We procrastinate because we associate pain with a task.
That really is where procrastination begins and ends.
There are different kinds of pain we associate with tasks— and moving past procrastination requires us to get curious about how we are associating pain to the task we’re putting off.
Sometimes the pain is something abstract. We think a task will be boring.
Sometimes the pain is acute. We think the task will actually hurt, either physically or emotionally.
Sometimes the pain is in the meaning we associate to a task. We put it off because of what we think it will MEAN if we go ahead and do it.
In the past, I’ve very frequently procrastinated doing paperwork— and the stumbling block in my own head has largely been that problem of “meaning.”
There is a part of me that associates doing paperwork not only with boredom— but with coercion.
Very often when I “have” to do paperwork, it FEELS like I’m being MADE to do something I wouldn’t otherwise do— something I don’t find gratifying, something I’m doing only because somebody else is MAKING me.
Consequently, I find excuse after excuse to put the paperwork off.
It’s my brain’s way of declaring independence— of proving that I don’t HAVE to do anything I don’t want to do.
Of course, there are things that we more or less HAVE to do— at least, if we want our lives to function smoothly.
I can’t be a psychologist and avoid paperwork.
The key to getting around this mental block— the equation “paperwork equals coercion”— is to remind myself that the truth is, no, I don’t actually HAVE to do paperwork.
I only HAVE to do it if I want to keep being a psychologist.
I can go ahead and have my feeling of complete freedom and independence— IF I’m willing to sacrifice my identity and career as a psychologist.
You might say, that doesn’t sound like much of a choice— and I agree with you, it’s not much of a choice. But the REASON it’s not much of a choice is because I value my identity and career as a psychologist…thus I CHOOSE to do things, like paperwork, that I might not otherwise be enthusiastic about doing.
I’ve thus reframed paperwork from a thing I’m being FORCED to do, to a thing that I CHOOSE to do…because there’s something I care about involved.
This is the basic roadmap to dealing with procrastination.
We have to shift the MEANING of what we supposedly HAVE to do, to something we are CHOOSING to do…because there is something we value on the line.
I’ll be the first to concede that this mental process is much easier described than done.
Especially when we’ve grown up in over controlled environments— such as high control families with demanding, unpredictable parents— we can get very touchy when it comes to issues of control and freedom later in life.
Many people really will kick their own butts “proving” they don’t HAVE to do anything: abide by deadlines, do paperwork, pay taxes, follow rules.
But the price of “proving” our freedom and independence is often damaged careers and relationships.
Life doesn’t have to be such a dramatic tug of war.
Get curious about what the “pain” is you’re associating to the thing you’re putting off.
Then start a dialogue with yourself about whether there might be other ways to view it.
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