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neuroscience

How to Increase Your Willpower AND Overcome Procrastination

Author: NeuroGym Team | 2017

Here’s some good news: you can master the skills to overcome procrastination.

Everyone procrastinates, but you don’t have to let it define who you are. The latest in neuroscience research offers insight on how to activate the motivation part of your brain, increase your willpower, and change your life.

If you take too long in deciding what to do with your life, you’ll find you’ve done it.

George Bernard Shaw

It’s tempting to chalk up your procrastination to a lack of willpower. The topic of how to overcome willpower depletion is a popular one, but the answer doesn't really explain why we procrastinate.

Willpower is finite when you’re struggling to power through a task, not truly invested in the outcome. Willpower proves sustainable, however, when you have goals that align with your values.

Author and behavioral designer Nir Eyal likens willpower to emotion: “Just as we don’t ‘run out’ of joy or anger, willpower ebbs and flows based on what’s happening to us and how we feel.” In other words, you experience limited willpower when you fixate on an end goal.

But if you find yourself invested in the process of a project, goal, or significant change you want to make, your willpower stays strong. So how can you fall in love with the process, and stop obsessing over results?

family values.jpeg

You’ve got to find your self-motivation, or as brain researcher and success coach, John Assaraf says, become aware of your big WHY.

If there’s a burning desire and big WHY behind making a change, breaking a habit, or reaching your goals . . . your willpower won't diminish.

And a huge part of recovering your self-motivation is addressing the neurological roots of low self-esteem and self-worth, which is the number one reason for procrastination.

Check out psychologist Elizabeth Lombardo's productivity techniques on how to stay focused. Dr. Lombardo offers tactics that align with any strategy you create to strengthen your willpower (i.e., focusing on the “why” of the goal in front of you and optimizing your environment).

When learning how to overcome procrastinationyou have to understand the neurological reason behind your behavior. It's not because you're lazy or incapable of acting. It’s because you’re avoiding pain. When the amygdala—your brain’s center for fear—picks up on stress, you experience it as a painful experience.

To avoid this physical and emotional pain, you do everything you can to minimize risk. Basically, you procrastinate because you’re scared.

What false fears spring to mind when you ask yourself, “How can I achieve my goals?”

The above question is fundamental but not one that lends itself to easy answers.

The world-renowned leadership expert, Robin Sharma, explains that a big part of achieving your dreams is knowing that the non-conscious mind runs 95 percent of your life. It's no wonder overcoming the fear that drives procrastination is so difficult—you’re probably not even conscious of what terrifies you the most.

Fear of rejection and fear of failure are big culprits when it comes to procrastinating behavior. fear of public speakingwhich stems from a fear of rejection or ridicule, is another biggie—one that’s not only emotionally paralyzing but can have consequences in your professional life.

fear of failure

Fear acts on the motivation part of your brain before anything else. So it makes sense to start with evidence-based techniques to help you learn how to reprogram your brain for success. Take the time to examine your fears and explore how to stay motivated on a daily basis. Take time to meditate during the day, every day, to help you clarify your core values and naturally reduce stress.

And when you find yourself slipping into old habits, know that eliminating anxiety will also help you overcome procrastination and, ultimately, help you get more done in less time.

Once you’ve decided what you want, you have to create an environment that helps you visualize and achieve your goals. The space that surrounds you often encourages procrastination more than a lack of willpower does.

Productivity blogger Benjamin P. Hardy points out how inner conflict hampers your ability to build an environment conducive to growth and change:

Commitment means you build external defense systems around your goals. Your internal resolve, naked to an undefended and opposing environment, is not commitment.

The neuroscience of goal achievement elucidates why it’s so difficult for most people to make a commitment to upgrade their conditions. Indecision and a lack of public commitment dilute your resolve, which can drag down your self-worth and feed your procrastination habit. If you want to increase your productivity, you need to cultivate the proper conditions by changing your current routine and environment.

This may mean setting up a home office, asking for flex time at work so you have more time to exercise, or removing yourself from an unhealthy relationship. It can mean many things.

Decide what matters to you and create the conditions you'll need to succeed.

Desire is the brain's strategy for action. And according to award-winning psychology professor at Stanford University, Kelly McGonigal, desire can be both a threat to self-control and a source of willpower.

In her book, The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It, Dr. McGonigal points out that when dopamine (the feel-good neurotransmitter) leads us to temptation, we must distinguish wanting from happiness if we want to maintain self-control and, ultimately, success.

(EDITOR'S NOTE: For more on the concept of how desire for pleasure motivates behavior, here's a quick refresher of the pleasure principle Freud discussed ad nauseam). 

But we can also recruit dopamine and the promise of reward to motivate ourselves. So what gets your dopamine neurons firing? What unleashes the promise of reward that compels you to seek satisfaction? What's your big WHY? 

What’s next?

Learn how to train your brain for success and support yourself even more on the path to sustainable willpower and attend the colossal, annual event hosted by John Assaraf and his ALL-STAR lineup of BRAIN EXPERTS.

They'll teach you how to get past negative thoughts, habits, and mental blocks that keep riding the roller coaster of life and show you how to upgrade your brain, upgrade your income . . . improve your lifestyle, and secure success for your future. 

SIGN-UP to Watch the 6th ANNUAL BRAIN-A-THON 

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About The Author

NeuroGym Team

NeuroGym Team: NeuroGym’s Team of experts consists of neuroscientists, researchers, and staff who are enthusiasts in their fields. The team is committed to making a difference in the lives of others by sharing the latest scientific findings to help you change your life by understanding and using the mindset, skill set and action set to change your brain.

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