How To Beat Procrastination, Part II
Updated: Nov 8
“Why do I have to do this?”
I think every parent has heard this. We want our children to take out the trash, clean their room, or help in the kitchen. It is so easy to resort to every parent’s favorite line: “Because I said so! That’s why!” As a father, I often operated under the illusion that I could lead by fiat. “I say and you do.”
You can probably guess that it did not work very well. None of my kids ever responded with “Oh! Because you said so! I get it! That makes perfect sense. I’ll get right on it.”
No, if you have been around children, you already know that such answers just lead to more questions. “But why can’t my sister do it instead?” “Why do I ALWAYS have to do this?” “Why don’t YOU do it yourself?
Sometimes my sense of fairness would be criticized: “You never treat me fairly! ‘So-and-so’ never has to help. I can’t wait to move out!” (Ouch!)
It’s easy to see how a child’s beliefs like these fuel anger, resentment, and procrastination. What we often don’t notice, though, is how often we too harbor these beliefs that lead to our own procrastination.
Last time we looked at a quick strategy to beat procrastination by “getting started.” The “Five-Minute Rule” is an easy to learn, easy to apply strategy. This time let’s look at some of the beliefs that can lead us to avoid doing important tasks.
Think back to the last time you faced something you did not want to do. Let’s use the example of “Doing the dishes” again. If you have a large family, like we do, this can become a major chore in a short amount of time. I remember coming into the kitchen to get a plate, only to discover that every single utensil was somewhere in or around the sink, waiting to be washed. Seeing this, I would feel immediate frustration and anger. “Why does this keep happening?” I would say to myself. “These dishes SHOULD be clean. I’m not going to do all of them. It’s not fair! After all, I didn’t use ALL these dishes.”
My solution? Find one plate, fork, and cup and just wash those. Let someone else take care of the mess. This “someone else” would usually end up being my loving wife, who, by the way, I now recognize that I do not deserve.
Do you see the childish thinking in the example above? This immature thinking is very rigid. It can be our “go-to” style of thinking when faced with loathsome tasks. It’s easier for me to blame others than take responsibility and help. Afterall, some of those dishes in the sink were mine!
My rigid, childlike thinking is oftentimes at the root of my procrastination.
So, what do we do about it?
We can stop “Awfulizing.”
Awfulizing is when we convince ourselves that a situation is worse than it is. Think of being in a traffic jam. Most of us who drive have been stuck in traffic somewhere. As we slowly edge our car forward, we tell ourselves how “awful” it is to be stuck in traffic. Our inner voice says “This is terrible! It’s awful! I’m going to be late!”
Just how awful will it be, though? Will you lose your job because of an unexpected traffic jam? Maybe, but highly unlikely. Will your engine overheat and explode? Probably not.
It’s an inconvenience. It’s a hassle. But it’s not a horror, even if we THINK it is.
Let’s return to the dishes. We see the filth and tell ourselves, “It’s going to be awful! I’ll have to stand here with my hands in the dirty water, smelling disgusting old food, while I would rather be playing my video games or surfing the web.”
Will it really be awful, though? Aren’t there worse things in life than doing the dishes [or the laundry, the spreadsheet, or looking for a new job]? To listen to our dysfunctional thoughts and beliefs, you’d think we were about to get our fingernails pulled out by a pair of pliers! Our inner dialog is putting a common household chore on par with a serious earthquake or a death in the family. Would these things not be worse than doing the dishes? Of course, they would be. If any of these truly bad things happened to you, your future would be different, but you’d more than likely survive.
Now, let’s look at the dishes again. Is doing the dishes truly awful, or are you exaggerating the badness of the task? Will your life carry on despite being inconvenienced by the dishes? Of course, it will.
So, the next time you find yourself avoiding an unpleasant task, ask yourself how awful it will really be. Acknowledge that while you don’t like doing the task, you can certainly stand it. You’ll still be alive when it’s over. In fact, remind yourself that you’ll probably feel better now that it’s behind you.
Then, roll up your sleeves, apply the Five-Minute Rule and get going.
We’re not done with procrastination yet. There are some very easy strategies you can use to minimize the likelihood of doing it. Some of these will be next.