Power Tool: Decision vs. Procrastination

A Coaching Power Tool created by Anoushka Gungadin
(Global Leadership Coach, AUSTRALIA)

In any moment of decision the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.

Theodore Roosevelt

It’s a birthday, a New year- a common occasion to pledge to make our new resolutions and turn over a new leaf. How exciting!

Sadly though, despite our best intentions, research shows that most of us will not follow through with these plans. This is not because we do not believe in them. Our intentions are genuine and real, however, we postpone starting them. Before long, another birthday is here, and another year has passed.

What just happened? Procrastination. In this common pattern of behaviour, we are doomed for endless failure. Had we made the decision and performed the action, we would have had success.

A representation of these 2 opposing forces can be :

Decision + commitment = SUCCESS

Procrastination + Doubt = FAILURE

Interestingly, the word decision originates from the latin word ‘decidere’, meaning determination. Decision is crucial to progress and success. Each decision has the power to change our reality and our future. Fate is what happens to us, what we do with fate becomes our destiny. We hold that power. Taking a decision comes with the responsibility of assuming the consequences. Conversely, when something goes wrong, we can adopt the blaming position, which is moving away from the power. Choice is the start that leads to decision which results in change. Some decision-making becomes second nature, so habitual that we do not have to think about it. As people, we are very much habitual in essence. When we meet with change, we may become resistant or indecisive. Decisions have been referred to the embryo of new habits and the graveyard of old ones. Being aware that we are on the right track does not mean we are in momentum, we need to be moving forward which is only possible by decision making.

Decision is the hinge between being and doing, between surviving and living, between theory and practice. Decision is key to success and the biggest obstacle to it is procrastination.

According to Freud, procrastination is based on the pleasure principle- the concept of people seeking pleasure and avoiding pain to satisfy their biological and psychological need. For Professor Clarry Lay, a prominent writer on the subject, procrastination occurs when there is “a temporal gap between intended behavior and enacted behavior”. In other words, procrastination is the time period between when people intend to do a job, and when they actually do it. It is interesting to note that the ‘cras’ in procrastination in fact means tomorrow in Latin. Steel (2007) reviews all previous attempts to define procrastination, indicating it is “to voluntarily delay an intended course of action despite expecting to be worse off for the delay.” ”Procrastinators have less confidence in themselves, less expectancy that they can actually complete a task,” Steel says “perfectionism is not the culprit. In fact, perfectionists actually procrastinate less, but they worry about it more.”

Self Application

About 15-20 per cent of the general population are procrastinators. Simply put what lies beneath has been often described as; fear of failure, fear of success, fear of commitment, uncertainties, overwhelm, depression, low sense of self worth, uninteresting, not motivated, task aversiveness, impulsiveness, distractibility, sometimes mere laziness.

Whatever the reason for procrastination is, it results in a sense of crisis or stress, feelings of guilt or shame, significant loss of productivity, or social disapproval for not meeting commitments and responsibilities. It is a vicious circle as these feelings may promote further procrastination.

The first step towards shifting away from procrastination and moving closer towards decision is to actually recognise that you are a procrastinator. There are a number of resources available to help you find out, including online tests. Here are few indicators to get you started:

  • I’m putting on a little weight! Who isn’t? I will be strict with diet after the weekend, Christmas…
  • I’m just not in the mood right now. It’s not the right time.
  • I’ll start gym tomorrow, the weather isn’t that good today.
  • I’ll leave it until the day before. I perform under pressure.
  • These tasks are really important and have been there for a long time, I’ll start with these other ones anyway.

It is essential not to put yourself down in self-examination. Nothing good will come out of putting yourself down and developing a negative self- image. It is self-defeating. Instead, look at the positive angle about getting it done straight away and the good feeling associated with it. Focusing on the positive aspects will have a much more motivating effect.

Since procrastination is a habit – a deeply ingrained pattern of behavior, the good news is that bad habits can be replaced with good ones. Even if it may sound difficult, it is not impossible. Identifying why we procrastinate will help us determine how to overcome it. The following tips may be a starting point:

  • Set your goals and priorities straight
  • Prioritise the goals, set a time frame to each goals.
  • Clarify the action steps and break them down into small and achievable tasks.
  • Look at past failures and let go of them.
  • Look at past successes, recognise them and draw on your strengths to build your future.
  • Create your own reward system for each step completed.
  • Celebrate every step of the way as it takes you closer to your bigger goal.