Why Do We Procrastinate?

Prof Paul McGee 5 min read

Let’s explore reasons why people ‘put things off’ and fail to carpe diem (seize the day) and take action in their lives.

1. Avoiding Discomfort

Achieving success means that at times, we have to leave our ‘comfort zone’. We may have to move out of our world of familiarity, safety and security and do things that we would not normally do. When we do something new or different, it can feel strange. This can result in a negative response initially because many people subconsciously, live by the mantra: ‘If it feels good, do it.’

Likewise, they can also live by the reverse of this mantra: ‘If it doesn’t feel good – don’t do it.’

Although there are exceptions, our tendency as human beings is to take the path of least resistance. We look for the magic pill, the magic patch, the magic exercise machine.

Products that promise ‘successful outcomes’ with little or no long-term effort on our part will always be popular. Successful people think differently. They understand that if they are to achieve a positive result in any area of life, then they have to be prepared to face their ‘discomfort’ head on.

Whether it is getting fit or going for a new job, life will present us with challenges. If we are to succeed, this will involve us taking action or thinking in a way that moves us beyond our normal zone of comfort and familiarity. Blessed are the people who do the uncomfortable, for they will often be successful.

What are some of the things you feel uncomfortable having to do? What is the cause of your discomfort?

2. Emotional Barriers

Whether we decide to take action or not can be dependent on how we feel. For example, I am going to write that report, tidy the garage, or go on that diet, when I feel motivated. Or I am waiting to feel creative before I tackle that problem. Put simply, emotions can take our actions hostage. When you remain a prisoner to your emotions, you may never know the freedom of success.

Points to ponder: Can you relate to ‘emotional barriers?’ What have you failed to tackle in your life, because you haven’t felt like doing it?

3. Fear of Failure

It is easy to develop the following mindset: ‘if I don’t attempt something, then I can never be accused of failing’. That is true. Equally, however, if I never attempt anything, I will never experience the feelings of achievement and success. Some people are quite happy to stand on the sidelines and point out where others go wrong, yet they themselves lack the courage to dare to fail.

If you want to achieve anything in life, remember, setbacks come with the territory. From our childhood, we can become conditioned (there’s that word again – remember Pavlov’s dog?) to believe that if we attempt something and fail, that this is in some way wrong. Education has, in some cases, encouraged us to find ‘the right answer’ rather than to experiment and discover many right answers.

Behind some people’s behavior is the underlying belief that, ‘I must be right, I must be perfect’. Attempting something that may expose weaknesses or lack of knowledge will be avoided by some people.

Fear of failure, or perhaps more importantly, the fear of being seen by others to have failed, will trap some people into never taking action.

Failure isn’t fatal until you stop trying. What has the fear of failure prevented you from doing?

4. Complacency

‘There’s no rush’, ‘I’ll wait till the kids have left home’, ‘I’ll quit smoking in the New Year’. There always seems to be some reason why we can put off taking action today. What can drive this attitude is a false belief that there is plenty of time to accomplish all we want to achieve. But when tomorrow does come, we find another excuse to avoid taking action.

Points to ponder: Complacency can also occur due to the mistaken belief that life is something that happens to you as opposed to something you can influence.

A lack of goals and sense of purpose in our lives, results in people drifting along in a haze of complacency.

Returning to our foundation formula to the SUMO principles E + R = O; well if life is the Event and complacency is your Response how satisfied are you likely to be with the Outcome?

Wake up and smell the coffee. Life at its longest is still fairly short. Shut Up the voice of complacency and Move On to what’s important.

In what areas of your life have you allowed complacency to creep in? Your career? Relationships? Home improvements? Finance? Fitness? All of them?

5. Action Illusion

Some people can always appear busy. The question is, busy doing what? Rather than admit that they don’t want to do a task, they use a lack of time as their excuse. People can talk about what they are going to do, hold meetings to discuss how they are going to do it and even draw up plans outlining what they will do. This may all be very useful initially, but there comes a time when we need to start taking action.

When all is said and done, more is said than done.

We saw from our first SUMO principle that on a day to-day basis, we do so much on auto-pilot, i.e. without thinking. Maybe we need to ask ourselves, ‘Am I confusing activity with effectiveness?’

6. Fuzzy Focus

This occurs when we’ve got so many things competing for our attention that we’re not sure what to focus on. There’s so much you could do but without prioritizing your goals you become unfocused and this lack of clarity can cause indecision and inactivity.

Are your activities and your busyness hiding the fact that you do not want to address the really important issues in your life right now?

So we have explored why people procrastinate; now we need to examine how to overcome it.

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Dr John Ng
Chief Passionary Officer,
Meta Consulting

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