In the previous video, we talked about three different kinds of avoidance behaviour– avoidance, distraction, and numbing. In this video, we will tell you how to recognise the thoughts that lead to avoidance. These kinds of misleading thoughts usually crop up just before you’re about to get down to work. For example, I study better when I feel like it. The thoughts serve as a support for the avoidance behaviour that you might be tempted to engage in. Once you recognise these thoughts, it becomes easier to dismiss them. There are two misconceptions that are very common among procrastinators. Once you know what they are, they will no longer deceive you. The first misconception is called mood control.
Mood control is when you believe that it’s best to be in the right mood before starting on something you don’t like. That seems like a positive mindset. But actually, there’s no truth in it. For example, your plan says you should start studying now. But you don’t feel like it. Now you think, I’ll just watch a few videos on YouTube before I get started. After that, I’ll definitely feel like studying. Oh, really? I don’t think so. After watching a few cat videos, your motivation to study is just as low as it was before. In fact, if you spend hours on YouTube instead of getting on with studying, the dirty pain increases and gets worse the longer you procrastinate.
The other misconception is black and white thinking. Black and white thinking is when you’re unrealistically positive or unrealistically negative about something. For example, you’ve just started studying and quickly come across two things you don’t understand. Then you think, oh, well, never mind. I don’t get this course unit, anyway,
or your plan says that you want to start studying at 10:00.
And then it’s 10:05. And you haven’t started yet.
Then you put your studies off until 11:00 sharp to be able to start on the hour exactly or you even think, well, today is a write-off. I’ll try again tomorrow. You might also divide your days in either perfect or miserable days. So you think, tomorrow, I will do everything differently. I will do everything perfect. And as soon as it’s tomorrow and something goes wrong, you consider it another miserable day. And then you set the same intentions for the next day. And the cycle continues. Quite often, a procrastinator starts the term being unrealistically optimistic. For example, I’ve still got plenty of time. And then suddenly, that transforms into unrealistic pessimism, such as, I might as well just give up.
To get rid of black and white thinking, the art is to embrace the grey, to embrace the imperfect situations, focus on small improvements, and on celebrating small steps.
So it’s perfectly fine to start studying at 10:05 or 10:12. And it’s also fine to run into several things you don’t understand. And even if you have failed most of your day, still you can do something useful in the rest of the time. Even in a small amount of time, you can do something. It’s never too late to make the switch from unproductive to productive. As one of our students once remarked about studying, every minute counts. So how do you deal with these misleading thoughts? Thousands of thoughts pop into your head every day, including a lot of excuses.
It’s not always easy to spot the difference between thoughts that you have to take seriously and the thoughts that lead you up the garden path. Imagine, just before you start studying, you think, I first have to tidy my apartment before I can focus on my studies. You could take the thought seriously and start tidying. But if you have always something to tidy when you’re about to study– that’s just pure coincidence, right– then it’s worth finding out what happens if you do start studying despite of having that thought. So for each thought, you try to work out what a good response would be. Sometimes, you don’t want a response to a thought right away.
But you might want to use it for making changes in the future– for example, if you regularly think, I cannot study because I am too tired, to try and change the time you go to bed. The point is that you get out of the habit of reacting to thoughts automatically so you can choose what is important to you. Learning new habits is one of the most difficult things for people to do. So take it step by step.