One of the more interesting reasons that we procrastinate or fail to take action is due to thought patterns that are fundamentally irrational. That may not be surprising on its face, because we have all come to understand that there are psychological causes of our behavior at play, often stemming from the sub-conscious. But here I am talking about a different kind of irrationality. It is a form of magical thinking that is based in a very infantile way of looking at the world. And before you get defensive, we all do this to some extent.
Here’s an example of the kind of thing I mean. You are trying to lose weight, and therefore, are doing specific things that are intended to help that process. You are logging the food you eat on paper or in an app, you are weighing yourself regularly to track your progress. And then one evening you go out and simply fall off the wagon. You have appetizers at a party and drink too many glasses of wine, and indulge in a gooey and caloric dessert. When morning rolls around, you look askance at the scale, and skip your planned weigh-in.
What just happened? This is not so different than the response infants have to the game peek-a-boo. The fallacy that the child makes is the belief that when he can’t see you, you aren’t there. In other words, if you don’t get the bad news that last night’s binge led to a weight increase, then it isn’t real. Bad news undelivered equals good news. Hmmm. This is a form of magical think that we all indulge in to some extent. It may not be a huge problem on that one morning when you know in your heart that your diet has been derailed and you need to double-down. However, most Americans gain about 5 to 10 pounds a year by avoiding the scale. That may seem insignificant until you multiply it by the 20 years between age 40 and age 60, and you suddenly understand the growth of obesity. Beyond weight, which is an easy example but may not apply to you, think about it in a different context. Imagine the same illogical stance applied to checking your bank balance or the results of your business. This is more common than you might imagine. Businesses fail regularly because the owners are unwilling or unable to get the data that would reveal the failure before it’s fatal. Individuals do the same thing and find themselves overdrawn and paying exorbitant banking fees. There’s a whole sociological theme here about how the poor get poorer…but that’s for a different article.
Another sphere in which people constantly avoid bad news is in their relationships. Many a marriage would be saved if spouses could confront and address bad news from each other early and often. But the fear of what one might learn keeps everyone quiet. And that silence, plus time, leads to festering problems that eventually kill marriages.
Procrastination is a generalized term, and this particular aspect of it is a subset. So if you look at all the things you may procrastinate, some of them fall into this category of avoiding information you would find upsetting. It’s useful to notice where you are employing this self-defeating technique of magical thinking. What bad news are you avoiding and pretending isn’t real as a result? My guess is that there is something — in your health, business, finances, relationship — somewhere. So how do you combat it? Well, for a start, it’s useful just to notice that you are doing it.
The next step is to try a re-framing of the notion of bad news. Re-framing is an approach that is used a lot in advertising and politics to create a new context for a familiar concept. So politicians re-frame damaging information about them by putting it in a different context and pointing out a new angle or way to think about the same facts. Re-framing can be a powerful tool for altering thought patterns that cause us to behave in ways that are self-defeating or counter-productive. You can use re-framing to alter your perception of what you have been avoiding. Consider this thought experiment: What if bad news was good news? Why? Because that bad news gives you information to redirect your strategy and approach to whatever matters to you. Bad news about your weight reminds you to re-look at your diet and exercise regime, maybe get a new coach or nutritionist, or take a break from alcohol. Bad news about your finances can alert you to a failing strategy or a need to look for a new revenue stream. And of course, this applies to all the other spheres of life as well. So try it out. Bad news is good news. Like a mantra. And then seize upon all the opportunities to impact your results and thrive!
Are you interested in working on creating positive and results-altering habits? Contact me for a free consultation and learn how coaching can help!