Everyone procrastinates, whether it’s with school assignments, job tasks, family chores, work products, going on a diet, starting an exercise routine… the list goes on. But have you ever stopped for a moment to wonder, “What is procrastination?”

For me, procrastination is a fancy word for doing something other than what you should be doing.

Here’s a common scenario:

It’s Tuesday and you have your pre-calculus final on Friday. Maybe you’ve poked around with a little bit of studying, but you know that this is “crunch time” and you need to seriously hit the books. “But,” you ask yourself, “what about that YouTube of Ed Sheeran’s Wembley concert?” And then you tell yourself, “I’ll start studying right after I watch it!” But when the video is over you’re either too amped up or too exhausted to review the critical chapter, so you say, “I’ll definitely do it tomorrow.” So then Wednesday arrives, which turns into Thursday and then you know you have to buckle down. Now you’re really stressed out because the final is tomorrow.

You’re probably saying, “Yup. That’s me. I procrastinate!” But rather than use that word, you’d get much more value by telling the truth: “I watched the YouTube video instead of cracking the books.”

What you do with your time and energies is really up to you. Realize, you are always making choices. What you call “procrastination” is really you making a choice to do something other than what you know you should be doing.

Why don’t you do what you’re supposed to be doing? Here’s what I think:

  1. Watching a concert is much more fun than pre-calculus (this is sometimes known as the “bright, shiny objects” phenomenon).
  2. You feel overwhelmed by what it takes to do what you need to be doing. (“This precalc stuff is so hard.”)
  3. You have a problem with authority.

A pathway to making the better choices and avoid procrastinating:

First, accept that not everything in your life is fun and engaging. Note, I’m not saying, make pre-calculus enticing. It’s not (though successful problem solving can be very satisfying). Next, when you feel overwhelmed you are looking at the task-at-hand in a very global matter. It’s like staring at the peak of Mt. Everest from base camp and thinking, “Way too high!” You simply need to break tasks down into small manageable steps. Master each step and you’ll get to the destination. Skipping steps or rushing through them will only raise your anxiety level.

Your “problem with authority” is really the kicker. All through school, and often at home, you are (or were) told what to do, and you (usually) dutifully followed through, whether you liked it or not. But inside your head you were annoyed and seething, “I don’t want to do this!” So you developed a negative relationship with authority. The difficulty with this arises you are confronted with your own inner authority, that part of you that knows what you need to do and when you need to do it. Instead of following through, you arrogantly flip it the bird and say, “No, I don’t want to do that…now…or ever.” This is a problem because you are rebelling against yourself. And who comes out losing? You do.

So, how do you stop calling yourself a “procrastinator”?

First, stop using that word. It’s fake, made up, not really accurate to what’s going on, to what you are doing — or more precisely, what you are not doing. Tell the truth: I’m choosing to do something other than what I know I should be doing. Next, recognize there are negative consequences to your choices: lower grades, disappointed teacher, parents or friends, a rising level of stress and frustration. In other words, If you watch that video instead of studying you’re going feel stressed out while taking the test, and your grade won’t reflect your true potential and ability.

Once you become aware of what you are—and are not—doing, you can make the right choice. The one that reduces stress. The one that leads to a feeling of satisfaction and fulfillment. The choice that leads you to reaching your potential.

You are always in a process of growth, no matter how old you are. Make the choices that foster your growth rather than stunt or delay it. A tulip in the garden doesn’t wake up one morning and go, Eeuuuu, I don’t feel like growing today. It just does what it’s supposed to do. It keeps growing.

So can you.