Day 7 – Procrastination: Why we Choose Short-Term Rewards over Longer-Term Goals, and How to Beat it

This month you are doing something you probably don’t usually do – avoiding all alcohol. During your MOB you will sometimes need to make decisions that require you to postpone immediate gratification (giving in to the desire to have a drink) in pursuit of longer-term goals (completing a successful MOB and all the benefits that flow from that). These are the times when you will need all your motivation, so we have some tips to get you prepared to face down the challenges and complete your MOB.

Procrastination

“When we fail to achieve our goals, procrastination is often the culprit”

Procrastination is the process of postponing action (e.g. putting off doing something). Today is never quite the right time to act or to change, but tomorrow most definitely will be.

It’s just not an ideal time to make a change RIGHT NOW. I just need to get X, Y, and Z sorted, and THEN it will be a better time.

Quite often when we procrastinate, we choose to do a different, but less important, task to the thing we really need to be doing – like deciding to check our emails and clear our inbox before we start on the day’s main task. Unfortunately that kills half the day and wears us out a bit too so we have less focus and energy for the important task. What’s more, we feel quite satisfied about clearing our email and convince ourselves that we don’t actually need to focus on another task today, we’ll crack on with it first thing tomorrow. (Helen’s note – I am procrastinating right now by focusing on the formatting of this article, rather than the content!)  

Do not trick yourself into believing you have had a productive day when all you have done are things from the bottom of your to-do list.

Preferences for Short-Term Smaller Rewards over Longer-Term Larger Rewards

Writing about impulsivity and impulse control, the psychologist George Ainslie coined the term specious reward. This relates to our tendency to choose short-term, counterfeit solutions to our frustrating problems. For example:

A short-term solution to a stressful day might appear be to have a drink. It’s easy, habitual, and you know it works to take the edge off. Longer-term however, your day will be less stressful tomorrow if you don’t drink tonight. The short-term reward (temporarily relieving stress with a drink) has much less value to you than the longer-term rewards of not drinking – having a more productive day tomorrow, feeling proud of yourself for sticking to your MOB, feeling LESS stressed and MORE happy tomorrow than you do today.

Our tendency to choose short-term, smaller rewards over longer-term larger rewards is referred to as hyperbolic discounting. If you are interested in the science and philosophy of procrastination, this is an excellent book.

Procrastination is a human tendency we all experience. It won’t just go away by itself, but recognising when it’s happening is the first step towards beating it.

The Benefits of Procrastination

Even though part of us can feel miserable, frustrated, even angry about our procrastination, and really does believe it is important to change NOW rather than put it off, we only do things that have a payoff. So if procrastination wasn’t giving us some kind of reward, we wouldn’t do it.

The main payoff is that procrastination protects us from something else that seems more difficult to face.

One of the main things that procrastination protects us from is possible failure. If we don’t try something, we can’t fail at it. Perfectionists especially can use procrastination to avoid being average, or even terrible, at something. If we can’t do a 100% perfect job on something then we will do nothing at all. (We talk more about perfectionism in a few days time).

Procrastination also protects us from doing things that will:

  • Make us feel a bit of discomfort
  • Require us to deny ourselves things we enjoy
  • Require us to respond to emotions in a different way

Procrastination and Emotions

People joke about their procrastination, but it can be destructive and chip away at our emotional well-being and self-esteem.

Because it prevents us from doing things that we want to do, including tackling our unhealthy habits, procrastination can cause us to feel stressed, anxious, regretful, and unhappy about all the things we haven’t yet done. As well as embarrassed, guilty and ashamed about the excuses we make to ourselves and others about why we haven’t done something yet.

Most people do not procrastinate in every area of life. They may well be organised and stick to their priorities at work, or with their family, but will procrastinate over self-development or self-improvement activities – like taking an evening class, losing weight, starting a blog, or completing a successful MOB.

The main point here is that this human tendency to procrastinate is an obstacle to doing what we need to do to reach our longer-term goals.

This is why it is important to tackle your procrastination on the things that are important to you. If you signed up for a MOB, chances are you have also made a decision to stop procrastinating about having a booze-break.

Having a successful MOB will help you to feel proud of yourself and to build your confidence about your ability to have a healthier relationship with alcohol long-term. It will also encourage you to feel more calm and happy because you are taking steps to improve your life.  

Procrastination as a Possible Pitfall – And How to Tackle It

This tendency to go for the easy (not necessarily best) solution may crop up as a possible pitfall over your MOB.

For instance, if you are stressed and need to unwind you might start to think about having a drink, which in turn creates a niggly urge for a drink. At this point it will feel easier to just have a drink because: that’s what you usually do, it’s become a convenient and simple way to relax, and it will remove the urge for a drink. So you feel OK again (temporarily).  

Rather than instinctively reacting to a thought, feeling or urge, plan a considered conscious response.

One way you can respond (rather than react) is to create a plan when you are scanning the day for possible pitfalls:

If…I notice myself thinking about the short-term pleasure of a drink today…

Then…I will ask myself “By saying ‘YES’ to a drink today, what am I saying ‘NO’ to tomorrow?”   

This will remind you to think about all the reasons why you wanted to do a MOB in the first place. What benefits do you hope to get out of your booze-break, or are already getting out of it? It also might help to think about how good you will feel about yourself for resisting the urge for a drink and staying on-plan.

Other tips include:

  • Know your excuses. We’re sure you know the kind of internal dialogue you have with yourself, and the excuses you give others:  ‘I’ll just be ratty with the family if I don’t drink after the day I’ve had’, ‘I can’t not drink at X’s party, I haven’t seen him for months’, ’I’ll do a month off when I’ve got a clear diary’. You can then replace these thoughts with more logical and helpful ones – It IS possible to do a MOB as well as attend a few events and handle some stress!  
  • If you are less likely to procrastinate if you have a bit of healthy pressure, feel more accountable by telling someone else what you are doing.
  • Stay in the day. You are less likely to procrastinate over a small, manageable and achievable task. So remember to stay in the day  and just focus on doing what’s needed to be alcohol-free today.

Your actions for today

  • Think about something you procrastinate about – it doesn’t have to be related to alcohol. What are the benefits of putting off doing that activity or making that change? What are the consequences of putting it off? What emotions come up when you think about the fact that you keep putting this thing off?  
  • What excuses are you likely to try making to yourself to put off completing your MOB? If you say ‘yes’ to that excuse, what will you be saying ‘no’ to?
  • Visit the Club Soda Group and tell us one of your procrastination stories.  

7 Responses to “Day 7 – Procrastination: Why we Choose Short-Term Rewards over Longer-Term Goals, and How to Beat it

  • Anonymous
    5 years ago

    Thanks

  • Anonymous
    5 years ago

    Great post.

  • Isla Glover
    5 years ago

    Very helpful – thanks! I’ve had a headache since I stopped but I’m thinking of it as a good” headache – all the toxins leaving my body!

    • Jussi Tolvi
      5 years ago

      Hi Isla, are your headaches any better now?
      jussi

  • Anonymous
    4 years ago

    So needed to read this. Thanks!

    • Anonymous
      4 years ago

      Glad you liked it! Procrastination is certainly one of my personal weaknesses. Take care, Helen.

  • Anonymous
    2 years ago

    Cant even get started great in morning but not evening

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