by Erica Ly
You can’t grow out of procrastination like your baby clothes, and it isn’t a phase you can simply overcome like your obsession with collecting Hot Wheelz cars, or Silly Bandz in 2010. It certainly isn’t limited to a time period in history, or an age range like teething. In fact, some people will procrastinate for their entire lives, because they procrastinated in finding the solution.
Look at your New Year’s resolution to go to the gym every day and get an Olympic athlete’s physique, that has magically morphed into a vow to leave the house and take a walk once a month. It was never your intention to break your resolution one month after it was made; this was supposed to be the year “things changed”. But what ended up changing instead was the elaborate, glimmering goal, into an embarrassing, not-so-impressive target that is better off unsaid. Why does this happen?
Failure versus success. To the average person, if the feeling of failure were a car crash, the slightest bit would be like a head-on collision with the air bags gone off. In the same scenario, a small dose of success would be like stopping a minute before you collide and feeling the rush of relief. Both opposing sentiments are strong, but most people agree that failure is more pertinent to your long-term emotions and memory. Think about the last time you performed poorly on something that was important to you. How long did that regret weigh on your mind? The more you value something, the more it hurts when it doesn’t work out.
Since failure is such a heavy, stress-inducing topic, there are only two ways to deal with it: Confront it or avoid it. Everyone can agree on the fact that procrastination itself isn’t exactly fun. Every parent, teacher and scholarly friend will tell you to “Just start earlier!”, and that confronting your weaknesses is the answer. But why do the majority of us still believe that there is always tomorrow, and continue to procrastinate in finding the way out? Simply because once the habit is made, you cannot simply stop procrastinating.
When we restate our goals into weaker aspirations, we are making it easier for ourselves to succeed at something (anything), and making mini victories become more common. We are procrastinating, hoping that somehow we can fill the larger void of the goal we originally aimed for, with these smaller, more convenient triumphs that are actually like chocolate bars after a workout – purely counterproductive.
Procrastination is like a reverse work-out. It’s not like the muscular strength exercises where you lift heavier weights until you can reach your goal. The negative effects of procrastination cannot be felt immediately. In fact, you get what seems to be the reward first, the time to do whatever you please while others have already started working. When everyone finishes their work and can start relaxing the night before, now you’re staying up all night trying to cram two months of work into seven hours.
Procrastination is a black hole. If you’ve succeeded at procrastinating once, now your mind is telling you that you’re getting better at putting things off and have the best of both worlds – you can relax at the beginning and still get that high mark. In reality, you can never get “better” at procrastinating. That success you experienced was purely luck and circumstance – neither of which you can always fully rely on. Hence, the deadly loop starts and eventually you face the heaviest penalty: when procrastination fails you, and you fail.
In summary, here’s the simple math: Procrastination is the sum of every time you say, “I’ll do it later” or “not now”. The larger the number of times you’ve said that, the bigger the mess to clean up. It is a deceivingly simple equation with a universal solution so complicated, the answer hasn’t been found yet. Frankly, there will probably never be a universal solution to procrastination. But that isn’t to say that as an individual, you can’t find a method that works for you.
If you have already been sucked into the black hole of procrastination, it is useless to think about the force spitting you back out into normality without having you work hard yourself. You will not wake up one morning and automatically be rid of all temptations to procrastinate. Self-realization is only the first step to regain your sense of control, your journey will also require dedication, discipline and honesty.
You cannot travel back in time to before you were tempted into the force of procrastination, so think of a new opposite image. Imagine that there is a brighter future on the other side of the black hole which you have to move forward and work towards.
Be honest with yourself and where your largest distractions are that keep you from being productive. Be disciplined and dedicate yourself to what your plan is to conquer procrastination. If you ever feel like reverting back to your old ways, remember the larger picture and why you started in the first place.
More importantly, only start this process if you are doing this for yourself. If you are the one who wants to win the battle against procrastination, you will be able to rely on the image you want to have for the future in moments of weakness. It is useless if the only reason you want to become productive is because someone else is telling you to.
You will only succeed if you truly want to succeed.
You never know if you will have one more day to finish the goal you’ve set. Tomorrow is never guaranteed.
Don’t count the days. Make the days count.