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Procrastination, Productivity

Procrastination Is a Coping Mechanism: How to Hack the Avoidance Loop

Written by Leon Ho
Founder & CEO of Lifehack
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If you have so many things to do that you often find yourself struggling to finish projects and tasks and move on to other stuff, you’re certainly not alone. Studies show that over 20 percent of the adult population put off or avoid doing certain tasks by allowing themselves to be overtaken by distractions.[1]

So what is procrastination? And what can you do to prevent procrastination?

In this article, I am going to explain to you why procrastination is so difficult to beat and how you can stop procrastinating and manage time better by following a step-by-step guide. But first, you need to understand how procrastination happens.

Procrastination Is a Coping Mechanism

Human beings have limited self-control. Dr. Roy Baumeister, a psychologist from Florida State University, has been studying self-control and he has found that just like any muscles, human’s self-control is a limited resource that can quickly become exhausted.[2] When self-control is close to being depleted, human tend to choose what’s more pleasurable– the immediate procrastinated tasks instead of the actual works.

We procrastinate when our self-control and drive are hindered by factors like fatigue and incentives that are far in the future.

Although it may appear to be a character flaw, procrastination is an attempt to cope with difficult emotions and negative moods brought by specific jobs such as boredom, worry, insecurities, and feelings of self-doubt.

Rather than being the result of bad time management or laziness, as is commonly believed, procrastination is the result of unpleasant emotions hijacking your mood to avoid the subject.


Most procrastination behaviors can be a result of the avoidance loop. You are giving undesired thoughts, feelings, and sensations power over you when you try to control or avoid them, creating an avoidance cycle and pedaling it with our actions regularly.

The Avoidance Loop

An avoidance loop is a thought pattern that triggers when you decide to take action to reach your goals that you have been procrastinating on. However, this thought pattern causes you to divert your action toward something else, which we commonly refer to as a distraction. This happens almost every time you try to do something to achieve your goals. Many are not even aware that the avoidance loop exists in their mindset as they procrastinate.

Your subconscious mind has established an underlying notion regarding something and the circumstances under which it is “safe” or not to act. There is always some kind of explanation for why you can’t. Whether it makes sense or not doesn’t matter; your mind accepts it. You never even consider challenging this conviction.

Some examples are “I need to organize my office in a completely silent setting first,” or “I need to have the proper gym equipment before I can properly begin my exercise program.”

The good new is, once you identify the default thought pattern, you should be able to get rid of the “avoidance loop” and stop procrastinating.


How to Break the Cycle of Procrastination

Despite the fact that it’s human nature to seek for immediate rewards and procrastinate, here I have a step-by-step guide for you to follow so as to break the procrastination cycle.

1. Break the Avoidance Loop

Identify the avoidance loop and then turn it into an opportunity. Here are the steps that will help you identify the avoidance loop:

Step 1: Identify the Steps to Take to Reach Your Goal

Start by focusing on a goal you’ve set for yourself. What are the first three steps you should take?

For instance, learning Spanish can be one of your goals. Your first three moves might be:

  1. Engage a Spanish teacher
  2. Schedule time for classes or lessons.
  3. Learn how to exercise and enhance your fluency.

Step 2: Find Out What Keeps You From Taking Actions

An avoidance loop has undoubtedly kept you from acting if you haven’t done so already.

What’s keeping you from taking each of these actions right now? Write it out:

“I have to ________ before I can _________.”

“If it helps, you may also try saying, “I can’t ________ till.”

For instance, “I can’t hire a Spanish instructor until I have enough information,” “I can’t hire a Spanish instructor until I find someone I trust,” or “I can’t hire a Spanish instructor until I have enough references to select from” are all excuses for not hiring a Spanish instructor.

If you find that you have a lot of excuses, don’t worry! In fact, it’s best to learn as much as you can. You want to collect them all because there will always be one more avoidance loop in the way that keeps you from moving forward.

Step 3: Turn the Avoidance Loop into an Opportunity Statement

We’re going to convert each avoidance loop into an opportunity statement using a straightforward technique. All you have to do is rephrase it as:

“All I need is ________, and I can start _________.” 

For example, “Until I have a sufficient number of recommendations to pick from, I can’t hire a Spanish instructor.” can be turned into “All I need to do is discover five individuals with good recommendations, and I can start getting in touch.”


An opportunity statement’s strength lies in the fact that it demonstrates how to take the first step. You don’t need to know the entire answer.

All you have to do is get going. Then you’ll be aware of how to carry on. Usually, the first barrier proves to be nothing more than a huge delusion.

2. Find the Source of Your Motivation

To beat procrastination once and for all, it’s best to find out your true motives for what you want to do.

Motivation is the urge to complete a marathon, do well at work, and get in shape etc. Without motivation, you wouldn’t have the desire to strive for excellence. Before you can begin striving to enhance the finer areas of your life, your primary motivations must first be satisfied.

For example, to exercise and get fit, you must be motivated. You must be driven by a cause that is bigger than yourself. It’s likely more than just to be healthier; rather, the true intention maybe about being a better parent so you have sufficient energy to spend quality time with your kids after a busy day of work.


Discovering the real source of your motivation can help you stop procrastinating and overcome the obstacles along the way towards reaching your goal.

If you want to learn how to find the source of your motivation, check out What Is Motivation And How To Get Motivated (Your Ultimate Guide).

3. Form a Ritual

By forming a ritual, you save yourself time from thinking about what to do next. When you don’t need to think about what to do next, you can go autopilot to actually get what you have to do done because you have no time to think about what other things to do besides completing your important tasks.

Here’s how to form a ritual and beat procrastination: The Power of Ritual: Conquer Procrastination, Time Wasters and Laziness

The Bottom Line

Procrastination exists for many reasons and only you know for yourself what these triggers are.

Understanding what procrastination really is and the source of your avoidance tendencies is important in moving them out of the way and help you start the productivity momentum.

Make procrastination under your control!


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