Procrastination is the number one enemy of your productivity and your ceiling for achievement in life. There’s nothing more unproductive than knowing what you should do and why you should do it, but then not doing it.
It’s something that many of us do more often than we’d like to admit — myself included.
But be aware…
Every time you postpone your work, you strengthen the chains of procrastination. Then one day, you notice how much inner resistance you feel towards practically any type of work, no matter how simple the task.
And that’s when most people label themselves as lazy. But the truth is, you don’t procrastinate because you are lazy. Procrastination has completely different reasons for existing. It’s rooted much deeper into the mind.
Procrastination can best be described as the behavior of acting against your better judgment. It’s when you do X when you know you should be doing Y. It’s when you’re watching Netflix when you know you should be writing your book or studying for your exam.
The procrastination problem is so old that the ancient Greeks used to call it ‘akrasia.’ Thus, procrastination is nothing new — and there’s nothing wrong with you if you procrastinate. We all suffer from it, including some of the greatest minds of this world.
The key, however, is to become aware of when you’re considering putting off your work and to catch what’s going through your mind at those times. What you’ll find is that your ‘present self’ is not aligned with your ‘future self.’
We practically have two versions of ourselves. First of all, we have a ‘future self.’ This version is the one who sets goals and dreams about how awesome & successful our future will be. This version also realizes the importance of hard work, consistency, and getting the job done.
But then, there’s our ‘present self,’ and the present self is the one who is responsible for actually sitting down and doing the job. It’s my present self that is currently writing this post, not my future self. The future self, however, is the one who came up with the idea and goal for creating this post.
The problem is that the present self prefers instant gratifications over long-term rewards — or delayed gratification — and therefore the two versions clash often.
This is what psychologists refer to as ‘time inconsistency’, which is the brain’s preference for instant rewards even though they conflict with our long-term goals.
Where the present self wants to watch Netflix or play Call of Duty, the future self wants to write. Yet, it’s only the present self who can get the job done, not the future self. That’s why the most successful people among us are long-term oriented, while most people living in mediocrity are short-term oriented.
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When the present self and future self aren’t aligned with each other, we start to give in to instant gratifications like social media, Netflix, video games, fast-food or other distractions that make us feel good in an instant. In other words, this is when we procrastinate.
Sometimes the present self and the future self are completely aligned with each other. Our present self feels motivated to sit down and do the work that our future self demands and expects. In those moments, our actions match our ambition. This is by no means random, although it often may feel like it.
To align the present self and future self with each other, we can apply many different strategies. In fact, I created an entire course on this topic. In this article, however, I’ll zoom in on one of the most fundamental principles that you should apply to align the present self with the future self so that you’ll stop procrastinating.
Whenever we are procrastinating or considering it, we place more value on avoiding the short-term pain of taking action than on the long-term pain that inaction and procrastination causes. We usually don’t even think about the long-term consequences of consistently procrastinating and failing to take action.
In this case, the ‘present self’ is not aligned with the ‘future self’.
Where our future self wants to work hard to improve our career, finances, relationships or health, our present self wants to avoid going outside the comfort zone, avoid spending too much energy and instead prefers to take the easy way out.
In other words, the present self neglects the future consequences of procrastination and places more value on avoiding the short-term pain of action.
One way to align these ‘two selves’ is by being aware of the long-term consequences of procrastinative behavior — and feeling those future consequences right now. The goal is to get to the point where not taking action becomes more painful than taking action.
We need to realize that if we continue to put off the work until ‘tomorrow’, we’ll fail to make our biggest goals, dreams, and ambitions a reality. ‘Tomorrow’ is a fairytale that we tell ourselves every single time.
We postpone the work of the present self to the future self, but we forget that ‘tomorrow’ our present self is back in charge again. And guess what that present self will do? It will postpone the work to the future self again. This cycle repeats itself long enough for us to slowly lose faith in our goals, dreams, and ourselves.
“Think of all the years passed by in which you said to yourself “I’ll do it tomorrow,” and how the gods have again and again granted you periods of grace of which you have not availed yourself. It is time to realize that you are a member of the Universe, that you are born of Nature itself, and to know that a limit has been set to your time.” — Marcus Aurelius
When our present self can feel the future negative consequences that the future self will go through, we link so much pain to procrastinating that we don’t even want to do it anymore. That’s when both our ‘selves’ are entirely in alignment with each other.
Whenever you think about putting off your work, take a minute to visualize about the future negative consequences that your future self will experience. Make sure that your present self feels the future negative consequences at this moment to align the two selves. This way, the odds of actually doing the work increase significantly.
If you have trouble visualizing these future consequences, ask yourself a few questions:
What would it cost me when I’d let procrastination and inaction dominate my life? What would it cost me in my happiness? My financial well-being? My health? My relationships? My self-esteem and confidence?
When you truly become aware of the future consequences of inaction, you’ve created enough leverage for yourself to fuel you with the motivation, energy, and drive you need to overcome procrastination.
To Your Personal Growth,
Founder Personal Growth Lab