Negativity bias in procrastination

Procrastination is such a weird phenomenon. I’m having an “I should, but I don’t want to day”. Something that can easily happen when you’re self-employed and there’s no deadline for anything in sight.

I’m used to observing myself when I procrastinate, to see if I can learn something about it that may be useful to others. One of the things I do is watch my thoughts, with thanks to mindfulness I’m able to do without being kidnapped by them straight away. I’ve just noticed something relevant, and rather strange.

When I think about what I should be doing, even if it’s just vaguely, my brain starts to come up with objections. It mainly manifests as resistance, in the classic way of “I don’t feel like doing this right now”. When I dig a bit deeper, I can find thoughts that create that feeling. Secretly, I’m picturing the task as Unpleasant. I also picture negative outcomes (making an effort without reward, feeling useless and hopeless, things like that). Basically, each thought and feeling are negative.

I think many people will recognise this, so why do I consider it “strange”? Well, I realised that the 100% negativity is incredibly biased. It doesn’t take into account that I might actually enjoy myself when I start working on it, or simply not mind too much. It doesn’t take into account that getting something done may actually bring a feeling of relief or accomplishment, which can be a reward all by itself. It doesn’t take into account that that lingering feeling of “I should, but I’m not doing it” actually feels very unpleasant if I give in to it for too long.

So my brain declares the task I should do to be 100% unpleasant, and the option of not doing it as pleasant. Both are biases, and of course, the result is Not Getting It Done. Which ends in feeling bad about myself, which is highly unpleasant!

So, there are two things I can do now. Just get one of those things done that I’m postponing, even though I feel bad about it (a classic definition of procrastinating). Or, I dive into my feelings and thoughts , learn about what’s REALLY holding me back, and try to change something about that.

Both are valid approaches. In the first one, I simply get my stuff done. Which is practical, feels good, and will yield results. In the second one, I go beyond the symptom (procrastination) and work on the deeper cause of it. Which takes more time and doesn’t bring results as fast, but in the end is also practical, feels good and yields (lasting) results.

I’m undecided which approach I will take. Maybe a combination of both 🙂


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