The Secret Reason We Procrastinate … and the simple shift that can get you back on track.

Posted by on 10 Jun, 2015 in Blog | 0 comments

Post published by Amy Morin on May 29, 2015 in What Mentally Strong People Don’t Do

Often, the biggest obstacle to reaching our goals is a lack of motivation to get started. Whether we are considering appointments we should schedule, or thinking about that boring projects we need to get done, there is often a long pause between thinking and doing.

Our tendency to procrastinate may be largely due to the fact that we put things off until “someday.” Since “someday” never appears on the calendar, our good intentions do not turn into action—until we create deadlines.

We Categorize Time Illogically

 A study(link is external) published in the Journal of Consumer Research reveals our natural inclination to categorize time. Researchers explain that we have a tendency to view things in terms of “present” and “future.” When we categorize a deadline as being in the present, we’re likely to start working on the goal. When we decide something falls into the future category, we file it in our “someday” archives, making it easy for those goals to be neglected.

The most interesting aspect of the study is its revelation about the inaccurate and illogical ways we categorize time. For example, researchers gave study participants six months to complete a task—specifically, to open a bank account and receive a reward. When participants were given the task in June with a December deadline, they were more likely to complete the task. Participants who were given the task in July—with their six-month deadline in January—were more likely to put off doing the task. Since the task fell in the next calendar year, participants categorized the task as something that could wait until later. Even though both groups had six months to meet their goals, they treated the urgency of the job differently, depending on the calendar dates of the deadlines.

Similarly, when participants were given a task that needed to be completed within seven days, they were more likely to begin working on it immediately. When the task was given on a Tuesday, for example, and the deadline was the following Tuesday, participants categorized the task as something they should begin working on now. But if the deadline wasn’t until the following Wednesday, the task was categorized as a “future” project and individuals were more likely to procrastinate.

In other experiments, the researchers were able to manipulate how participants categorized time by color-coding calendars. If the days between today’s date and an event in the future were shaded the same color, participants categorized the event as something that needed to be addressed now. If however, the shading didn’t include today, people were more likely to categorize the event as something they could delay addressing until later.

Not everyone categorizes time similarly. A college professor may think in terms of the school calendar, while an accountant may think in terms of a fiscal year, for example. Still, the study highlights our tendency to procrastinate on any project or goal we think we can delay addressing until later. Whether we think later is next month, next quarter, or next year, we categorize time in interesting ways.

How to Start Tackling Those Goals Now

The way you view time determines whether you reach your goals or keep putting off your dreams until “someday.” Fortunately, we can change the way we categorize time. By thinking in terms of the present, we can increase our motivation to start working toward our goals now. These strategies can increase motivation and decrease the tendency to procrastinate:

Break goals into manageable chunks.

If you only focus on the big picture, it’s easy to put things off until later. Wishing you could lose 100 pounds, or quit your day job to launch a startup, are goals that will fall in the “someday” category. But if you break those goals down into smaller, more manageable objectives like, “I’d like to lose 5 pounds,” or “I’m going to save $1,000,” you can move them into the “present” category.

Establish “now” deadlines.

Even if your goal is something that will take a long time to reach—like saving enough money for retirement—you’re more likely to take action if you have time limits in the present. Create target dates to reach your objectives. Find something you can do this week to begin taking some type of action now. For example, decide, “I will create a budget by Thursday,” or, “I will lose two pounds in seven days.”

Turn abstract ideas into concrete action steps.

Abstract ideas encourage inactivity. Just saying, “I would like to be healthier”,” or, “I want to be wealthy,” won’t help you reach those goals. Establish concrete action steps that you can start doing today. For example, decide that you will take a class, read a book, or conduct 30 minutes of research each day. Identify behavioral changes that you can begin working on immediately and you will be more likely to turn abstract goals into actions.

Identify some of those goals and dreams that you have always wanted to tackle but never had the motivation to start. Look for strategies that will help you view those goals in terms of the present, and you will increase the likelihood that you will start taking steps to turn those dreams into reality.


If you would like help to stop procrastinating or feel more motivated drop me a line via the contact form…

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