We all do it from time to time… delay or postpone action; put off doing something. But did you know that when we do this a lot, it can become habitual? And once stuck in the habit, we literally rob ourselves of physical energy to sustain the mental habit of avoiding or worse maintaining a block in our pathway. When we do this, we prevent ourselves from remaining connected with self, and at worst, we prevent ourselves from reaching that goal of living our dream life.
There’s lots of evidence that those who habitually procrastinate and avoid the hard stuff in life, statistically will have higher rates of stress, more illness, lower study grades and even a sense of lack of partnership. Procrastination is linked therefore with a variety of fears such as:
- Fear of failure;
- Fear of success;
- Fear of trying;
- Fear of not being perfect;
- Fear of being out of control;
- Fear of needing control, to name a few!
We literally create subliminal thoughts, then actions to avoid feeling like we fail, and therefore never DO! Sounds crazy doesn’t it? But when we are sitting quietly and our logic is working, fear isn’t turned on. When the fear trigger has been pushed, our logic jumps out the window and rides a unicorn down the street!
But why do we procrastinate? We’re living in a society that wants all the ‘feel goods’ immediately, rather than being disciplined enough to work hard for the solution or reward.
By bypassing the hard work, we avoid the process of getting in and doing the work and therefore literally change the wiring of our brain. It’s like we short circuit ourselves.
Joseph Ferrari, a professor of psychology and one of the leading experts in procrastination research, points out, “Everyone procrastinates, but not everyone is a procrastinator.”
Here’s my Eight Top Tips For Smashing Procrastination
1. Start the Day Right
If you’re chasing sunrises or the latest hot gossip first thing in the morning, you’re avoiding doing SOMETHING. Start a new habit of being productive in one small thing. Then continue this one thing, until it becomes part of your daily practice. Then add some more. The scientific research shows that once you’ve got your groove going you won’t want to stop – it’s called the Zeigarnik Effect (once you get started on something, you are more likely to want to complete it because you can’t stop thinking about it.)
2. Break the Task Down
In my clinical practice, I find myself often asking a client to break down the big life goal they have into bite size actions. Why? Because you can eat an elephant – one bite at a time. It’s far easier to achieve a small action and repeat it, rather than trying to attempt a bigger task and fail.
I’m always encouraging clients to start with getting the basic actions done easily, then building upon the new habit of including larger tasks into the mix. For example, those coming to me for weight loss journey, we commence with simply drinking water each day. Then once that is comfortable and easily achieved we look at the actual food being consumed.
If we commence with too large a task and don’t succeed we have the opportunity to create or reinforce fear of failure – which creates a negative mental habit which causes subliminal sabotage any time you have another attempt at a new diet on Monday, by the Friday you’re back into the old game of chocolate biscuits!
3. Tick Off Your Most Hated Item
Weird right? But there is science in tackling the biggest task which you have been avoiding. Identifying all of the aspects which you’ve been avoiding and then tackling the worst bit will infuse positive juju into your willpower.
When we set our intention to achieve something, we feel courageous and believe in our abilities, are motivated to achieve, are willing to change, it is said we are of spirit. However, if the emotional or mental energy isn’t available to be willing (because we’re running a procrastination habit), then our willpower becomes diminished.
Do you see now how subtle the influence to willpower can be just from a subliminal fear of failure?
4. Always Have A Deadline
Always have a time frame to work towards ticking off those first couple of small actions. This will support your motivation to keep striving for achieving that goal. Ensure that the goals are SMART.
5. Change of Scenery
When you alter the space in which you work, you’ll be surprised how distractions disappear. I can remember when I first started utilising the Pomodoro Technique,
- working in very specific time intervals;
- only working on one thing at a time; and
- turning off distractions like email or answering the phone.
My productivity increased by 250%! It was incredible. I had to be disciplined, but once I got the hang on implementing this approach, I got everything on my list done quicker than ever before.
I have several clients who are working parents, and for them, studying at home is a trap. There is always housework, washing, meals or something to be done. So they take their children to childcare for finite periods of time, and take themselves to the library. This way they know they only have so many hours and must get tasks done.
I have corporate clients who take their earbuds and laptop to a local wifi café, order a cuppa and get a solid hour worth of work done, return to the office to then deal with phone calls and staff.
6. Make Yourself Accountable
Write your goals down and share it with your partner, a friend, the fridge even – so that everyone visiting you can see what you are gunning for. A good coach can set up electronic reminders for you to check in and report on progress!
7. Just Do It Already
Sometimes our fear of taking the actual action overrides all logic and prevents us from starting. So what if you don’t get it completely right the first time. You’re not a superhero. You’re human and having learning experiences along the way. Did you walk before you crawled? Once you’ve got momentum, it gets easier.
8. Reward or Punishment
I had a client who hung her dream outfit outside her cupboard door for two years. But every time she looked at it, reminded her of how much weight she had to lose, and she instantly became overwhelmed. Therefore she had no capacity to utilise her logic and be grateful for her starting point.
Sometimes we need to rethink what motivates us. Do you really need a chocolate treat when you’re trying to lose weight? Could congratulating yourself on taking a walk outside or sitting reading a book give you the same fix over a period of time? Find what motivates you, rather than self sabotages you and use this as your incentive.
Campbell-Avenell, Zahra (undated) “The 8 Science-Backed Secrets To Stop Procrastinating, Once And For All”
Loder, Vanessa (2016, April) “10 Scientifically Proven Tips For Beating Procrastination”