Everyone experiences procrastination—both the enticement it initially offers and then the frustration and regret it delivers afterwards. Despite the accusations and negative connotation, procrastination is NOT a character flaw! Rather procrastination is a strategic response to a negative thought the brain generates either consciously or unconsciously.
When you attempt something new, your energy-conserving, efficient brain generates resistance in some form. Thoughts such as these flood your mind:
- I can’t do this.
- It will never be good enough.
- What the point?
- I’ve already tried and it won’t work.
- I’ve never been any good at things like this.
These negative thoughts immediately (1) produce pain sensations that (2) alert the survival-focused aspect of the brain (3) to AVOID pain and SEEK pleasure.
All approaches to combating procrastination must contend with the reality that procrastination is serving as a survival strategy, protecting you from perceived danger.
Yet take a closer look! Notice that the perceived dangers are fears! They are fears of failing, making mistakes, falling short, revealing inadequacies, embarrassment, public humiliation, etc. These fears are not life threatening; but ironically, procrastination often insures your worst fears are realized.
- Identify the negative thoughts that trigger the pain sensation in your brain that leads to pain-avoiding and pleasure-seeking activities (procrastination). This can be challenging because many of these thoughts are unconscious. Yet this reality only highlights the importance of increasing your awareness of your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
- Recognize your pain-avoiding and pleasure-seeking activities. This can be tricky because some procrastination activities are essential, helpful, and wholesome, BUT they can serve as pain-avoiding and pleasure-creating activities helping you escape the fears associated with your most challenging work (writing, designing, creating). Have you noticed how the seemingly urgent, ultimately necessary, and wholesome activities attempt to consume the time you intended for your most challenging work by bargaining with you and pleading to be done first?
Exercises to help you meet this challenge:
1. List the feelings you associate with doing your most challenging work (writing, designing, creating). Since feelings result from thoughts, what thoughts do you notice are behind these feelings?
2. List some of your common “Bad/Wasteful” pain-avoiding and pleasure-seeking (procrastination) activities. You likely don’t need any help coming up with these.
3. List some of your common “Good/Busyness” pain-avoiding and pleasure-seeking (procrastination) activities. E.g. Responding quickly to email and/or texts. Perfecting your strength. Meeting a request from someone else.
These exercises can heighten your awareness of the thoughts and feelings that trigger your particular procrastination habits.
- Awareness increases your understanding of your habits, which increases the probability that you will take ACTION!
- Awareness is a catalyst for ACTION! But as Neil Fiore explains beautifully in The Now Habit, without ACTION behaviors don’t change. Without behavior changes, challenging, meaningful goals remain unmet.
- Combatting procrastination habits and making progress on your most challenging work, which make your most meaningful goals possible, requires ACTION!
For more thorough exploration of procrastination Download “18 ESSENTIAL Beliefs and Strategies for Combating Procrastination.”
Choose a few strategies from this tool then PRACTICE THEM!!! After all, since procrastination is a strategic response you need to up your strategic game.
Strategies and awareness—awesome! But ultimately members of the supporting cast for the only real star ACTION!