What Causes Procrastination? The #1 Reason People Don’t Take Action

by Positive Hustle

Have you ever set goals and come up with a plan, but somehow you procrastinated on them and never get to see your goals materialize? Procrastination is one of the most common reasons people fail to accomplish their goals and to achieve the success they want. In this guide, we will talk about the causes of procrastination.

If you want to get rid of procrastination, the first thing you need to do is to understand what causes you to procrastinate.

The reason? Well, procrastination is a symptom, not a cause. There is a reason behind why you procrastinate.

Hence, once you understand why you procrastinate, you can then work on the cause and overcome the root of the problem once and for all.

That’s how you overcome procrastination.

Everyone procrastinates. Even the most hardworking and productive person procrastinates once in a while.

In fact, it is alright to procrastinate. For instance, you can creatively procrastinate to recharge your energy so that you will have better energy to work on your following tasks.

The problem with most people is that they have no idea why they procrastinate and if you don’t know the causes, you can’t overcome them.

The Main Cause of Procrastination: Pain and Pleasure

Yes, everything that we do in our lives, we do it according to these 2 forces, pain and pleasure.

Anthony Robbins, the world’s #1 success coach says it wisely:

“The secret of success is learning how to use pain and pleasure instead of having pain and pleasure use you. If you do that, you’re in control of your life. If you don’t, life controls you.”

Tony Robbins

Think about it, why do you procrastinate?

You procrastinate because you feel pain when it comes to doing the work.

When you procrastinate, you choose to do other things that are more pleasurable. Until a time when the pain is greater than the pleasure, you will resolve to do the work that you have put off.

For example, why do you think people smoke even though they know smoking can destroy their health?

Well, to the people who smoke, it is a fun and pleasurable activity. They feel ‘cool’ when they stand and smoke in style. They feel great when people look at them and they feel people respect them and that they look mature.

And because of these false beliefs, they feel pleasure when they smoke. And they feel pain when they don’t.

Smokers will continue to smoke until a point when they are diagnosed with a health issue that they will stop smoking immediately, or else their life is at risk.

At this point, their pain to avoid smoking becomes greater than the pleasure they receive from smoking. Therefore, they stop smoking.

This is the power of pain and pleasure, the 2 ultimate forces that affect everything we do in life.

Do you now know why people procrastinate and put things off until the last minute when they have no choice but to do it, then they will do it?

It’s all about the pain and pleasure, my friend.

What Tony Robbins said is right, if you fail to control these 2 forces in your life, they will control you.

Therefore, learn to control and use the pain and pleasure so that you are the one who is in charge of your life, not them.

The Temptation to Avoid Pain to Gain Pleasure

Everything that we do in our lives is to either avoid the pain or to gain pleasure.

When you choose to eat the whole plate of chocolate cake, you know that it is to gain the pleasure of eating something sweet and delicious.

And what if you don’t feel like exercising? Well, the sign is clear, you just want to avoid the pain of going through the hard work.

We all know that exercise is important, yet most of us don’t want to do it. We prefer to do something pleasurable like checking updates on Facebook or watching Netflix.

This is why most people fail to create the results they desire in life because they don’t know how to govern the pain and pleasure.

For instance, people choose to watch YouTube rather than reading a book because watching YouTube videos are fun.

And most people rather spend time playing games than spending time building their business.

If you are a blogger and your goal is to grow your blow, what will you choose to do – write and publish a blog post or watch funny videos on Facebook?

What you choose to do say a lot about you.

This article from IQ Matrix says it well:

“It’s human nature to gravitate towards pleasure and to seek to avoid pain. In other words, you will make most of your decisions based on acquiring pleasure while at the same time trying to avoiding pain. This works well at times, however, at other times, it will actually work against the goals and objectives you are trying to achieve.”

You must learn to use your pain and pleasure to work for your goals and objectives in life, not against them.

How to Use Your Pain and Pleasure to Achieve Greater Success

“We change our behavior when the pain of staying the same becomes greater than the pain of changing. Consequences give us the pain that motivates us to change.”

Henry Cloud

There you go, the above quote says everything about avoiding procrastination and working hard.

The key is how do you turn your pain into pleasure? How do you put yourself to work on things that seem painful to you that you want to procrastinate?

Here are a few suggestions:

1. Reframe the meaning

First, what you should do is to reframe the meaning of pain and pleasure differently.

For most people, writing an article or writing a book is painful. They choose to watch the TV rather than to sit down in front of their computer and start typing.

However, for a small group of people, they define writing differently. They don’t look at writing as something painful, but as something pleasurable.

This is where your passion comes to play. For people who love to write, writing is not something painful, not having the chance to write is painful.

Thus, what you can do is reframe the meaning that you give your task in a different way.

Take hitting the gym as an example. Do you know that Arnold Schwarzenegger looks at exercising in the gym differently than the majority of us? No wonder why he is one of the best bodybuilder in the world…

If you think that reading is boring, just change the meaning. Make yourself believe that reading is something fun.

The same goes for writing articles. As a blogger, one of my main tasks is to create content such as this one. But I don’t look at creating content or writing articles as something painful or boring.

In fact, I love to write. I treat it as an activity where I get to share my thoughts with you, my fellow readers.

And that’s what has allowed me to consistently produced and published over 500 content on this blog. And most of the articles I published are long-form, with over 2,000 words. And I’ve been doing this for years.

I’m not telling you this to brag, but instead, I’m trying to tell you that you can make your work fun by reframing its meaning.

For instance, most people think that working is boring and something that they don’t want to do. To them, work equals pain.

And you can change the meaning by reframing it. Working doesn’t need to be something painful. It can be something pleasurable.

If you can connect your passion with your work, you will love your work.

This is why extraordinary people like Steve Jobs, Warren Buffett, and Elon Musk, they love their work so much that they are willing to spend hours and hours doing their work.

To these people, they believe that work is something pleasurable, not painful.

You should do the same.

2. Make the painful behavior or activity pleasurable

The second suggestion you can make use of pain and pleasure to help you reach your goals is to add pleasure to your pain.

According to MuscleProdigy.com, Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian of all-time swims a minimum of 80,000 meters a week. This is what the article says:

“In peak training phases, Phelps swims minimum 80,000 meters a week, which is nearly 50 miles. He practices twice a day, sometimes more if he’s training at altitude. Phelps trains for around five to six hours a day at six days a week.

To give himself some additional entertainment in the water, Phelps listens to music during his long workouts with waterproof headphones. Swimming in the water, especially that long, can be pretty boring. Listening to music can provide that extra spark to your workout.”

Going through the training can be tough. It is a painful job. Just like hitting the gym to lose weight, it may not be something pleasurable.

However, what helped Phelps went through his long-hour training is the waterproof headphones.

The article nails it. Swimming in the water for long hours can be boring, and thus, listening to music gives a little spark to Phelps in his workout.

Phelps listens to music (pleasure) in his training (pain). Phelps certainly knows how to turn his painful tasks into pleasurable activities.

You can do the same too.

Find a way how you can add pleasure to the tasks that you find painful to do. In other words, you want to add some “fun factor” to the work that you find painful or boring to do.

When something is boring and painful to you, you tend to procrastinate on it. But when something becomes fun and pleasurable, you will be more looking forward to doing it.

When I was in secondary school, doing Math homework is boring. What I did then, like Phelps, is to play music as I’m doing the homework.

The same when I’m writing articles. Whenever I find myself don’t feel like chunking out the words, I will put on my headphone, play my favorite music, and start writing.

That’s how I overcome procrastination and keep myself on track with my goals.

The key is to make the process fun.

You want to turn the task or project that you always procrastinate into something fun and pleasurable so that you will look forward to doing it.

Read this: 31 Ways How to Make Life More Interesting and Exciting

3. Use future-thinking to amplify your pain and pleasure

Pain and pleasure are modulated by time. According to this article from TitaniumSuccess.com, it says that timing matters when it comes to avoiding pain and gaining pleasure.

“We focused on avoiding immediate pain and we are trying to attain immediate pleasure. The closer something is to this moment, the more pain or pleasure we attach to it.

Therefore, pain tomorrow is not as powerful of a force as pain today. Pain in a decade is absolutely far less motivating (or demotivating) than the pain a week from now.

This is precisely why most human beings have such a hard time saving money even though you can receive interest and free money by delaying spending.”

This literally explains why most of us fail to reach our goals.

When we set a goal to achieve in the future, the event is happening far into the future. We don’t really feel the urgency because it is in a distant future.

And when we want to work on our goal, it is immediate. We have to focus on doing the work right now in order to achieve the result we want in the future.

Hence, this causes us to procrastinate.

We rather choose to work on something that gives us immediate pleasure although we may have to suffer the pain in the future.

What you can do then is to focus on the future that you want.

Imagine what will happen if you procrastinate right now.

  • What will happen if you fail to achieve your goals in the next 5 years?
  • What if you don’t get the promotion that you desire?
  • What if you are still doing the same thing at the same place as where you are right now in the next 5 years?
  • Are you going to repeat this year exactly like your last year?
  • Are you going to do nothing and let life controls you?
  • What if 5 years later, you are still in debt, with loads of credit card outstandings, and you still can’t manage to pay your bills?
  • What if 3 years later, you are still where you are, struggling to pay bills and put food on the table? Do you want this to happen?

The key is to imagine yourself into the future, and then use pain and pleasure to motivate you into taking action right now.

What you want to do is to imagine both the positive and negative future you are going through.

Take 5 minutes to visualize your future where you don’t follow through your plan. What if you procrastinate and fail to achieve your goals, how will your future look like?

And then take another 5 minutes to imagine the future where everything is perfect. See yourself work hard right now and in the future, you get everything you want in your life. You are living your dream life.

When you see yourself NOT living the future you want, it gives you pain.

When you think about all the debts you have and are unable to food on the table for your family and children, the image makes you feel pain.

On the contrary, when you see yourself achieving all your goals and living your dreams, you feel the pleasure.

And this is how you can use these two forces of pain and pleasure to drive you into taking action right now.

FREE Webclass to Overcome Procrastination

New York Times best-selling author, John Assaraf is conducting a FREE training on how to overcome procrastination through neuroscience.


So, what is the main cause of procrastination? Pain and pleasure.

Always remember, we tend to do things to avoid pain or to gain pleasure. So use these forces to help you achieve the goals you want and not the other way round.

And sometimes, you just have to do it even though it is painful and not pleasurable. Like what Muhammad Ali said:

I hated every minute of training, but I said, ‘Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.’

Muhammad Ali

Living a great and successful life is all about how you manage your pain and pleasure.

Extraordinary people are able to create amazing success because they look at pain as pleasure. They do what most people don’t want to do. And they choose to do it even when they don’t feel like it.

If you can control these twin forces of pain and pleasure, you can get rid of procrastination and achieve whatever you want in life.

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