. After all, there's a message in this video that I want to share with people. I love teaching and video editing is just a small step in the process of creating, say, an entire course or series that could help change people's lives.

Seen in this greater context, the task ahead is more positively charged and I'll find it easier to get started.

3) Process Orientation

Once you get started with something, it's often easier and more enjoyable than expected.

Even difficult work can have a satisfying aspect to it. For example, while it is strenuous to solve difficult problems, it also comes with the satisfaction of deploying your skills and knowledge and it actually feels better to do something difficult than to do something boring.

If you can remind yourself of this, it can switch your brain into a more process oriented mode and you can even feel yourself looking forward to a task you usually procrastinate on.

Putting it Into Practice

To put these ideas into practice, we are once again using a writing exercise. You can try this out right now. Pick a task that you usually procrastinate on, answer the below writing promts and then get started on the task!

Writing Prompts

Answer these prompts in writing, whenever you feel yourself procrastinating on a specific task.

  • What is meaningful about this task, to me? How does it fit into a larger context that is important to me?
  • What aspects of this work feel good? When have I done this in the past and felt good about it?
  • What aspects of this work that allow me to use my strengths and grow my skills?