Ever had one of those moments where you know that you need to do something, you intend to do it but then you don’t do it? Not just once but perhaps for days or even weeks at a time? The longer you leave it, the more stressed and disappointed in yourself you become, the more impossible the task seems and even worse, the intensity of your resistance increases with the urgency of the task until you hit a crisis point.
Why? Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we procrastinate? Simply put, we procrastinate because somewhere deep inside our brain (and by this I mean the thinking mind, not the physical organ) lies a belief that doing this thing is a dangerous idea that could cause us discomfort in some way and so it tries to protect us through procrastination. There’s a fear in there that you will be faced with something that you can’t handle, be it an event or an emotion. Perhaps you have a concern about what people might think of you, or are worried about a change in circumstances. Procrastination is your brain’s best answer.
Procrastination works on a number of levels, from becoming absorbed in external distractions like social media, TV, other tasks and other people’s demands on your time, to the internal distractions of thoughts and worries, emotions and memories, to what I consider the brain’s last line of defence: physical manifestation of internal conflict. Ever thought of an impending task and felt sick with nerves, developed a headache from stress or felt a sudden need to take a nap? That’s your brain trying to protect you from associating with what is stressing you.
How do you overcome procrastination? As procrastination is an attempt to save you from a bad outcome, I like to provide my brain with the contrary perspective of a positive outcome. “Sure, you could avoid doing it and continue to feel annoyed with yourself and feel like a failure just so you don’t have to do the scary thing, or you COULD do it, feel like a winner, feel the release of all this stress and enjoy your day!” Sometimes you need to manage your mind and I do this by giving my brain choice.
There are four potential choices:
- Continue procrastinating, don’t do the thing and worry about not doing it (stress choice)
- Continue procrastinating, don’t do the thing, don’t worry about it (consequences choice)
- Stop procrastinating, do the thing, grind through the resistance (push choice)
- Stop procrastinating, do the thing, focus on the benefits (pull choice)
Out of the four choices, I prefer the pull choice. It feels less painful emotionally in the short term and avoids the unpleasant consequences of not doing the thing.
Ironically, by procrastinating and trying to avoid the stress we create more stress. On top of that you risk losing confidence and trust in yourself to deliver on your promises, especially if you have a history of not doing what you set out to do. Even worse, you might be teaching others not to trust you.
Thank your brain for its concern, show it another perspective and encourage it to hook onto the benefits, not the risks. That’s how I deal with my procrastination. Hope it helps!