“Procrastinator” – Is This a Label You Want?

Second in our series on procrastination, today I want to talk simply about the label “procrastinator,” I hear so many people give themselves.

When people experience a pattern of behavior, they tend to label it: “I have a sweet-tooth.” “I am not good at that.” “I am a big picture person.” “I am a detail person.”

Similarly, with the behavior of putting off the most essential task in favor of less essential tasks: “I am a procrastinator.” I hear this a lot.

What is Effect of Labeling Yourself or Your Behavior?

Behind any label is a list of supporting behaviors and beliefs. The belief “I am a procrastinator” brings with it a myriad of behaviors, both past and future. If your belief is you are a “procrastinator,” you have probably made that decision based on your past behaviors. You repeated a behavior so many times that you decided to label it…and yourself. Consider though that the likelihood of your demonstrating non-procrastination behaviors is very slim once you have applied that label. Why would a “procrastinator” not procrastinate? We strongly tend to behave in line with our beliefs. Our brains listen to the way we talk. When we say “I am always late” there is little chance of being on time. When we say, “I can’t stop eating sugar,” that behavior will likely continue. And when we say, “I am a procrastinator,” we are declaring out loud that a behavior we don’t like or want is true and will continue to be true—“this is who I am” is the message. A label such as this is an argument for your limitations.

There is an expression – “behavior follows belief.” When you state your belief – “I am a procrastinator” – your behavior is very likely to follow. That is how we are wired. But procrastination is a habit and non-productive habits can be replaced with productive habits. When you change your language and start to interrupt the behavior (even just a little bit) you will begin a new habit which will create a new belief – “maybe I don’t always put things off” – which will give rise to more new behavior in line with this newly emerging belief.

What if you decided not to use that word – “procrastinator” – any more? What if instead, you described the behavior you saw yourself exhibit? Of course, in doing that you might say, “I always wait until the last minute.” But do you always? And if you say you always do, then isn’t this similar to calling yourself a procrastinator? Try this – just describe the immediate behavior. And be very specific. Don’t say “I put it off.” Say, “I got the project on Monday and it was due on Friday and I started on Thursday.” Say, “There were times before Thursday when I could have worked on it but I chose to do something else.” Now you have the opportunity to learn about yourself. What did you choose instead? Was it another more pressing project? A conversation with your wife? A nap? If you look at what you chose, then you can figure out what got in the way of timeliness in this situation. Once you figure that out, you can decide how to handle things differently in the future. This is an important piece of moving past this unwanted behavior – looking at the behavior and the reasons for it. If you say that you do it because you are “a procrastinator,” the conversation stops there and you will not examine why you did the behavior in each instance. In the above example, you might ask, “Do I need to get more sleep? Schedule specific times to talk with my wife? Learn to delegate more?”

Getting rid of the label opens you up to exploration of the behavior.

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