5 Ways to Stop ProcrastinatingJun 14, 2022
If you are a human being you have had moments where you have found yourself procrastinating. We all do it in all kinds of ways and for the most part we might think that the negative impacts of procrastination might be annoying but also maybe they’re not that big of a deal.
But procrastinating also keeps many of us from putting off the biggest, most important dreams of our lives. It can keep us from living our life the way we really want to be living it, and I want you to know that you can change that.
Today, I want to give you five ways to stop procrastinating so that you can get everything you want out of your earth life experience and live without regret.
1. Know that procrastinating doesn’t work
Now at first, this first way to stop procrastinating might seems obvious…of course it doesn’t work for getting stuff done. But ironically, it also doesn’t work as it is designed to do by your brain.
Procrastination is a tactic that you brain uses to get out of negative emotion. Whatever task you have that you are procrastinating, your brain has associated it with some negative emotion, which your brain doesn’t want to experience.
But instead of eliminating the negative emotion, procrastination makes the negative emotion longer.
For example, let’s say you need to do the dishes but you feel dread every time you think about doing it. Your brain doesn’t want to feel dread so it avoids doing the work. HOwever, has the dread disappeared? Nope. The dread is just drawn out now over a longer period of time. Instead of eliminating the dread, your brain has made it an even longer experience. Instead of feeling dread for the 10 minutes it takes to do the dishes, you now feel dread for as long as you put it off, PLUS the original 10 minutes the dishes take.
Procrastination as a strategy for avoiding negative emotion, only makes the negative emotional experience bigger.
The first way to stop procrastinating is to slow down and ask yourself, do I want to make this negative feeling last longer or shorter? Then take action.
If you decide you want the negative emotion to be shorter, one way to get into immediate action is to do a countdown. Mel Robbins, suggests simply giving yourself a simple countdown from five, 5-4-3-2-1. Once you get to one, you get to work.
2. Expect resistance from your brain
There is an interesting phenomenon that happens when we decide we’re going to do something in our lives. When we make the decision and set the goal we feel amazing…we feel excited and motivated and determined.
And as soon as we go to start, to take some action, to do something, we are met with resistance. Suddenly, we feel tired or scared or unmotivated or apathetic or hopeless or some other negative emotion and our brain starts to look for a way out of it, procrastinating and putting off the thing we wanted to do.
And for the most part, we are surprised by this. (Even though it always works like this!) We feel shocked and disappointed that we are having resistance to the thing we wanted to do. And sometimes we think this is because we’re not disciplined or we’re not the kind of person that can get things done.
But what I want you to know is that resistance isn’t there because there’s something wrong with you. Resistance is there because you have a brain.
Your brain is an organ in your body. It’s whole job is to keep you alive. And to do this job, to do this biological function, it is using something called the Motivational triad.
The motivational triad is the way your brain is making decisions about what to do…it’s the criteria or the priorities by which your brain is deciding and evaluating the things you do in your life.
And the three priorities or motivations your brain has are:
- To seek pleasure
- To avoid pain
- To save energy
This is how we evolved as humans. These three priorities have kept us alive and our brain is still operating by these principles.
And if there is anything that you want to do in your life that doesn’t fall into one of these categories, your brain is going to offer you resistance to them and that resistance is going to come in the form of negative emotion.
So when we go to start a new exercise program, for example, which isn’t very pleasurable, especially at the beginning, and can be painful and takes a whole lot of energy, then our brain is going to create lots of negative emotion like fear and dread and shame and exhaustion and when we feel these negative emotions, it becomes really easy to start procrastinating to avoid these feelings (see Way #1)
Do you see what’s happening? It’s not that you just “always procrastinate” and that’s just “who you are.” Your brain is purposefully trying to stop you because it thinks it’s necessary for your survival and procrastinating is just what you do when you meet this resistance.
The second way, then to stop procrastinating is expect resistance, to understand why it’s there, and to not make that resistance mean you have to stop. It’s just part of the process.
3. Remember that you are not your brain. You are the one in charge of your brain
There is you and there is your brain. And they are not the same.
I know that most of the time, it doesn’t feel like that. It feels like you are your brain and vice versa. But we know we are not our brains because we have the ability to observe our thoughts. We can watch ourselves think thoughts and we can direct those thoughts. We can tell ourselves what to think.
And as soon as you become aware of that, you have the power to make a different choice and not just do what your brain wants….or doesn’t want as the case may be.
Everyday we are making choices and usually we don’t realize we are making choices. When your brain offers you resistance and negative emotion by offering you a thought….its going to be hard, I’m too tired, its not working, it's not making a difference, a little bit won't matter….and we procrastinate, we know the procrastination is a choice, but we don’t realize that believing the thoughts in the first place is ALSO a choice.
The third way to stop procrastinating is to decide to think differently when our brain gives us the first thoughts that create negative emotion. Notice the following model:
Thought: I’m too tired to workout.
Usually we try to solve procrastination in the action stage. We try to change our choice there. But there is so much power in making the change two step earlier….by choosing what are going to think.
When your brain says “I’m too tired to workout” you could think a different thought instead. You could think, I have enough energy for 10 minutes and that could allow you to start. (Once started, you have not only avoiding procrastinating, it’s so much easier to keep going.) You could also think, “It’s okay to workout tired. Sometimes we do it tired and that’s okay” or “Most people workout tired” or “I always have energy when I’m done.”
The most important thing to realize is that every thought is optional and you are in charge of how you think. If you want to stop procrastinating, start at the source of the problem, which is always your thoughts. If you want to take action, you have to have a different thought and most of the time you are going to have to choose that on purpose.
You are not your brain. You are in charge of your brain. You have agency which means you get to choose…and the most important place where you can choose is what you are going to think.
As we said in Way #2, your brain has different priorities than you and so it resists what you want. It gives you thoughts…excuses that create feelings that keep you not doing what you want. But the great news is that you are in charge and if you choose to think and feel something else, your brain has to do it.
4. Minimize negotiations
You have to remember that your brain (which prioritizes pleasure, avoiding pain, and saving energy) is very good at its job. It is very good at getting what it wants. That is how it has kept you alive.
Knowing that your brain is good at its job you need to minimize the amount of negotiations you have with it. You need to give it less time to make its case and decide ahead of time.
I make very specific times when I will negotiate the decisions I have made about what I do. For example, I never negotiate with my brain about that day’s workout. If my brain doesn’t want to do today’s workout, I don’t negotiate about it. I have already decided for today.
I tell my brain that if it wants to negotiate about tomorrow’s workout, that it can do it after I have completed today’s. And the great thing is that after the workout, I always feel amazing and I am always glad I did it and so I never renegotiate for tomorrow. In that moment, directly after my workout, I want to be back working out tomorrow.
So the fourth way to stop procrastinating is to minimize the amount of negotiation you do with your brain and have very specific times (at least a day before) when your brain can negotiate. There are no negotiations allowed on the day of, because my brain tends to win all the same-day negotiations. 😉
5. Stop getting mad at yourself and start getting curious
Once we have awareness of what is really creating our procrastination, we can stop getting mad at ourselves and frustrated with our procrastination, and we can get curious.
I want you to get curious about your own brain. You want to be an expert at the thoughts that are most effective at getting you to procrastinate and be on the lookout for them.
When you know the thoughts and feelings that “work” at getting you to procrastinate, then you can flag them and be aware of them and stop falling for them when you brain gives them to you.
For example, my brain always likes to tell me that it doesn't matter. This workout doesn’t matter. Getting this podcast done or this email sent doesn’t matter. This one day doesn’t matter. It’s always a lie. I’ve learned to spot it and whenever my brain says it doesn’t matter, I know that it does.
What does your brain tell you?
Make a list of the thoughts your brain uses to get you to procrastinate and be on the lookout for them. You don't’ have to be mad at yourself. That won’t help you change it. Instead, get curious about why it works on you and decide what you’re going to say back to your brain to get into action.
Getting curious and being a problem solver about your own brain is the fifth way to stop procrastinating.
You can stop procrastinating
I hope you will see that there is a really good reason you aren’t doing the things you say you want to do. There's a really good reason you procrastinate. Your brain is producing all kinds of emotion to keep you from not taking action in your life.
And now you know exactly what to do about it.
As you go to try this in your own life, you may find it hard to change your thoughts and that’s where I come in my work as a life coach. I help you find the thoughts that are keeping you from doing the things you want and I help you decide what you want to think instead. I would love to help you do that work in your own life.
We have so many thoughts. Beliefs that we don’t even realize…we are making choices we don't even know we’re making and as your coach I can help you see the difference between what your brain is offering you (which feels like the truth) and help you think totally differently. It will allow you to stop procrastinating and change your life.
The only thing between you and the life you want is a thought that can be questioned. And I would love to help you do that work. You can sign up for a free call here.
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