When I’m writing an article and I’m at a loss for words, I’ve got a nasty little habit: I check my email, go to a news website or check social media. In other words, I procrastinate.
I started noticing it when I was in my late 20s, and I’ve always suspected it was how I coped with the stress of writer’s block. As it turns out, I was right.
The Wall Street Journal recently explored the origins of procrastination in “To Stop Procrastinating, Start by Understanding the Emotions Involved.” In the article, researchers describe chronic procrastination as a “strategy for dealing with stress.”
It says, “Scientists define procrastination as the voluntary delay of an action despite foreseeable negative future consequences. It is opting for short-term pleasure or mood at the cost of the long-term.” The article features the research of Dr. Timothy Pychyl, a psychology professor who says that “the essence of procrastination is ‘we’re giving in to feel good.’”
The article goes onto explain that anxiety and the desire to feel better aren’t the ultimate problem though — impulsiveness is. People with low impulse control “have a harder time dealing with strong emotion and want to do something else to get rid of the bad feeling.” So they procrastinate, and it’s not without consequence. The article reports that “[h]abitual procrastinators have higher rates of depression and anxiety and poorer well-being.” It can also hurt their work and professional relationships.
What’s interesting is the way that procrastination is connected to a simple lack of perspective. In “Why Your Brain Loves Procrastination,” Vox also interviews Dr. Pychyl, who explains that chronic procrastinators have a tendency to think about what’s right in front of them at the moment. But they would be much less likely to procrastinate if they would just envision the consequences of dragging their feet.
Both articles include suggestions from Dr. Pychyl about how to overcome procrastination, and they include:
- Don’t tell yourself to “just do it.” That’s overwhelming. Tell yourself to “just get started.” Even a little bit of progress can provide a powerful motivation to keep going.
- Break the project down into smaller parts, and then state the specific time you’re going to begin working on it (that is, don’t just say you’re going to work on it “this afternoon.”).
- Before starting your task, make “pre-commitments” that you will not do things like answer the phone, get on social media or go to the refrigerator when you feel the impulse to do so.
- Remind yourself of the ways your future will be positively and/or negatively affected by your choices.
- Create delays that will make it harder to use your favorite procrastination tool. For example, delete your favorite app from your phone and force yourself to log in with your password using a browser. When it takes effort to procrastinate, you’re less likely to do it.
- Reward yourself for achieving smaller goals on the way to completion.
As believers, we have another thing we can do to get free from procrastination: We can tap into the resources of the Holy Spirit.
Rather than minimize procrastination, we can recognize that it is rooted in spiritually destructive forces like fear and a lack of self-control. When we find ourselves tempted to procrastinate, we can open up our hands and say, “Holy Spirit, I release my anxiety, worry and impulsiveness to You. Thank You for filling me with Your peace and self-control.” Then, in His strength, we can take the little steps toward completion.
We know that “His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3), and what a relief to know that includes the power to cut off the roots of our tendency to procrastinate. He, unlike us, does not procrastinate, and we can be “sure of this, that he who began a good work in [us] will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6). Part of His “good work” in us is to set us free from the anxiety and impulsiveness that lead to procrastination. Let’s trust Him to keep doing that, and in the meantime, “just get started” on that task we’ve been avoiding.