The irony that this blog post on procrastination has sitting in my “ideas” file for months, just waiting for me to put the final touches on it is not lost on me. Other, more pressing topics have caused the procrastination article to take a back seat in 2020.
Why is Procrastination so tempting?
Procrastination is powerful because it’s IMMEDIATELY rewarding. Think about it: You slowly wake up in your comfy bed Saturday morning. You don’t want to get up to go to the gym or do your list of chores. You think about the pain and discomfort that your previously created plan will impose. Maybe you believe what you ate last night is going to make this morning much more difficult. You think about all of the demands on your day and your time. This rush of negative feelings actually triggers the brain to encourage you to avoid the hard task in front of you. The brain means well. But biologically speaking, it is defaulting to the path of least resistance.
When you relent, (even if you know that following your morning’s plan is better for you in the long run) a rush of relief runs through your system. PROCRASTINATION feels GOOD in the moment! It’s only later, that the feelings of regret, guilt, and reality sets in.
Putting Procrastination In Its Place
The best way to fight procrastination is to decrease the stress associated with your goals and increase the pleasure. Use these strategies to break through those roadblocks and hit your goals.
Find The Path Of Least Resistance
As I’ve noted, our brain loves the path of least resistance. The more roadblocks you can remove between yourself and the action you want to take, the more likely you are to complete them. Meal prepping, for example, is a great way to ensure you will follow your healthy lunch goals. Laying out your gym or work clothes the night before will eliminate a small, but significant mental obstacle. Consider writing down your plan on a notecard in 15-minute increments, beginning with the moment you wake up. This can have the effect of “greasing the wheels” of motivation.
Shift Your Focus Past The Pain Point
When we focus on less desirable aspects of activities we’re not excited about, it reduces motivation. Instead, shift your thinking to after the event rather than the unpleasant parts of the event you may be avoiding. If the goal is to get up and go to the gym, don’t focus on how exhausting that CrossFit workout is going to be. Instead focus on how great you’ll feel when you finish that final set of double-unders. Or if the goal is to get the groceries, rather than focusing on the lines at Costco, remind yourself how great it will be to have meals purchased for the week and how you can enjoy watching NetFlix guilt-free with the family later in the day.
Create A Routine
Another way to reduce resistance is to have a consistent routine. Following through on repeated patterns use a different part of our brain (procedural memory) which requires less brain power than the decision-making part of our brain (working memory). Making a decision to complete yard work on Saturdays means you’ve eliminated the need to “decide” each week whether or not you’re going to complete this activity. After a few weeks, this becomes a part of your weekly schedule and you’re much more likely to have a freshly cut lawn.
Develop a “Ten Minute” Rule
Create a rule for yourself that you will start the task and do it for 10 minutes, but can stop if you feel exhausted or discover that the task is too overwhelming. Sometimes procrastination is our body’s way of telling us that we need a break. But most of the time, when a task is started, people tend to continue. Research shows that 80% of people continue past the 10-minute mark. The secret is starting.
Build Your Motivation Muscles
Reducing procrastination and creating new habits takes time, but it gets easier the more you do it. Take note of any evidence of success.
It doesn’t hurt reminding yourself that time is going to pass whether we like it or not. The most important thing we can do is decide how we want to use it. Here’s to moving through our procrastination and getting on with all the growth and progress that await us!