Ditherer. That’s the not-so-kind name given by many people to Gordon Brown. Remember a couple of years back? First he was going to have an election; then he wasn’t. If only, say his followers; after all Labour was riding very high in the polls at the time and he’d have another three years yet before he needed to go to the country. Thanks to his alleged dithering, Gordon Brown was forced to go to an election at the last possible moment – and look where he is in the polls now, right down at the bottom. Oh dear.

So who is the ditherer here?

So who is the ditherer here?  Picture courtesy: Exceutive Office of the President of the United States

When the history books are written, one of the judgements is bound to be that the downfall of Gordon Brown lay in his tendency to procrastinate. He seems to want just one more bit of information, just one more set of data and just a little more thinking time before he makes up his mind. He wants to be sure. The problem with procrastination is that it means you don’t get as much done as you would like – and then when you have to do it, you rush things – witness the Digital Economy Bill.

All of us procrastinate; we put things off because we aren’t motivated to do them, we don’t like doing them, we can’t see the point. Or we delay things because we lack the knowledge or understanding to complete them properly, or we are tired. In fact, there are dozens of reasons why we procrastinate. In the online world I meet several people each week who tell me “I keep meaning to start a blog”. I know one person who has been “intending to start” their blog for the past three years…! And the chances are you know many people too who are “going to” start a blog, revamp their website, use Twitter, set up a Facebook page or any other beneficial online activity. But do they do it? Do they heck. They put it off, again and again and again.

It’s not as though blogging is difficult. If you can type, you can blog. Indeed, you don’t even have to be able to type – you can speak and record an audio blog and get that automatically transcribed into text using software. Not only that, blogging is cost-free, mostly. True there are some time costs and a potential hit on productivity, but there is no real cash expenditure for blogging. So it’s not price that puts people off either. What on earth is going on? Blogging is easy – and free…! What’s to stop you?

According to new research it may simply be the fact that you know you procrastinate. According to Canadian psychologists, merely knowing you procrastinate appears to be enough to make you repeat the negative behaviours that lead to procrastination. The study looked at students and how they repeatedly delay revision for impending exams. When they procrastinated for one exam, they also delayed revision for a subsequent exam. But – here’s the crucial bit – the students who accepted their first bout or procrastination and then forgave themselves for doing it were less likely to delay revision for a second exam AND performed better in that exam.

The researchers were able to show that self-forgiveness improves “affect” – or mood. It seems that if you procrastinate but do not forgive yourself for your transgression, you continue to put things off in the future. However, if you avoid doing something but then forgive yourself you significantly alter your mood, your outlook on life. That makes it much less likely you will procrastinate in the future – and it looks like you will perform those tasks better anyway.

So, if you have been putting off writing your blog – or even starting one in the first place – you are likely to continue to procrastinate unless you say sorry to yourself. Once you do that, the chances are you will start blogging and you will be better at it. The more people repeat the mantra “I am going to start Tweeting one day” or “I will start my blog soon, honest” the more they are making it likely they will not. That’s because the constant negative reaffirmation depresses psychological affect, reducing the chances of performing the task in the first place.

When someone asks you if you have started with Twitter or whether your blog has taken off yet, rather than give a “one day soon” kind of answer, simply forgive yourself for the existing delays. That will make it much more likely you will conduct the necessary tasks – simply because you will have improved your mood by doing so.

Which all means that perhaps Gordon Brown’s difficulty is because he can’t forgive himself for his mistakes – but the neither can much of the country.


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