Avoiding procrastination requires willpower. So does going on a diet or quitting drugs. These things are easy to do, yet they are not easy to do.
It is easy to stop procrastinating. After all, one simply sets aside one’s phone or web browser, and gets to work. All it takes is a little bit of willpower.
However, even after many tries success may be elusive. Just because something can be done easily, doesn’t mean it will be done easily.
My current approach to procrastination is threefold:
- Resource management
Studies say a person’s willpower is limited. As a person expends willpower, his ability to exert himself further diminishes. Like a battery running out of charge, he feels increasingly drained by each application of willpower.
Naturally, one takeaway from this is to concentrate one’s efforts. Willpower can be regarded as a resource to be protected and managed. The idea is to not waste willpower nor expend it inefficiently.
The next study is about decision fatigue. The idea is that as one makes more and more decisions, one experiences fatigue. Satisfaction subsequently decreases.
An example is when purchasing a product. If there are too many brands and options to choose from, the buyer will feel less satisfied with the resulting purchase. The overabundance of choice creates doubt, regret, and confusion about the final decision.
With these in mind, when forming a plan or resolution, it is a good idea to keep it simple and focused. This may mean voluntarily limiting one’s options to streamline one’s intent. A common mistake is to make too many additional stipulations, and to give oneself too many options. If there are too many stipulations, perhaps the resolution may not be well-formed.
Suppose a person wants to quit Facebook. Perhaps he is tired of the distraction. At the same time, he feels reluctant to quit it all at once. He could risk losing contact with some friends. He could also experience withdrawal symptoms, such as anxiety or loneliness.
A natural try would be to limit his browsing. He may try to establish a quota for how long he can browse, what types of content he may interact with, which friends he may contact. He may establish rules, exceptions for emergencies, and enact penalties on himself. His plan eventually becomes more complicated than the city legislative codes.
In other words, his plan is doomed to fail from the very beginning. Rather than going on such a complicated route, he may find it easier instead to cut off Facebook in one fell swoop, making whatever sacrifices that are needed in the process. Otherwise, he will find himself constantly having to make decisions on when, what, where, and how much to browse, sapping his willpower each time.
Of course, the decision will ultimately depend on the nature of one’s commitment. What is one hoping to achieve by cutting off Facebook? With a half-hearted commitment, one may fail to experience the benefits of one’s endeavor. The reasons will vary for each person.
The next step is prophylaxis. This just a fancy term used in medicine and in chess to refer to preventative, defensive measures.
A common oversight when forming a plan is to forget to prepare for setbacks. It is natural to experience setbacks when attempting anything difficult. We’ve already established that stopping procrastination is not easy. If it were so easy, I would’ve stopped procrastinating by now, I think.
Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.– common saying
Studies describe an effect called the “what the hell effect.” This is what happens when one experiences a setback, feels regret, and then says “what the hell!” and abandons the goal entirely. A person on a diet might eat a cookie, feel regret, and then eat the entire box of cookies, for instance.
It is a good idea to defend against this tendency in advance. My approach is to keep a log of my progress. The idea is like this:
Suppose a master procrastinator procrastinates 8 hours every day. One day, however, he manages to procrastinate only 7.5 hours. He still feels bad about it though. He might not even be aware of any improvement. He is dispirited, feeling as if he is making no progress.
What if one were to view things differently?
Instead of feeling dispirited, he feels encouraged that he made an improvement, even if small. He uses this minor victory as a stepping stone in the road to his eventual success. Perhaps tomorrow he will only procrastinate 7 hours.
Keeping a log could also help guard against the “what the hell effect.” If one has thoroughly blown off one’s resolution, procrastinating 7.5 hours in one day, one still retains an incentive to cut one’s losses and work to secure a minor victory. In this example, the difference between 7.5 hours and 8 hours is noted, not overlooked.
The final step is conditioning. The idea is to regard willpower as a sort of muscle. It can be trained and strengthened. Conversely, though, like a muscle, if not maintained, it grows weak.
Suppose a person were looking to lift weights to build muscle. If he selects something that is not challenging enough, he fails to acquire any gains. If he selects something that is too challenging, he is crushed by the weight.
In the same way, it might be a good idea to assess and evaluate one’s strengths and weaknesses. If one is not yet strong enough, then one will need to take steps to build up that strength.
A master procrastinator might have not just one, but many resolutions he would like to juggle. But perhaps the strength is not quite there yet. He may have better success picking the most important goal and focusing on just that, giving it his undivided attention. On the other hand, a strong man may have to seek new ways to challenge himself.
To sum things up, many willpower related tasks require constant vigilance. It is recommended that one work at it continuously.
Irrigators regulate the rivers;– DhP
fletchers straighten the arrow shaft;
carpenters shape the wood;
the wise control themselves.