Study skills 4# Overcoming procrastination
It seems as if procrastination became a synonym for being a student. We all postpone our tasks from time to time, it’s only natural to avoid things that are unpleasant. But what if procrastination starts ruining your life?
The term procrastination comes from the Latin word pro-crastinus which means “belonging to tomorrow.” You can procrastinate anything from studying to washing the dishes. It wouldn’t be that horrible if we really did those things tomorrow as we promised to ourselves but most often than not tomorrow comes and you still don’t feel like taking action.
Procrastination is a very refined form of self-deception, a psychological trap. We think that we might alleviate our problems by postponing them but, in fact, we’re not really able to relax during that time as we’re still thinking about our tasks. Lazy people are happy doing nothing but procrastinators deal with a lot of self-guilt and feelings of failure. How to overcome procrastination?
Forget the myth that you work best under pressure
Because nobody does. People working in tremendous time press are bound to make mistakes. You simply can’t write a genius essay a night before the deadline. You might pass somehow but don’t kid yourself—it won’t be your best performance. And lack of sleep before an exam actually makes retaining new information much harder.
Admit that you have a problem
Realising and admitting that you have a problem is the first step in every therapeutic process. While some people postpone their tasks only sometimes which is generally not that harmful, others struggle with it immensely and really suffer from procrastination. In the worst cases, procrastination might even become pathological.
Stop convincing yourself that you can’t change
Some people are early birds, some are night owls. Some people are messy, others tidy. Some people are procrastinators, some aren’t. These are just a few examples of useless programs in your mind. Sure, we might have certain tendencies within ourselves but there’s nothing we can’t work on. Just don’t give up by saying it’s in your genes so you can’t do anything about it. You can.
Procrastination is a psychological problem, not a problem in the task itself
Do you feel massive resistance when facing writing an essay? The task itself has actually nothing to do with our procrastination—our emotional response does. While you often can’t change the task (you do need to write that essay to pass), you can mitigate your resistance towards it. You need to be smart about it, though, and apply some strategies, like:
Control that decisive moment when you’re hesitating
There’s a huge gap between considering doing something and actually doing it. The key is to take action before your emotional response kicks in. Decide beforehand that however you feel about the task, you’ll start at least. Soon you’ll find out that after the initial resistance you can continue just fine. And when you get into flow, work becomes almost effortless. Starting is the hardest part.
Tasks that seem huge are naturally intimidating. If you get an essay on the topic you know nothing about, you can’t just sit and start writing right away. Baby-step the entire project, make a plan what needs to be done. Obviously, the first step is research, either in the library or on the internet. Then make a draft to consider which points to include in your essay. Actual writing come third. And then final editing. People often procrastinate because they don’t know where to start and how to progress. Eliminate any ambiguities by creating a solid plan.
Procrastination is often just lack of clarity
Nobody likes chaos. And by nobody we mean our brains. If your brain is confused about what it’s supposed to tell your body to do, no wonder it’ll rather choose not to do anything at all. Our brains also get scared easily if the task is too intimidating.
Your intentions must be clear and easily applicable. You can use a simple formula invented by the Canadian psychologist Timothy Pychyl: In situation X I’ll do behaviour Y to reach a result Z.
When applied, it can look like this: In situation X (I’m leaving school and I got an essay assignment), I’ll do behaviour Y (I’ll go the library straight away, find three books on the topic and read at least two chapters from them) to reach result Z (to get all materials for my essay).
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This is just as important as sheer willpower. Our brain loves getting rewards and next time it’ll associate an unpleasant task with something pleasant that comes afterwards so it won’t be as resistant. When you hand in that essay or successfully pass your exam, now’s the perfect time to play videogames or go partying with your friends.
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