Musting: How To Put Off Procrastinating


Obligation can bring a sense of resentment

If you’ve ever promised to fulfill a task you didn’t want to do, you’ll understand the resentment that can consume rational thought. Yet, given a ‘free’ choice, you’d opt for other ways to spend your precious time! You probably agreed because of a sense of obligation; you’ve given your word, and that stands for something. But you’re procrastinating…

Your word is important

The words you choose when you think about a task can produce that same resentful feeling — again causing you to procrastinate.

Specific words have the power to compel you

They’re such universal, simple, almost insignificant words, it’s easy to overlook their dominance.

The words are; should, ought, got to, have to, must, need to, etc. The words are called Modal Operators.

These words imply that there’s some outside requirement or compulsion to do certain things or behave in particular ways. For example:
“You ought to visit your grandmother in hospital.”
“You should do it this way.”
“You need to clean out your room.”

The words limit your perception of choice

When you read those sentences, it’s easy to see that there’s no proper choice; the speaker is more-or-less demanding that these tasks be done. Of course, most of us don’t like being told what to do. So when, as an adult, you hear those words, it’s likely that you’ll dig in your heels and refuse to cooperate! You might refuse, or you may just choose to ignore the request. After all, it’s your life, you’re an adult, and no one can order you around!

So you procrastinate

You’ll get around to it…sometime… maybe. The more the other person insists you should do the task, the more belligerent you become.

But what about your own goals and tasks?

No doubt you have some form of the to-do list. If you’re procrastinating, I’d suggest you examine what language you’re using to motivate yourself.

Although you might not be aware of it, you’ll most likely react to your own words in the same way you react to someone else’s words. To illustrate this, let’s imagine that your self-talk goes something like this;

“I really should clean the car, it hasn’t been cleaned for weeks. The lounge windows need cleaning as well, after all those storms. And I’ve got to get that report finished by tomorrow evening. I ought to take all that old clothing to the charity shop. Then there’s Jim, I must get around to asking Jim about the trip.”

The words increase stress levels

increasing stress, rolling bolder up hill

My guess is that by this stage you’ll begin feeling a little overwhelmed by the things you’ve ‘got’ to do. And my second guess is that you won’t do any of them! Why? Because you’ll do the same as if someone else told you to do those things.

You’ll resist.

You’ll feel resentful.

You’ll procrastinate.

In fact, a friend of mine calls this process ‘musturbation’ and another calls it ‘shoulding on yourself’!

Test this out

Read the paragraph above in italics, starting, “I really should clean the car; it hasn’t been cleaned in weeks,” but replace ‘I’ with ‘you’. So, “You really should clean the car, it hasn’t been cleaned for weeks. Etc.” Imagine someone was telling you to do those tasks and think about what your reaction might be.

Interesting, isn’t it?

In my experience, most folk would fight against those demands if others made them.

And here’s the intrigue of language

It doesn’t matter whether others say those words to you, or whether you say them to yourself, the result is the same.


And of course, resistance leads to more procrastinating.

So what can you do?

If you want to feel more motivated about getting things done, it can be as simple as changing the words you use. Try replacing must, ought, got to, need to, etc with words such as; might, may, could, able to, want to, like to, love to.

So that earlier paragraph would now read, “I really would like to clean the car, it hasn’t been cleaned for weeks. I want to clean the windows in the lounge too, after all those storms. And I’d like to get that report finished by tomorrow evening. I might take all that old clothing to the charity shop. Then there’s Jim, I could go round and ask Jim about the trip.”

Notice how this feels different. Do you notice there’s less aversion and more receptivity?

Less procrastinating = more motivation

When you’re not resisting, fighting, and putting obstacles in your way, you restore choice and freedom. With choice, you can make a rational decision. With freedom, you can also decide not to do something — or to do nothing. At least you’ll be doing it deliberately, and not just reacting to your own restricted thinking. You never know, you might even feel inspired enough to get some of those tasks ticked off your list — and, paradoxically, put off procrastinating.

Listen to this audio for a practical experience of the power of these words

See if you can increase your motivation by changing a few keywords when you talk to yourself. There’s also a true story of how a client changed her entire perception, just by modifying her words.


Comment below on how this works for you!

If you experienced different reactions to the ones described, that’s absolutely fine. Cultural and familial backgrounds can make a difference. In either case, I hope it brings another awareness of the power of language. Find out more concerning the impact of language:

Negative Self-Talk: How To Stop It, And Start Feeling Better

How Words Affect Your Health.

The Calm Spot

Tags: Change, Goals, Language, Motivation and taking action, Self-talk


  1. Find Out More

    Hello.This post was extremely interesting, particularly because I was looking for thoughts on this topic last Thursday.

    • Stephanie

      I’m so glad you found it interesting — and hopefully useful as well. ????


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