Why We (want to) Procrastinate

It’s the same thing, over and over. I’ve got something I want to do (I really do want to do it), but I don’t do it. I do other things.

I make puppets. I make costumes. I make a fabulous quiche. I even clean the kitchen. But I don’t do X. X being the variable for the thing I am procrastinating on. Who says we can’t use algebra in everyday life?

So X remains undone. Why?

One day, I did this:

WhyWeProcrastinateIf you haven’t seen Personal Brain, it’s pretty cool. I don’t even know if it’s still available (it is: thebrain.com). You can use it to map connections between things or thoughts. Here you can see my reasons for putting things off.

My many reasons. It’s surprising I get anything done at all.

As you can see, I was able to spend time creating this Brain thing rather than doing X. Clearly, “Not Enough Time” should be stricken from the list of viable candidates. The not-so-subtle emphasis in the image I captured shows that I suspected that one of the strongest reasons was “Nobody Will Notice”.

But here’s the kicker: Do I really care if anyone notices? Would that really motivate me? Some might question that, since I do so many things that nobody will notice, including this obscure and unpopular blog.

Which brings us back to the question: why do we procrastinate?

And the terrible answer: because we want to.

Not because we are terrible, lazy people. We just don’t get enough out of doing X to make it more valuable to us than Y.

Each of us is motivated by a set of values and priorities that we may not even be aware of, yet when we really take a look at these motivations, it becomes obvious why certain goals will be harder to obtain.

I was recently introduced to a tool called the Emotional Fingerprint. This tool gives you insight into your most basic needs, and how you are meeting them through the decisions you make and the goals you achieve.

After working through the first set of exercises with this tool, I saw that my current approach to X was not going to meet enough of my basic needs for me to make it a priority. I was getting more overall satisfaction from other shorter-term goals that used certain skills and traits that I value.

While this is useful for understanding why it is so hard to focus on X, it doesn’t make me want to abandon it. So my new goal for X is to find ways to “trick myself” into working on it by changing the way I am going about it. I’m not entirely sure what this will look like, but I know where to start: with that  list of basic needs.

In the meantime, I can be less hard on myself and make more sense of the choices I make.

And when I want to procrastinate, I can do it with conviction.

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One Response to Why We (want to) Procrastinate

  1. Margot says:

    Wow. So Christmas is my procrastination issue. I figured it out this year. Tried once and failed. I fail at Christmas. I don’t get shopping done or cards out. Every day from Thanksgiving until Christmas Eve people, even strangers, ask if you are done with your shopping yet. Nope. Not even started. No presents this year either. This year the tree went up and the lights were put on but that was it. Not one ornament.
    Trying to trick myself for next year I decided it was because I don’t like my ornaments. Same ones I made in school or someone else bought for me, year after year. So this year I went out and bought all new ornaments, after Christmas, for next year. Maybe if I make a plan I can get it all done. But I’m not betting on it.

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