Are you putting off challenging tasks and action steps in order to do comfortable, pleasurable activities that won’t threaten your ego?
If so, it may be time to check your level of procrastination . . . just to see if this type of behavior is an issue for you. Maybe you’re reading this article because you’re procrastinating right now? Let’s find out.
It’s the end of January; one friend has already dropped two dress sizes . . . and another friend has already created a new business strategy. How’s this possible? Like them, you set a few goals and resolutions for the new year . . . but nothing has changed. It’s the same ol’ same old. So what gives?
Well, it’s likely that you haven’t taken any action steps toward accomplishing your goals. Am I right? Remember the saying by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, “A goal without a plan is just a wish.” And the quote from Napoleon Hill, “A goal is a dream with a deadline.” So why do you keep finding other, less critical things to do?
The word procrastination conjures up different images for each of us. If you’re fortunate enough not to be severely afflicted, you may see yourself cozy by the fireplace with a nice cup of tea instead of outside shoveling snow from the driveway . . . but for those of us who have a procrastination problem, it's a different scene. Our to-do lists, ideas, goals, and dreams are piling up to the point of despair. It’s emotionally overwhelming, to say the least.
One explanation of procrastination is offered by Dr. Denis Waitley, the author of The Psychology of Winning, who defines procrastination as “a neurotic form of self-defensive behavior” aimed at protecting one’s self-worth.
In other words, we procrastinate when we fear a threat to our sense of worth and freedom. We only act irrationally when our natural drive for pleasurable activity is threatened or suppressed. “No one does it to feel bad,” says Waitley, “but to temporarily relieve our inner fears.”
And according to psychologist, Jane Burka, procrastination is more than a time management issue or a moral failing . . . it’s a complex psychological issue. And we have new information from the fields of neuroscience and behavioral economics that further contribute to the understanding of procrastination.
Dr. Burka writes, “At its core, problem procrastination is a problem with one’s relationship to oneself, reflecting a shaky sense of self-esteem . . . and self-worth that is rooted in the capacity for acceptance, which includes acceptance of our biology, our history, our circumstances, and our many human limits.” (Procrastination: Why You Do It, What to Do about It Now)
You know you’re procrastinating if . . .
When sitting down to start a high-priority task, you almost immediately set off to brew some coffee; you leave an item on your to-do list for a long time, even though you know it's important; you spend hours waiting to be in the “right mood” or for the “right time” to tackle the challenging task at hand; and you find safe and rewarding things to do instead of what you “should” be doing.
Most people procrastinate to some degree . . . but some people are chronic procrastinators, and it keeps them reaching their full potential.
If you can relate to any of these signs chances are you already know that you have an issue with procrastination, time management, or workaholism. And if you’ve ever been caught in a procrastination cycle, you probably know what it’s cost you and your chance for success.
1. There’s a voice in your head that tells you you’re not good enough. (This is your inner critic.) The chatter in your mind may also insist that you “have to” or “should” do something. And due to all this negative self-talk from the saboteur in your head, your self-esteem and self-worth have suffered . . . allowing you to put the most important things on the back burner.
2. You’re a bit of a perfectionist. You say things like: It has to be perfect. If I do well this time, I must always do well. If it’s not done right, it’s not worth doing at all.
3. You have a fear of something (i.e., failure, success, rejection, and/or the unknown). Irrational fear that leads to self-doubt is so common that it has a name: the Imposter Syndrome. Many entrepreneurs, academics, authors, and artists, at some point in their careers, worry that that on some level they're frauds—that they haven’t truly earned their place at the table. This, of course, is not true.
4. Your relationship with time is complicated. You have a “wishful thinking” approach to it. And you often view time as an opponent whom you keep trying to outwit, outlast, and outplay.
Don’t let these type of behavioral patterns hinder your growth as a happy, healthy, and wealthy human being.
We must think of procrastination as an ingrained behavior that stems from our past experiences and unique neurological wiring. When you understand what you’re feeling and why you’re feeling it, you’re more likely to have healthy self-confidence . . . and the courage to overcome procrastination.
After you become aware of your tendency to prolong tasks, acknowledge that you’re encouraging this limitation. (Do this by observing the thoughts that led you to your unproductive habit of procrastinating.) How do you feel when you’re putting things off for another day? It’s important to look at the behavior forming structure that keeps causing you to procrastinate.
Next, ask yourself these questions: What triggers me to procrastinate? Why am I procrastinating? What am I afraid of? What am I worried will happen if I take immediate action? What am I moving away from? What am I avoiding? Is it pain, rejection, loss, failure, and/or criticism?
When you recognize when and why you procrastinate, you begin to see it as a behavior . . . as something that you do in order to remain secure in the comfort zone.
Before any of us are able to take action outside the comfort zone—which requires an enormous amount of self-confidence and determination for achievement—our brain assesses any potential emotional, mental, physical, spiritual, and/or financial danger.
And if you're insecure because of what may have happened to you in the past or because your knowledge and/or skills are limited, then the brain’s risk response kicks in, which leads to other neural responses. This is all completely normal behavior. So how do we get past it?
Think of your emotional pain (past or present) from the perspective of the brain. The amygdala is what senses and triggers our fear, stress, and pain responses. Housed in your memory are all your frames of reference, experiences, lessons, and perceptions. What you’ve seen in the past still haunts your subconscious mind.
The next step to getting unstuck is to determine the knowledge you need, the skill-set you have to have, and the attitude you must take, if you want to change.
One of the things John Assaraf, NeuroGym coach and author of Having It All, does when he wants to achieve a goal is to focus on specific tools and techniques: “I’ll take the goal and ask myself if I have the knowledge, the skills, and the positive behavior for achievement.”
To overcome procrastination . . . you need to figure out a strategy to minimize the risk of the emotional pain, gain the knowledge you need to move forward, develop the required skills, and cultivate a growth mindset.
When we feel confident and secure, we take action. We don't procrastinate when we feel safe and free of fear, right? So, if you really want to move forward and away from your deep rooted fears, think about what you need to do in order to take action for your success.
If you decide to stay inside your comfort zone, you're simply choosing to only take on the things that give you instant gratification. (This safe choice protects you from being vulnerable and susceptible to rejection and/or failure.) The downside is, you’re blocking yourself from stepping up to the plate to accomplish your goals and fulfill your dreams.
Ready to take action . . . sans procrastination?
We all have enough going on internally to distract us; we don’t need the external distractors, too. Take this as an opportunity to put your to-do list tasks off for another 20 minutes . . . and get organized with a clean work space. As you tidy up your environment, link this comfortable task to a goal you’re putting off for tomorrow. It helps to mentally tie pleasurable tasks to one of your main objectives or values.
Next, write down how eliminating external distractions will benefit you. E.g., Putting my phone in another room, closing my Facebook tab . . . and keeping a clean desk allows me to have clarity of mind, which is something I highly value. By having clarity of mind, I will have less anxiety and be better able to work on my goals and high priority tasks.
By linking the task to the pleasure of being able to think clearly, you now have a solid reason that will motivate you to take action.
Once you have your list of external distractions, eliminate them one by one before you start on something important that needs to get done. And if you need more discipline, there are productivity apps such as Freedom that can help you shut things out.
People don’t just procrastinate to be ornery or because they’re irrational; they procrastinate because it makes sense to them. And in their minds, they’re still being productive in some way—which can be true. Cleaning out the garage and taking out the garbage are important tasks, but if you want to avoid becoming overwhelmed with all the stuff you have left to do today, think about what's most essential.
If there are little tasks you can easily cross off your to-do list, then by all means . . . automate, delegate, or delete the things that aren’t getting you any closer to accomplishing your goals. The objective here is to prioritize.
Each day as you settle down to work on the task at hand . . . focus on getting started, rather than finishing. (And before you show up, have a plan in place.)
The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.
You’ve likely heard this one before, but now it's time to implement the “breaking things down into smaller tasks” technique. To sustain your ideal work/life balance and productivity, take the looming task or goal at the top of your to-do list and create SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Time-bound) subgoals.
By fractionalizing and setting subgoals, you’re better able to maintain clarity and focus on what needs to get done. A SMART subgoal is something significant that needs to happen in order to achieve the big task/goal. In order to get through the SMART subgoal, try breaking it down into chunks of action. Here’s an example:
Write a blog article on the mind-gut connection.
Schedule 2 hours a day for 5 days to gather studies on the connection between the brain and the gastrointestinal tract, create an outline that shows the correlation between mental health and physical health, write about how the mind affects the bacteria found in the lining of the gut (and vice versa), revise, and make final edits.
SMALL CHUNKS OF TIME
Monday: Research the topic, find the best information out there, and take notes (2 hours).
Tuesday: Create an outline (2 hours).
Wednesday: Write the article (2 hours).
Thursday: Revise to bring in sources (2 hours).
Friday: Edit (2 hours).
When you break things down into smaller steps, taking action isn’t so overwhelming.
Don’t beat yourself up about it. Embrace the tasks you need to do as steps toward making changes and accomplishing your dreams. And remind yourself that you don’t need to be in the mood to do something before you can actually do it. The hardest part is getting started, right?
Try the Pomodoro Technique. It works for me. I usually set a timer for 45 minutes . . . and then take 10 or 15 minutes to break before setting the timer again. It's good to get up, move around, stretch your legs, drink some water, check your phone, and do whatever else you need and want to do.
Completing a task is intrinsically rewarding, but plan on regular small extrinsic rewards as well—a walk in the park, a movie with a friend, a relaxing bath. Pat yourself on the back and take time to celebrate your small wins. Enjoy simple pleasures that acknowledge your hard work when the day is done. And celebrating your big goals, once you've achieved them, will keep you motivated to set more big goals to create the life you want.
Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.
Action is the unavoidable prerequisite for our success. The steps you take may be small, but they’re mighty . . . one after another, they’re the only way to reach your goals and dreams.
On a daily basis, review these scientifically proven ways to overcome procrastination. The more you practice strengthening your self-confidence and self-worth, the closer you’ll be to crossing off the items on your to-do list . . . and doing more things on your bucket list.
The best way to overcome procrastination is to become aware of why, when, and how you procrastinate, then create a personal paradigm shift, and implement organized action steps toward your big goals and dreams.
You can do all of this with the dedication to retraining your brain for success. For more insight on how to reach your full potential, register for a free training that will help you overcome procrastination. You'll learn scientifically proven methods on how to use with your conscious and subconscious as fuel for your success.
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Denise Angelle Kinsley is a writer, consultant, and practitioner dedicated to the healing arts and sciences.