Avoidance Is At The Heart of Procrastination

Avoidance Is At The Heart of Procrastination

I was talking this morning with a friend. I had called her to catch up (how WAS that party on Friday?! Were the costumes awesome?). It was funny, though, as we talked, we both realized that I had also partially called because I was avoiding getting to some work that I needed to do. How did we realize this? Well, she said she was excited to update me (party was fun, costumes were great), but that she had answered, in part, to avoid taking care of some things she was supposed to be working on. After a good laugh, we agreed to get off the phone and take care of the least enjoyable tasks on our respective to-do lists.  

Why were we both procrastinating? There are all sorts of theories about the causes and utility of procrastination, but at its heart, procrastination seems to be about avoidance, and we were both avoiding tasks that we didn’t have a ton of confidence about completing easily. The things on our lists felt hard, so we were putting them off.  

Hilariously, when I looked up the definition of procrastination on Google this morning, the following popped up:  

pro·cras·ti·na·tion

/prəˌkrastəˈnāSH(ə)n/

noun

noun: procrastination; plural noun: procrastinations

  1. the action of delaying or postponing something.

“your first tip is to avoid procrastination”

I loved the tip about avoiding procrastination, since avoidance is pretty much the hallmark behavior of procrastination. We have a natural tendency to shy away from things that feel uncomfortable, and we allow our brains to trick us into thinking that putting something off will, somehow, eventually, make the activity easier. Really, though, all this does is put off the activity.  It doesn’t necessarily make it any harder, or any easier. It just increases mental stress. The delay tends to build a sense of pressure, and leads to a sense of doom and discouragement.   

Your best bet in these scenarios?

  • Notice you’re avoiding and putting off an activity
  • Name the behavior: I’m procrastinating
  • Get started on the activity you’re resisting. Just start already. 2 minutes will do!
  • See if you can get all the way through the activity.  
  • If you can’t finish what you started, schedule another time to get it done. Really schedule it, not just put it off again. Estimate how long the activity will take and set aside that amount of time, plus an extra few minutes just in case.
  • Enjoy the sensation of getting it done!