We delay getting our work done, not because of laziness, but because we are affected by the present bias. It refers to our human tendency to prefer what is comfortable and move away from what is difficult. So, although we know we have an assignment to work on, we get distracted by something that feels easier to do.
Researchers describe procrastination as a mood management strategy ( Steel, 2011). It feels uncomfortable when we are working on a difficult task and are unsure about what to do. We feel challenged by it – “What if we cannot do it well? What if we fail?
The paradox is that we know that delaying our work is going against our best interests. We know that we care about our work and want to do well, but we feel that we are not ready and do not trust ourselves to do it well.
We need to learn to tolerate the uncertainty of how things will work out and develop the habit of persevering with our work. As we notice progress, it will boost our confidence in our skills to get things done (Ellenhorn, 2020).
Strategies to make progress
Develop the habit of starting: Instead of viewing the task as something you must do, reframe it as something you choose to do because you want to increase your knowledge and develop your skills.
Reframe how you think about the task: When the task is difficult, change your perspective and view hard work as a sign that it is a challenge and requires more effort to learn to build your knowledge.
Be curious: It is easier to get started when we want to do things for personal interest. Be curious about the subject – when we view a task as something we want to learn, we are more likely to find it motivating.
Avoid comparing with others: We are all unique individuals with different experiences, skills, and background knowledge. Focus on your personal development and learning new skills.
Create reminders: Identifying cues or prompts to remind us of our decision to get things done help to persevere with our efforts.
When we have prompts in our environment, they make us aware of what we have decided to do. For example, if we want to start going out for walks, we can leave our trainers by the front door, or a note in a visible place reminding us of that project we want to finish.
Duckworth, A. (2016) Grit. The Power of Passion and Perseverance. London: Vermillion.
Ellenhorn, R. (2020) How we change (and ten reasons why we don’t). Great Britain: Piatkus
McGonigal,, K. (2012) The Willpower Instinct. How self-control works. Why it matters, and what you can do about it. New York: Penguin Books.
Steel, P. (2011) The procrastination equation. How to stop putting things off and start getting things done. Harlow: Prentice Hall Life (Pearson)
Young, S. (2017). Stick with it. The science of lasting behaviour. London: Penguin Life.