I am a recovering procrastinator. I wrote recently that about the role of identity in procrastination but today I would like to talk about how that identity forms and how it relates to something called the 6 Human Needs. You are not predestined to be a procrastinator regardless of whether your parents were procrastinators or if you think it’s ‘just you.’ Procrastination is a habit that you develop over time. You do not suddenly decide to become a procrastinator one day; why did you become one in the first place?
Procrastination starts with you not wanting to do something. That’s it. For our story, you perceived a task as painful (boring, not fun, no payoff, etc.) so you chose not to do it. When you looked at that first task, or thought about it, your brain immediately began to analyze it. It asked, “Will I have fun/enjoy doing this?” You obviously answered “no!”
Instead, you found an activitiy that was not boring (aka not painful) such as watching TV, reading, or playing video games and you did that for a bit. Variety (fun) is one of our six human needs. It’s very easy for us as children to get caught up in ‘fun’ because, as children, variety/fun is higher on our ‘importance list.’
Procrastination often begins during youth. When we are young, we often choose ‘fun’ over responsibility. Unfortunately, when fun is chosen over work over and over, it slowly grows into a very difficult habit to fight. When you reinforce this habit over time, it also becomes part of your identity, as previously discussed.
It’s not your fault
It is natural for us to want to play instead of work. And, when we are young, we don’t think 20 years ahead. Play is important. It is where we learn social interaction and start to develop into the person that we are going to become. It is easy for play to become a habit because it is fun. Discipline is a habit as well, but it is not typically fun. Because of that, it is probably the most difficult habit to create. It could also be the most important.
Can I stop being a procrastinator?
The first step in beating procrastination is realizing that procrastination is just a habit and habits can be broken. Most of us who procrastinate do it more on certain types of activities. In order to break the habit, you must first understand the role of your six human needs and how they relate to habit formation.
The Six Human Needs
The 6 human needs is an ideal examination point for procrastination because, if something is meeting one or more of your needs, especially at high levels, then you will become addicted to it.
The 6 human needs, developed by Tony Robbins, are:
Certainty – the likeliness that you can gain pleasure or avoid pain; comfort; familiarity with an activity; the need to be in control.
Uncertainty – also known as variety or fun; uncertainty provides diversity from the mundane; risk.
Significance – how important/special/unique you feel.
Love/Connection – this can be intimate love, affection, or just friendship.
Growth – this is the need to get farther than where you are or to not remain stagnant.
Contribution – this is the need to give back, whether to an individual, your family, or society.
I will be referring to these quite often in my posts as I believe they are weaved throughout everything that we do in our lives. For the purpose of today’s post, let’s compare how two different people may see the same activity and how that might affect whether they procrastinate on it.
Let’s see an example
Activity: Writing a term paper
Mary believes that she is a terrible writer. Whenever she thinks about writing a term paper, she feels sick to her stomach thinking about the bad grade she will likely get (negative certainty, negative significance). To her, writing a paper is always the same thing (negative uncertainty/variety). She prefers working in groups but writing (to her) is a solitary activity (negative love/connection). In the event that she has a group paper, she does not want to contribute because she does not write well (negative certainty, negative significance). Whenever she has tried before, her group would not listen to her ideas (negative contribution). She always gets poor grades on papers and never improves (negative growth). As a result, she never wants to do them and put’s them off to the last second or hands them in late.
Let’s look at the second person, John. John loves writing papers in school because he always gets great grades (positive certainty). Because he is widely regarded as a great writer due to his high grades (positive significance, positive love/connection), he is widely sought out as a team member for group papers and listened to (positive love/connection, positive contribution). Every paper is different to John because he is able to write about different subjects and each subject is a new project that requires a new strategy (positive uncertainty/variety). Each paper gives him the opportunity to become an even better writer (positive growth).
Do you see how perception, specifically regarding the six human needs, in both of these cases could affect the actions of both Mary and John? These are extreme examples for a simple task, I get that. But if any one or two of these associations cause Mary or John a high level of pain or pleasure then it could have a very strong effect on whether either of them procrastinates on the work involved. Think of the activities that you procrastinate on. Does your perception of them cloud how they meet or do not meet your needs?