Most of us are very intimate with how procrastination works. We’ve all put things off until a deadline draws close and panic sets in before we finally get them done. Whether studying for an exam, taking the rubbish out, or filing the report for your boss, we all know the dynamics of procrastination. We put off doing something that is important in favour of watching re-runs of Friends on TV or surfing YouTube for silly animal videos. Procrastination always makes us feel a little bit guilty and disappointed in ourselves, but we do it anyway. Sometimes it’s an attempt to avoid the stress and pressure of our responsibilities, and sometimes it’s simply that we’d rather do something else. So we do just that.
Now let me introduce you to procrastination’s slightly better-looking, guilt-minimising cousin progresstination. Progresstination is doing something that appears to be positive, productive and somewhat important, but in reality it’s taking your time and attention off the most important goals. It doesn’t come with procrastination’s guilt and disappointment, because you are actually doing something positive.
Procrastinating has some stress associated with it and a small dint to the pride. No one has a desire to be lazy. You don’t go to bed at night and think, That was great. I’m really glad I sat on the couch and ate that box of cookies. Because progresstinating involves doing positive things, we save ourselves the guilt trip and still feel okay about ourselves: ‘Hey! At least I got the sock drawer sorted out. Now that I can get dressed faster, I’ll accomplish loads more work—tomorrow.’
That’s harmless enough, isn’t it?
Well, if you want to plod through life and live a safe and easy existence, then yes, it’s harmless enough. But if you’re looking for eudemonia (objective flourishing from doing great things), this type of life often lacks passion and fulfilment and will eventually leave you feeling empty.
Progresstination, then, can be described as procrastination for your dreams. Like all human reward systems, dopamine (your drive-to-thrive hormone) gives you a little feel-good chemical hit every time you do something positive. The system ensures we continue to do things that are in our best interest. With progresstination, you get the feel-good hit just by ticking things off your to-do list. This list may be things that need to be done, but are they getting you any closer to where you want to go?
What if you have an inner drive to do something remarkable, something that will light a fire of contentment and self-satisfaction? My company uses the term BHAG (big hairy audacious goal). I actually prefer BHAD, which, contrary to how it sounds, isn’t a Baghdad kebab vendor. It means ‘big hairy audacious dream.’ By dream, I don’t mean unachievable fantasy. It still needs to be realistic. But a dream is limitless, has no end point, and it allows your imagination to run free. Martin Luther King’s speech in Washington wouldn’t have been as good if it had used the words ‘I have a goal…’
Goals are important when you look at sales figures, weight loss, or grades in school. Goals fire up your drive-to-thrive (dopamine) reward systems, which are really effective in getting things done. The only problem is as soon as we achieve them, we move the goal posts and need bigger sales targets or even better grades.
Dreams, on the other hand, combine both your personal and social reward systems. You need both to achieve balance. Dreams are constantly evolving and you never truly reach them. The journey is where the fun lies and the dream is the beacon that keeps you going in the right direction.
Your BHAD is something that will make your world a better place and fire up your pride-from-inside (serotonin) rewards system. Life is like riding a bike. Without forward motion you fall off.
One of the foundations of STRESS TEFLON is pride from contribution…making a difference. Don’t put off doing the hard things that are out of your comfort zone and stressful. Embrace the stress and utilise the energy from it to fire up and get shit done. Failing is OK, you’ll survive, but a life of progresstination and not trying the hard task will leave you empty and invite the bad stress in.
I really wanted to write a book. I knew it would take a lot of research, so I researched and researched. Eventually, I’d done so much research that if I were to include everything I had learnt, the book would have looked like War and Peace. My research was a way of progresstinating and not actually writing the book. I lacked the belief that I could actually write an entire book.
Lacking self-belief is what makes you progresstinate. Sometimes your BHAD appears so big and daunting that you don’t know where to start. This is stressful but it’s OK. Find some people who know more than you, don’t be afraid to look stupid, ask for help and start….you gotta start.
Failing to achieve your BHAD is nowhere near as disappointing as not trying. Or, worst still, not having one.