The Language of Obligation – were we Programmed to Procrastinate?

From childhood we are told what to do in a language of obligation. We rebel, and resist, and procrastinate.

Because the requests of those in authority are conveyed as demands, we are never given the option of saying no; and yet we do not want to do what we are told, so we find ourselves dragging our feet as much as we can.

As our indoctrination continues, we begin to internalize our “musts” until the language of obligation becomes pervasive within our own thinking. Then, ironically, even though we now set our own goals for ourselves, we procrastinate and resist them as though they were not our own.

Thus, to liberate yourself, free yourself of the language of obligation. Rather than saying, “I must clean my room today”, recognize that your world will not end if you do not clean your room. If you were to create a disaster scale with 100% at the top being tortured to death, and 0% at the bottom being listening to some pleasant music, would many of the mundane tasks we obsess over really rate that highly? And doesn’t giving them greater importance than they deserve create in us a sense of dread, paradoxically causing us to shy away from their completion, as if they were this great big monolith that we have to climb?

When we tell ourselves that we “must do this”, the sentence feels incomplete. Implicit in our obligation is the continuation, “or else”. Or else something terrible will happen.

But if we phrase things differently, perhaps by saying “I’d like to do this, so that these good things happen”, we can avoid the use of a negative motivator, fueled by fear, anxiety, and even counter-productive guilt over our procrastination that only serves to reinforce our unwillingness to deal with the task ahead.

Perhaps by re-framing our obligations into desires (providing we genuinely want to do them or reap the benefits thereof), we can change our primary motivator from the negative mindset that “bad things will happen if I do not do this”, to a positive mindset of “good things will happen if I do this!”.

Remember that our mind thinks through the language we use.


p.s. I don’t know if this will help you deal with procrastination (your own or that of others), but I hope it does. Create an actual disaster scale of your own. Fill it in with 5% or 10% intervals, and when you find yourself obsessing over the great importance of some future event, consider where you’re placing that event on your disaster scale right now, and where it really deserves to be. I’ll be attempting to implement this insight in my own life, and I hope to benefit from it 🙂 If this helps anyone, please tell me in the comments!

2 thoughts on “The Language of Obligation – were we Programmed to Procrastinate?”

  1. Was in some disbelief when I realised this blog is but one person (i’m not mistaken am I? :P). Its quite incredible to see the collective thoughts and philosophies of one man expressed like this- the writing and articles here are just as insightful as any professional organisation’s website would be. I mean, you clearly have a talent for explaining things with brilliant clarity, and I think few people could manage to conglomerate such vast amounts of knowledge so beautifully in such a wide range of different interesting topics. Well done sir!

    1. Thanks! That’s very kind of you. You’re right, I am the sole writer here, but I can’t really take credit for most of the ideas, since I will often get them from a combination of books, videos, and discussions. But I do try to lay them out in as clear a way as I can manage, so I’m glad to hear that’s working as intended 🙂

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