Why We Procrastinate

As I was thinking about a client who had shared on his tendency to procrastinate, it dawned on me that there have been things I have been putting off for a while. Writing blog entries, for example. I thought about the reasons I have used to convince myself to stall such important tasks:

I don’t have the time.
I’m not good at this.
People wouldn’t even notice if I did it.

You see, I was raised to believe that the only way I can be a better person is to constantly ask myself, how can I do this better? What did I do wrong? Like many raised in Asian families, I was never allowed to congratulate myself on any success. I can count on one hand the number of times I received any compliment from my parents. Even in school, teachers drilled in me the Chinese saying, “The complacent soldier will fail.” (Yes, we saw life as a battle that we must keep fighting everyday.)

I am sharing this personal story because I now see that many people get stuck in their life because they have internalized some messages they learned from long ago. Many of us develop the habit of self-criticism because of our early experiences; such self-criticism often keeps us from moving ahead and even makes us blind to our strengths. As a result, we put off tasks that we think are too challenging for us for fear of failure. Even when failure is only a distant possibility, we overestimate the damage it could do. (How does one define failure in, say, writing blog entries anyway?)

Of course, other reasons exists as to why we procrastinate. Pain avoidance is a strong motivator. We are just not thrilled to do chores or slog away at a lengthy, tedious report when more enjoyable activities compete for our attention. Thoughts feed into our sense of dread and reluctance such as, I hate this, this is stupid, why do I have to do it? 

So, the next time you find yourself procrastinating a task, check in with yourself and see what thoughts are running through your head. Pay attention to your judgments about your ability, the likelihood of you doing a good job, and the nature of the task itself. Then challenge yourself to find another way of looking at these aspects. I will write more on this in my next post.

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