Why is it that we as human beings often behave in ways that we don’t really want to? How often have you said or done something only to cringe at the thought of it afterward? The truth is that your behavior is mostly driven by your unconscious mind, especially behavior that is hard to explain from an intellectual point of view. Procrastination is knowing what to do, having the ability and desire to do it, but still, you don’t do it. Although there are many apparent causes for procrastination, the root cause for this illogical behavior resides in your unconscious mind.
Your conscious mind is very limited in its ability to deal with life. That over which you have conscious control is mostly limited to one thing at a time. This is why using your willpower to create any real change rarely works long-term. What you need to do is to change your automatic behavior which resides in your unconscious mind, that part of you that controls all the vital functions of your mind and body. You can try and overcome procrastination by using willpower but it will usually be a short-term change. The cause for procrastination is not your conscious actions, but your unconscious associations that are to a large extent responsible for your behavior.
Your nervous system is designed to preserve you and when fear presents itself your nervous system, through the working of your subconscious, will “kick in” to “protect you. The ironic thing is that we train ourselves, unconsciously, to fear certain things by making false associations about the meaning. Nothing in life has any meaning but the meaning you give it. You literally create neurological links to experiences that get “stored” in your nervous system so that you can act quickly and accordingly next time. Whenever something happens to you, you assign a meaning to it by the way you communicate the experience to yourself. Unconsciously you are always trying to establish meaning and at a very basic level, you are trying to establish whether something means pain or pleasure. This meaning then gets stored in your unconscious mind that will help you act (or re-act) appropriately in the future. The challenge is that when associations are reinforced you build up beliefs that will greatly influence your behavior and are often the cause of procrastination.
Although procrastination makes no sense intellectually it actually reveals a lot about your unconscious and your self-imposed limitations and (in)abilities. The major cause for procrastination is fear, and more specifically your fear that taking action will lead to pain or a painful experience of some kind. At some level, your unconscious mind combines and searches its “files” to come up with a “link” that associates the action with a painful experience. This can range from something which is mildly uncomfortable to something physically painful. Although you consciously want to do something your unconscious will prevent you as it associates pain with the action. As human beings, we automatically reach for comfort and will almost automatically reach for whatever feels comfortable in the moment. This is why you often procrastinate on tasks that do not feel good in the moment although it will mean much more pleasure in the future.
Learning to push against this need for comfort is what creates all the growth that is necessary for you to really produce results. When you start to see procrastination as a blessing in disguise; you can start to use it and embrace the behavioral insights it holds for you. Procrastination reveals your fears and, quite by design, gives you the necessary resistance needed to expand and grow in your capacity to push past your fears and create the things you really want for your life. The quality of your life is in direct proportion to the amount of “discomfort” you can comfortably deal with. Procrastination can also shed some light on the goals that you value most, as your concern over procrastinating on it shows that some part of you care enough to be concerned.
It’s been said that first, we form our habits and then our habits form us. This is also true for habits of mind and procrastination often manifests itself as a habitual pattern of thinking. Your thoughts lead to and help create your actions. Like the engraved pattern on a record, your behavior will “play the same tune” every time. Your associations with pain and pleasure play an important part in your habitual behavior in that it determines what you will or will not do. By repetition, you form habitual patterns of thinking that will cause you to automatically act or retract in certain ways when your habit pattern gets triggered.
Being aware of your associations with pain and pleasure is critical in dealing with the root cause of procrastination. There are many symptomatic solutions that will not create a lasting result. Although you have to use your willpower initially, your aim is to re-establish your associations with the tasks you are avoiding. You can be, do or have whatsoever your heart desires providing that you can overcome your self-imposed fears and take action. Although the real cause for procrastination resides in your unconscious mind, you are ultimately in control of your conscious actions.