May 11, 2023

Dragging your feet on the wrong path


Some people put things off so long that their wellbeing unnecessarily suffers.

They delay tasks beyond what is reasonable and always find excuses for not doing what they don’t want to do. Sometimes, even after they make a decision, they still delay acting upon it.

This kind of behavior is both fascinating and baffling to me, since it’s the complete opposite of my normal way of operating. Discipline, motivation and decision making are traits that have always come naturally to me, so I’m constantly curious why so many people struggle with them.

Is procrastination the enemy that will never die? Will people continue to be at war with the resistance for the rest of their lives? It’s hard to tell.

Now, over the past twenty years, procrastination has gotten a burst of empirical interest. The basic understanding of this behavior is that it’s an unnecessary, unwanted and disadvantageous delay.

Procrastination is, among many things, a profound failure of emotional regulation. People aren’t avoiding their tasks, they’re avoiding their feelings. It makes sense.

Ferrari, a professor of psychology and the pioneer of modern research on the subject, finds that as many as twenty percent of people may be chronic procrastinators. His studies showed that procrastination is not a form of waiting, and it is more than delaying. It’s a decision to not act. People will promise themselves that they will do something, but then drag their feet rather than doing it.

Have you ever found yourself in that emotional quagmire before?

If so, you’re not alone. And in fact, there are numerous procrastination scales that measure this challenge. The premiere questionnaire in the research says that the more characteristic certain behaviors are of you, the more likely it is that you are a procrastinator, and the more serious your procrastination problem is.

Check out this one question from the index. It stood out as emblematic to me.

Even with the jobs that require little else except sitting down and doing them, I find they seldom get done for days.

Why is that so hard for us? Why is the simple concept of ass to seat the one obstacle that always knocks us down?

Because we learned a long time ago that telling somebody to just do something, just pisses them off.

Life is not a shoe commercial, it’s a complicated and nuanced experience. Each person rests at the nexus of multiple interwoven emotional conditions that influence their behavior.

For some people, the concept of sitting down and just doing something isn’t little. That’s a huge ask.

Maybe the problem is, we’re thinking about procrastination in the wrong direction. Maybe instead of trying to motivate people to do things they don’t want to do, a smarter goal would be helping them eliminate all the things they shouldn’t even be doing in the first place.

The intervention would go like this.

Make a list of the dozen or so annoying, dreadful tasks and projects and jobs you’ve been dragging your feet on for at least a month. Then honestly ask yourself how many of them really need to be done at all. Odds are, half of them could be deleted and forgotten about forever.

For example, you know you don’t really need to reupholster your seven throw pillows. Face it, you are simply never going to sit down and do that project. Besides, they look fine. And it’s an expensive, exhausting project that you only convinced yourself you needed to do because your mother in law made some snide comment about them last time she visited.

Fuck the pillows. Move on with your life.

See? Problem solved.

What else you got?

Now, on the other end of the procrastination spectrum are bigger, time sensitive tasks like filing your taxes, buying car insurance, or having that giant infected abscess on your neck looked at by a medical professional.

Those should be attended to immediately.

Still, that pesky list has likely been halved by now. You’ve cut out some trivial objectives that are nothing but obstacles in your path.

Count that as a win. It’s like losing your cell phone, getting a new device, but only programming in the numbers of twenty people you actually like and talk to on a regular basis.

Ultimately, eliminating procrastination probably isn’t the answer. It’s too emotional of a problem, and too much of an uphill battle.

Try questioning the tasks you’re procrastinating in the first place, and you might surprise yourself.

Listen, we live in a world where some things are truly important, but not many. Taking a step back to do some task disqualification might significantly lower your level of guilt that you are not doing enough.

It will free up high quality energy to help you put ass to seat and do something.

If you’re still dragging your feet, have you considered the possibility that you’re walking the wrong path?