Alex Barker, PharmD
Alex Barker, PharmD
Alex Barker is the founder of The Happy PharmD, which helps pharmacists create an inspiring career, break free from the mundane “pill-flipping” life. He is a Full-time Pharmacist, Media Company founder, franchise owner, Business Coach, Speaker, and Author. He's also the Founder of Pharmacy School HQ, which helps students get into pharmacy school and become residents.

Getting to the Root of Procrastination

DECEMBER 28, 2016

 

There I was looking at dirty clothes all over my bathroom floor. I began to immediately think of all the reasons why this shouldn't be a reality and I let frustration build up within me.

 

You see, I asked my wife to pick the clothes up and do the laundry earlier that day. Clearly, this had not happened. When I addressed this with my spouse, it didn't go over well—mainly because of my own attitude and the way I brought it up. Not only that, but my wife also pointed out the fact that I had not taken out the garbage as she had previously asked.

 

Touché.

 

This encounter made me ask some really big questions of myself, namely, “Why do I procrastinate?” I also pondered several variations on that question, including:

 
  • Why do I wait until the last minute to do things, even when the task takes 2 minutes to do?

  • Why did I procrastinate during pharmacy school?

  • Why do I sometimes wait until the last minute to turn things in?

  • Why do I procrastinate to the point of being late fulfilling requests that my colleagues make?

 

What I plan to blog about during the next few weeks is the subject of procrastination and the science of it. My goal is to establish some different habits for myself and for those that I work with and help. What I'm about to share is just the beginning of my findings, a lot of which comes from my own research and the book The Now Habit by Neil Fiore.

 

The Ultimate Question

 

The ultimate question here is, “Why do we procrastinate?” I contend that procrastination actually is just a symptom of something else that is going on.

 

I think procrastination is caused by fear of failure, or perhaps a fear of success. We procrastinate because we are dealing with perfectionism, low self-esteem, or negative self-belief. Therefore, we procrastinate to protect ourselves.

 

I've done a lot of writing and reading on the subject of habits and making habits easier to implement in our everyday lives. What I found is that my procrastination is really just a habit.

 

A habit has 3 phases: (1) a trigger; (2) performing the habit; and finally, (3) a reward. Every habit must have a reward for the brain to accept it as a pattern. For example, when we brush our teeth, the reward may be the clean feeling that we have after we brush.

 

The reward of procrastination is often relieving stress.

I find that I procrastinate on things (on important things, especially) because of a fear of failure—a fear that I may totally ruin the project; a fear that if I don't perform according to everyone else's standards, I’m going to be judged harshly. If I fail, I might be demoted, get a pay cut, be fired, be embarrassed or lose a contract.

 

I procrastinate for all sorts of reasons.

 

What a lot of the procrastination-related articles online want to suggest is that you need to have a better to-do list—you need to just do it and get over yourself, the articles say. Often resources that teach about how to fight procrastination blame you as the source of the problem. That's why we so often hear the advice of, “just do it.”

 

In my opinion, that's like saying to someone who has cancer, "Let's just put a Band-Aid on this and it'll eventually go away." In order to treat cancer, you have to use some deep and invasive therapy.

 

That's what this series on procrastination is going to be all about: Using intensive therapy to treat the symptom of procrastination.

 

Gaining Control

 

Procrastination is just our coping mechanism to handle the stress of whatever is stopping us. We use procrastination to gain control in our lives.

 

For example, when we procrastinate on a certain subject or task that our boss gives us, perhaps we're rebelling against the fact that we feel like a victim. We feel like we don't have any power in our jobs, so we ignore the tasks that are given to us in order to feel like we have some sort of control in our life. Everyone else takes away our power and control, so why shouldn't we fight back? Why should we have to listen to everything that the boss says?

 

Sometimes, we procrastinate because we fear the consequences of failure. This isn't just something that we developed all of a sudden; these feelings are built up over time. Ever since we've been little children, our parents wince when we make a mistake, or they yell at us because we inappropriately did something. Or, because we failed at something, we were punished.

 

Therefore, we develop perfectionism, or neurotic tendencies that cause us to question everything that we do. We become indecisive, because if we were to make a decision to move forward on a project, we would risk being judged, ridiculed, or condemned by our peers.

 

Rather than face those fears, we put off doing the task until the very last moment, when it's the 9th hour and we have to get the project done. We forsake our perfectionism tendency in order to get the project accomplished.
 

This is why you hear so many people say, "I work well under pressure." It's not because pressure creates better work. It's because pressure, for those people, creates an environment in which tasks must be completed.

 

For procrastinators, if work didn't have any deadlines, nothing would ever be accomplished.

 

Fear of Success

 

Some people have a fear of success. When we have success in our lives, especially when we're pharmacists, we may fear it. I think a few pharmacists may even have dealt with the fear of financial success.

 

If we hang out with other people, we quickly learn that, as pharmacists, we are richly blessed with a great financial status. Therefore, people may ostracize us because of it.

 

If you can't relate to that, then perhaps you can think back to grade school and remember getting extremely good grades and being ostracized by your peer group because you did so well in school.

 

We also may fear the fact that if we achieve success in our jobs, we may be promoted. We may rank above our current friends. If we get promoted and we become the boss, that'll change everything.

 

Rather than have success in life and relish in it, we reject it and turn to procrastination because of our fear of winning.

 

Why Do You Procrastinate?

 

If you don't know why you procrastinate, I encourage you to think about the last thing that you know you procrastinated on—or perhaps the last thing that you were late on. Ask yourself tough questions, such as what was your inner dialogue? What were you really telling yourself in those moments when you had a choice to work on that project versus doing something else?

 

If you want the truth, I encourage you to keep track of your thoughts. Keep a log of what you do on a day-to-day basis. When those projects come up that you have been ignoring, write down the thoughts, feelings, and emotions that you have.

 

If you want to write a book but you haven't worked on it in the last seven months, what sort of thoughts are having about this book? Are you telling yourself things like, “No one will read it,” which demonstrates that you have a fear of failure?

 

You can conquer your procrastination, but only if you dig deep within yourself to find the root cause. Although it might feel strange and uncomfortable, uncovering your hidden feelings and emotions is the key to leading a more productive lifestyle and getting things done.

 


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