Updated: Aug 25, 2020
What is going on? Why do we find ourselves doing this? And what strategies can we put in place to try avoid procrastinating and causing some annoying unnecessary stress in the future.
Procrastination is defined as, the voluntary delay of some important task or activity that we intend to do.
Humans are simply wired and driven towards procrastination. bugger. Basically there's a fight between two parts of the mind. A battle of the limbic system and the prefrontal cortex. The limbic system is concerned with our emotional responses and behaviours we need to survive. It's the pleasure seeking part of the brain, and is the most powerful. The prefrontal cortex is responsible for taking in information, planning ahead, strategising and making decisions.
Lets say you feel overwhelmed, anxious or frustrated by the task you need to do. This emotional response is rooted in the limbic system. It decides to avoid this unpleasant task, and hence, you are motivated to move away from the task to feel better. You will probably find yourself doing something else that will give you a bit of a dopamine hit - which is that feel good chemical that your brain releases, maybe scrolling through Tik Tok or watching Netflix.
The amygdala, which is part of the limbic system promotes this avoidance. From an evolutionary perspective, its function is to keep us alive and identifies things that might threaten us. Our environment have evolved, but our amygdala still reacts to situations that it deems a threat the same way it always has. So, its likely the task you are avoiding by procrastinating is deemed a threat.
So when you find yourself procrastinating, understand that its not your lack of willpower but rather your emotional brain trying to control your actions.
Procrastination is also a habit. It's human nature to avoid uncomfortable moments in order to feel better. In this case the trigger will be the stress caused by the task. The response to this, is the avoidance of that task. The reward, will be the relief of stress felt.
There is also explained through a phenomenon called, “Time Inconsistency”, which refers to the tendency of the human brain to value immediate rewards more highly than future rewards. So the feeling you get from avoiding the task is the immediate reward. So you can see how easy it is for procrastination to become a habit.
So what can you do If you find you are about to procrastinate?
I have a few ideas up my sleeve.
1. You can try following these four steps to stop this habit in its track.
- Firstly, acknowledge the stress and the feelings you may be experiencing.
- Secondly, count outloud 5-4-3-2-1. Doing this will interrupt the procrastination habit and awaken the prefrontal cortex so you can take control of your thoughts and habits.
- Thirdly, Take 5 to 10 deep and slow breaths whilst also paying attention to your breathing. This can help calm and stabilise the mind.
- And lastly, begin the task.
2. You can also use this amazing strategy, the 5 minute rule. If you don’t want to do something or you are finding it hard to start, make a deal with yourself that you’ll do only five minutes. This way you’ll start the task. Research shows that if you start the task, you are more likely to keep going.
3. Reward yourself whilst completing the task to make it more appealing. This is called temptation bundling. You pair something you enjoy thats going to give you instant gratification with the task or behaviour you should or need to be doing. When I sit down to study I often take a cup of tea with me, I enjoy drinking tea and it makes me feel good. Having tea makes it easier for me to study. You could also reward yourself after a task.
4. You can chop up a task into smaller pieces so it seems more manageable. Small measures of progress help maintain momentum.By breaking up the task into smaller pieces, make sure to set an overall timeline with specific deadlines for each task. Its often said things take as long as the amount of time you give them. `theres a name for this and its called, Parkinsons Law. Obviously, you have to be realistic with your deadlines. But I'm sure you get the idea.
5. You can remove procrastination triggers from your environment, this will eliminate common distractions. Anything that might encourage the procrastination habit. For instance, leaving your phone in another room whilst you are working on the task.
6. Practice mindfulness or meditation daily or at the time you find yourself procrastinating. I recommend trying to include this in your daily habits if you don't already. Some great apps you can look into which break it down into easy to follow steps are, “Headspace", “Calm" and “Insight Timer”. There are many types of meditation but a good one to do is Breath Focus Mediation, which helps train the mind to settle. Research shows after training consistently you can re-wire your brain.
So be kind to yourself, knowing your brain is doing what its wired to do and try implement some of the things I’ve have mentioned above.
Stay safe, be kind and much love.
Watch my Video on procrastination!