End Your Toxic Relationship with Procrastination

Two weeks ago, I took out three hardcover biographies on Putin from the library in addition to four other books on Russia I had sitting at home for a politics presentation. Why, do you ask? Was I really intending to read seven books in under a week for a fifteen-minute presentation?

The answer is yes, readers. Because I am a professional procrastinator.

I’m sure that each one of you has had a story when you made an elaborate to-do list and weekly schedule and then towards the end of the week just ended up pulling an all-nighter. You woke up tired, red-eyed and worst of all completely and utterly ashamed of yourself. How could you let this happen?

Kara Loewentheil, J. D., the voice behind the Lawyer Stress Solutions podcast has some answers:

‘When you’re avoiding doing something, you are not avoiding doing the actual action. […] Your brain tells you that you are avoiding doing the actual thing, that the actual thing is the problem. That’s not true. What you are avoiding is having a feeling you don’t want to have.’

She argues that when we don’t do certain tasks, it’s not because of the task itself but because we want to avoid the negative feeling that comes with it. So, your present self is trying to preserve your future self by telling you to put it off and go rewatch the third season of Black Mirror on Netflix.

She explains that this has to do with our biology: ‘Your brain is trying to keep you alive so you can reproduce. That’s all it cares about.’ When human society was just developing, fear and anxiety were actually useful. She says that those feelings ‘evolved to keep you from dying.’ For example, if you saw a bear, you would get frightened and your gut would tell you to run. If you didn’t have the fright, you would just stand there and get eaten. It was a useful response to keep you and your potential offspring alive.

Only now that we don’t have bears walking around, the bear is your homework. Your brain perceives it as a threat because it knows you will feel queasy doing it.

As it gets nearer and nearer to the day you have to give it in, something switches in your brain. Instead of perceiving the homework as the threat, it starts perceiving the deadline as the threat. That is the point when you scramble to finish it all at 3 am in the morning, because the dread finally kicks in. But the problem with that, of course, is that you’re often too tired from avoiding the task to do the task. Oh, if only avoidance was a career path!

Now that we know why we procrastinate, how do we deal with it?

Kara Lowentheil suggests that because our negative feelings are just physical sensations caused by our thoughts, in order to move past this, you have to change them. Here is how:

  1. Pick a task you have been avoiding
  2. Pick up a pen and a piece of paper
  3. Write down all the reasons why you cannot do the task in a stream of consciousness manner. This is when you write anything and everything that comes to your head. However, there is one rule – you cannot write ‘I don’t know’. You won’t make any progress otherwise.
  4. Now, pick out all the reasons and prove them wrong by either rationalizing them or picking out things in the past that prove it wrong. Physically writing them down helps.

An example of why you’re avoiding an assignment could be that you find it very hard and complicated. So, you would write down:

Yes, this is very hard and complicated BUT I’ve done hard and complicated things before like that history assignment last year…

By doing this, you are preventing your immediate assumptions about something from coming true because you’re changing your outlook on them. Take control over your lives, Raiders, and try this out this week if you’re trying to make a change! Meanwhile, I’m gonna go get another planner to learn some better time management.