How to Beat Procrastination at the Source

What is Procrastination? 

Websters' has procrastination as putting off, intentionally or habitually, doing something that should be done. A neuroscientist would reword it as a neurological response (of avoidance) triggered by something that makes us feel uncomfortable, anxious, or stressed. You and I often refer to procrastination as laziness. 

Well, it's not laziness. 

It is a form of avoidance triggered by something uncomfortable. However, that doesn't tell the whole story, and Websters' definition is accurate but boring. The truth is a blend of the two and more robust than either. 

Procrastination is a symptom of a deeply-rooted issue or incompetence that keeps the cost of doing something now higher than the reward for putting it off. 


When we first receive an idea, project, or job where completion is essential to lifes' progress, our brain immediately starts making calculations that involve the following:

If the price of taking action now exceeds the reward or the answer is not very clear, our brain makes the logical choice to avoid execution until the moment where the cost of avoidance is too high to ignore. Which often happens to occur the night before the big presentation is due. The bigger the shadow of avoidance looms, the longer your brain will wait to get it done. 

This is the cycle of procrastination. 

As the process gets repeated and we avoid our more ambitious behaviors, a habit forms that seeps its way into our minor behaviors. It's not long before procrastination becomes chronic, and we're pushing off reading, sleeping, dieting, and other positive micro habits. I'm writing this article and the next to help you (& myself) diagnose the root cause of your chronic procrastination and develop steps to eliminate it from your life. 

How to Start

There are three fundamental factors of a chronic procrastinator: 

  1. They aren't aware of the root problem, the underlying force that keeps the cost of getting work done so high.
  2. They have created a pattern of behavior for avoiding that unknown force called procrastination and given up accountability. 
  3. They have no specific solution to solve the problem causing their avoidance. 

Let's tackle them one at a time. 

What is the underlying force?

If procrastination is a symptom of some root problem, our first step is to identify its source and create the right preventative strategy specific to it.  There's no one solution to procrastination because there's no one cause, just like how getting regular headaches could be from a pinched nerve, dehydration, poor posture, or several other reasons. Chronic procrastination stems from a range of problems, most of which are listed here:

Procrastination is a form of avoidance that is a symptom of one of the above pain points. The issue you're dealing with should stand out to you. Often we're familiar with the problem that exists. We just haven't seen the correlation between the consequences and our pain point.  Once you've identified the underlying issue, you can classify it, which will help you form a proper prescription to beat it. 

Classification: the Hand, the heart, or the head?

In 2004, Professor Hugo Kehr of UC Berkeley published the compensatory model of work motivation and volition. Later renamed the 3C Model of motivation, it's been researched and validated continuously since publication and provides us a great tool to investigate the causes of procrastination and implement potential strategies.  

The model reveals three components that affect our motivations to get things done. In psychology terminology, the components are explicit motives (conscious), implicit motives (unconscious), and perceived ability (competency). 

A simple way to distinguish between the three is by asking the question: 

The head is the conscious and explicit reason, the heart is the unconscious and implicit reason, and the hand is your perceived ability. Convert the 3C Model into the illustration below to help you apply it to your life. 

With all three present, you're able to enter the highest level of concentration and peak performance, known as a flow state. If you're missing competency but have explicit and implicit motives, it's okay because you love the task and know it's essential; therefore, practice will be enjoyable, and skills will develop rapidly. If you're missing all three, you would never desire to do the task unless forced. It's a blend of consciously not seeing the activity as vital or not liking the activity and unconsciously resisting it, which leads to avoidance (procrastination). The problem is then exacerbated by also not being competent. 

To continue investigating our root problem, we now need to classify it into a category of the hand, heart, or head. 

Each classification comes with a unique set of prescriptions. Now that you've identified the underlying problem and diagnosed it accordingly, you've crossed off the first force of resistance to ending chronic procrastination. You're in a much better position to implement a strategy forward. 

Seeking Solutions

After you've classified your deeply-rooted issue, it's time to formulate a strategy forward. I'll be writing about a few specific ones to help in future posts; this one is about giving you tools to form your own. 

If it's the hand you're missing, meaning your perceived ability in the activity is low. Then your antidote is developing confidence and competence in that skill set. Here are some specific things you can do:

If it's the head you're missing, meaning you don't see a clear impact from completing the activity. Then your antidote is increasing the incentive to complete the activity now. Here are some specific things you can do:

If it's the heart you're missing, meaning the tasks required are not appealing to you for one reason or another. Then your antidote is creating a more enjoyable experience around the activity. Here are some specific things you can do:

What Can You Do Now?

That's a tiny guide to overcoming procrastination. If you read the entire article thoroughly, you know that procrastination is not laziness but a result of a deeply-rooted problem to overcome. Once awareness spotlights the problem, you can classify and create an effective strategy to overcome it. If you have not read the entire article, you just received the cliff notes. Here's what you can do now:

Step one: Pick a high-impact project you've been pushing off. 

Step two: Investigate the form of resistance keeping you from executing the job. Seek the root of the problem. 

Step three: Classify the problem by asking: Is my avoidance (procrastination) coming from my hand, heart, or head?

Step four: Based on the classification, outline a strategy to overcome procrastination using any of the ones bulleted above as inspiration. 

Step five: Complete your project. 

Good luck!

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