Use Visualization to Beat Procrastination


When you put off a task, you imagine that it will be tedious or suppose that it will be pointless. Understanding whether you lack motivation for the task or for the outcome helps you to use your imagination positively. When you know what to visualize, you can overcome your urge to procrastinate.

When you procrastinate, thinking about the task you're started may be the hardest part, but imagining how tedious is the easiest. So why not use the power of your imagination to help you?

Learning to visualize something other than yourself feeling stressed or bored can be a powerful weapon against procrastination. People put things off for two main reasons: lack of motivation for the task or lack of motivation for the outcome. If you're not motivated for the task, you tend to see it as a necessary evil, something you ought to do even though you don't want to. Let's say you want to get fit, so you make a decision to get up half an hour earlier in order to beat the first time that your clock alarms. If you're not motivated by the outcome, on the other hand, you may have no problem with performing a task but you put it off because there doesn't seem to be any point.

Suppose you're in debt and decide that you'll save money by taking a packed lunch to work rather than eating in the canteen. You're making a sandwich while thinking about the money that you'll save when you realize that even if you never bought food at work again it would still take you another thirty years to pay off your debts. Your feeling of motivation disappears and the next day you don't bother making a packed lunch.

If you lack motivation for the task, the temptation is to picture yourself being happy that you completed it. You tell yourself to imagine how good you'll feel when you are counterproductive. Studies have demonstrated that picturing yourself feeling happy after you've completed something, actually increases procrastination. 

It's not surprising this reduces motivation - why do something difficult or boring when you can feel good by simply sitting and thinking? Instead, picture yourself feeling miserable and frustrated that you didn't achieve your goal. You naturally want to clear the mental link between procrastination and feeling bad.

This is the same principle as aversion therapy: you're training your brain to avoid the negative emotions associated with putting things off. The more clearly you can visualize yourself being unhappy and frustrated for not achieving something, the better. Completing a task and feeling pleased with yourself feels even better when you've imagined feeling miserable. Instead of getting a reward without doing anything, you're getting an even bigger reward for the same achievement. If you lack motivation for the outcome, you need to visualize alternatives.

Science

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