Progress, Procrastination and Pleasuring Yourself

job_doneSigmund Freud’s pleasure principle isn’t exactly rocket science but it’s easy to forget. Essentially it says every action we take is an effort to feel better, either by seeking pleasure or avoiding pain. Avoiding pain usually takes priority and often takes the form of procrastination. We put something off because we perceive it as a source of pain and find something more pleasant to do instead.

When we’re working for someone else, when we aren’t the boss, sometimes that choice is pretty much made for us and procrastination isn’t always an option. Get your work in by the deadline or you’ll get a red mark on your performance review. Meet your sales quota or you won’t get a raise/bonus.

But when we become our own boss, the accountability lines get blurred and the pleasure/pain dynamic shifts. ‘Later’ becomes an option so we avoid the yucky stuff, sales calls, tax returns, writing our marketing material, writing a report for a client, etc, in favour of something more interesting like ‘research’, ‘connecting’ on social media, having a snack or perhaps even a walk on the beach. That works to a point, at least until it’s too late and we either have to do the task because of a real deadline, or we decide it’s no longer important and drop the task altogether.

Either way, the result is the same and we limit our own progress.

So we’re told the answer is to be disciplined, find an accountability partner or promise yourself a reward if you do what needs to be done in the time frame you’ve allowed yourself to do it in. We’ve all tried these and while they do get results at times, these can vary between successful and a total waste of time. The trouble is that none of them really eliminates the current tension between pain and the pleasure and, though the task is getting done, it feels like an absolute chore. The promise of a reward sometimes helps but even then, sometimes the reward doesn’t feel ‘well-deserved’.

The trick then is to hack the pleasure principle and tip the scales in favour of pleasure rather than pain. This post for example has been on my ‘today’ list for about a week now. I’ve done lots of important things in the meantime and a few not so important things yet, despite my promise that it will get done today, it hasn’t happened yet.

When I notice something keeps slipping like that I take a look at what the pain might be that I’m avoiding. Apart from the pain of writing, which actually isn’t that painful for me, it turns out that the pain I’m really avoiding is the possibility of criticism. Yep, I’ve been hung up on the possibility that someone might actually read this far, decide that what I’m saying is a load of crap and then go to the trouble of letting me know, either directly by email or, shock horror, in the comments section here on the blog. Pretty infantile I know but there you go. My cards are on the table.

So knowing what my pain is I can look for potential pleasures to compensate. In writing and publishing this post, there is the possibility that someone might appreciate it, find it useful, tell a friend about it and perhaps even Tweet it to many friends. Maybe those friends will even subscribe for updates so they can be sure to stay up to date with life changing posts such as this. Happy, happy, joy, joy! Now the pendulum swings back in favour of pleasure and the urge to get it done outweighs the urge to put it off.

My invitation to you then is to take a look at your to don’t list, your list of things you’ve been putting off, and to the associated pain in relation to the potential pleasure. Sometimes it might be bit of a struggle to find what that pleasure might be but if you dig far enough you’ll find something. Heck, even just the satisfaction or relief of being able to say it’s done might be enough.

Do that and then make a note of that pleasure alongside the item on your list as a reminder of the upside in getting it done. Now go ahead and experience the pleasure of getting it done!

Load of crap? Useful? Worth sharing? Comments welcome below.

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20 Responses to “Progress, Procrastination and Pleasuring Yourself”

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  1. Barbara says:

    Excellent article – I’ve “shared with many friends”.

  2. That’s it! I’m attacking my “to don’t” list tomorrow! Hmmm… a fabulous choice of tax returns, tidying the study, doing a wardrobe cull, or submitting health insurance claims. Hooray (not!). Am I allowed wine afterwards?

    • Brett Jarman says:

      Good stuff Jules.

      Yes, wine can be taken afterwards. Even before or during if you feel so inclined.

      I must say though, ‘wardrobe cull’ seems like a bit of a diversion and ‘tidying the study’ is an old favourite for procrastinators too. I’m sure you have it under control though and will get some measurable progress under your belt. Enjoy.

  3. Lishui says:

    wow, Brett, this load-of-crap article is exactly what I need!
    I’ve been putting off doing my taxes for months now, even though it’s always on my “do this week” list.
    I can’t believe it, but I actually feel motivated to find something motivating about doing my taxes …believe me, this is a major turnaround. I usually just let the pain build up until stuff starts to fall apart, and then I suffer through the process.
    …which is kind of ridiculous, now that I think about it.

    XO

    • Brett Jarman says:

      You know the deal Lishui – the pain pushes till the vision pulls.

      Look forward to hearing you report back this week that it’s now on your ‘done this week’ list.

  4. Angelica says:

    Dear Brett!!

    What a timing!! I`ve been thinking about all these un-pleasent stuff I have to do ( on more levels) and did some ( pain/fear/anger) work -still not done entirely.. And then your article comes in !! (like) a -very helpful- guiding light. Thank You, once again :)

  5. Angela Underwood says:

    Dear Brett — Great article and terrific timing. I had a session with Derek yesterday with the agreed upon decision to now focus on ‘getting it done’ instead of just doing the inner work. Needless to say, today I needed this particular message in a big way. I appreciate you and look forward to hearing more and more. Thank you to the terrific guy ‘down under’, who is really way up high.

  6. georgie says:

    Doing some ‘putting off crap’ tomorrow now. Thanks for the article.

  7. Roger says:

    I’m my own bioss and I’m always at the “what to do/what to don’t” crossroads.
    According to Bashar, choosing the most exciting option at any given moment and acting on it till it won’t go any further and then choosing the next exciting option etc. etc., will create a thread showing the Universe how best to support us. This excitement is it’s own self-contained kit with its own driving engine containing everything we need to grow. Then trust the synchronicity that will occur. I like that!

    • Brett Jarman says:

      Right you are Roger.

      Having Bashar as a wing man is a big help, especially in those moments of doubt when you’re tossing up between a ‘should do’ vs ‘what I’d rather be doing’.

      For me the pleasure principle hack helps reveal some of the unseen excitement. I’m glad I applied it to this particular task.

      And to you good day…

  8. Being successful in business is about engaging in the journey of being truly honest with yourself. No better way to do it than with a business coach who is prepared to be truly honest with himself.

    • Brett Jarman says:

      Thanks Catherine.

      Having clients with the same approach makes my job a whole lot easier and incredibly fulfilling. :-)

  9. Lainna says:

    You always have such amazing insight on issues that I often sweep under the rug. Thank you for helping me get my thoughts redirected to something more productive! I never thought about moving past my fear and into how it could help. I just tried to eliminate the fear. Replacing it with personal power seems much easier!

    • Brett Jarman says:

      Glad it helped Lainna. It’s the issues under the rug that eventually trip us up so better to have them out in the open methinks. Looking forward to hearing how it’s helped.

  10. Anja says:

    I was going to put this off but decided to pull the bandaid off quickly. Just joking.

    Thanks for that kick in the ‘but’ in your blog. I appreciate it as this has been something that needs a gentle nudge in the right direction. I love the way you wove that info on giving yourself incentives and really playing up the pleasure principle.

    I find your work humorous, incisive and extremely relevant. As you know I am stepping out into the self employment field myself and find this info invaluable.

    Thank-you

    • Brett Jarman says:

      Thanks Anja. If you’re finding it valuable that tells me I’m doing something right. Stick around and let us all know how it goes.

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