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The hidden success behind procrastinating

The hidden success behind procrastinating

We’re all familiar with procrastination in some form or other; some of us much more than others and for many different reasons.  The question I ask, is not, why do we procrastinate, but rather what does it mean when we do? It’s quite different. There’s a wealth of information on the topic giving tips and advice on how to overcome this destructive tendency, yet many of us still find ourselves unable to do anything about it. What are we missing?

Where to begin?

Having a better understanding of what procrastination is, what causes it, and what effects it may be having on your life is a must in overcoming it and developing more productive life patterns, but there is something else we might be missing too. We tend to associate procrastination solely with laziness that cannot be helped, but this is often not the case. Procrastination can in fact be helped and actually, help us. With the right strategies it is possible to achieve higher productivity levels that lead to success, as well as to a stress-free lifestyle – even if we procrastinate.

The truth…

The truth is that no matter how great we are at time management, we all occasionally have to put off tasks and activities; but it’s more about not taking action on life-long desires, letting opportunities pass you by or not doing what you really want to and feeling lost as to why – this can happen to the best of us. However, you know you have a serious problem when procrastination starts taking over your life, so much so that it disrupts your path to success.

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Let’s look at it on two different levels:

Procrastination on a Psychological Level:

Dealing with procrastination requires more than simply following a set of time management skills – time management strategies can only work once you’ve discovered the root of your specific problems. Discovering the complex, underlying psychological reasons behind your behaviour is the key to dealing with procrastination and eventually adopting productive time management skills. It is not a time management issue as much as it is an emotional one.

When we are under pressure, lack confidence, or have various fears and anxieties, we often use procrastination as a self-protection strategy. Procrastination allows us to cope with our fears and control the outcome of our actions. Even though results may be disappointing, we use it to avoid  being judged by others, and to make sure that our sense of our own ability is not threatened; if we do not meet expectations, it gives us the excuse of not having enough time.

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We also often procrastinate when we lack the motivation to do something and wait for the “right time” or for inspiration to strike, until it is finally much too late to do a good job. We tell ourselves we could have done a good job if we had enough time to; this way, our self-image remains intact and is not compromised, even though we created such a situation in the first place and set ourselves up to failure.

Procrastination on a Neurological Level:

When we feel exceptionally lazy, there is a battle going on between two parts in the brain; the conflict is between the limbic system that seeks pleasure, and the pre-frontal cortex that is more interested in planning and forward thinking. You can gain the control over which part wins.

On a neurological level, procrastination is said to be emotionally driven; it stems from our inner desire to protect ourselves from various negative emotions (fear of failure and so on).  Simply put, when we feel emotionally overwhelmed by challenging/demanding tasks, the amygdala region in the brain reacts by inducing the fight-or-flight response, which as we know, floods our body with adrenaline. The adrenaline then dulls our pre-frontal cortex (and other planning and reasoning parts of the brain) and leaves us at the mercy of our emotional impulses.

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The pleasure you get in the beginning of procrastination improves your mood, and your body produces dopamine – this hormone is a key player in the encouragement of reward-motivated actions. When you fall into a pattern of procrastination, no matter how negative the results are, your brain often ends up stimulating you to repeat the action – this can result in difficult-to-break cycles of procrastination.

The Procrastination Cycle:

Now that you’re more aware of the psychological and neurological processes that occur during procrastination, you can see how this cycle begins and why it is so difficult to break, with so many contributing factors. You may start out enthusiastic about a project and feel confident about your abilities and schedule, only to be held back by the same overwhelming pattern when the time comes to actually begin the work. This cycle can be damaging to your self-confidence and wears away your self-esteem and determination. It is important to recognize that even though it will be difficult to break the cycle, it has been overcome by countless individuals, and you can do it too!

Where is the hidden success?

If you’ve tried hard to break through the cycle but you are having no luck, you may be feeling like there’s something missing from the equation. What tends to happen is that when we give into procrastination, we walk away feeling despondent and beat ourselves up – then we just do it all over again.

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Use your new-found information on the psychology and neurology of procrastination to dig deeper into your inner self – could it be that your procrastination is the result of an unresolved personal issue? The answer to this question could be the key to moving forward in your life. If you procrastinate because you are not challenging yourself when your limbic system is overpowering, that is very different from procrastinating on those things which you have desired for a longer period, but can’t seem take action.

The fact is that when you need to actually work on/confront/admit or have awareness on a deeper issue – 90% of the time it is not obvious to you – the only symptom you see is procrastination. What people don’t know, is that through a series of asking yourself the right questions – you WILL most likely – get that A-HA moment – when suddenly you realize what is actually holding you back, and then the resistance immediately starts to fade and you can focus on what you really need to, to move forward. Break away from your procrastination cycle, stop going around in circles, and find your path to success by looking for the hidden reason deeper than the ones you always read about. It is not as simple as a lack of motivation or fear at times.

Learning to manage and use procrastination to your advantage can help you lead a healthier lifestyle and achieve success in all areas of your life. Unresolved issues can hold you back, but only if you let them, it is your choice.  There is a hidden secret that only procrastination can reveal, we just need to leverage and understand how our minds are communicating with us more.

“Nothing is easy, but then again, who wants nothing”

More by this author

Kirstin O´Donovan

Certified Life and Productivity Coach, Founder and CEO of TopResultsCoaching

How to Be More Productive: 4 Tiny Tweaks to Make 18 Best Time Management Apps and Tools (2020 Updated) How To Break the Procrastination Cycle Why To-Do Lists Don’t Work (And How to Change That) How To Control Your Emotions Effectively

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Last Updated on July 10, 2020

The Power of Ritual: Conquer Procrastination, Time Wasters and Laziness

The Power of Ritual: Conquer Procrastination, Time Wasters and Laziness

Life is wasted in the in-between times. The time between when your alarm first rings and when you finally decide to get out of bed. The time between when you sit at your desk and when productive work begins. The time between making a decision and doing something about it.

Slowly, your day is whittled away from all the unused in-between moments. Eventually, time wasters, laziness, and procrastination get the better of you.

The solution to reclaim these lost middle moments is by creating rituals. Every culture on earth uses rituals to transfer information and encode behaviors that are deemed important. Personal rituals can help you build a better pattern for handling everything from how you wake up to how you work.

Unfortunately, when most people see rituals, they see pointless superstitions. Indeed, many rituals are based on a primitive understanding of the world. But by building personal rituals, you get to encode the behaviors you feel are important and cut out the wasted middle moments.

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Program Your Own Algorithms

Another way of viewing rituals is by seeing them as computer algorithms. An algorithm is a set of instructions that is repeated to get a result.

Some algorithms are highly efficient, sorting or searching millions of pieces of data in a few seconds. Other algorithms are bulky and awkward, taking hours to do the same task.

By forming rituals, you are building algorithms for your behavior. Take the delayed and painful pattern of waking up, debating whether to sleep in for another two minutes, hitting the snooze button, repeat until almost late for work. This could be reprogrammed to get out of bed immediately, without debating your decision.

How to Form a Ritual

I’ve set up personal rituals for myself for handling e-mail, waking up each morning, writing articles, and reading books. Far from making me inflexible, these rituals give me a useful default pattern that works best 99% of the time. Whenever my current ritual won’t work, I’m always free to stop using it.

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Forming a ritual isn’t too difficult, and the same principles for changing habits apply:

  1. Write out your sequence of behavior. I suggest starting with a simple ritual of only 3-4 steps maximum. Wait until you’ve established a ritual before you try to add new steps.
  2. Commit to following your ritual for thirty days. This step will take the idea and condition it into your nervous system as a habit.
  3. Define a clear trigger. When does your ritual start? A ritual to wake up is easy—the sound of your alarm clock will work. As for what triggers you to go to the gym, read a book or answer e-mail—you’ll have to decide.
  4. Tweak the Pattern. Your algorithm probably won’t be perfectly efficient the first time. Making a few tweaks after the first 30-day trial can make your ritual more useful.

Ways to Use a Ritual

Based on the above ideas, here are some ways you could implement your own rituals:

1. Waking Up

Set up a morning ritual for when you wake up and the next few things you do immediately afterward. To combat the grogginess after immediately waking up, my solution is to do a few pushups right after getting out of bed. After that, I sneak in ninety minutes of reading before getting ready for morning classes.

2. Web Usage

How often do you answer e-mail, look at Google Reader, or check Facebook each day? I found by taking all my daily internet needs and compressing them into one, highly-efficient ritual, I was able to cut off 75% of my web time without losing any communication.

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3. Reading

How much time do you get to read books? If your library isn’t as large as you’d like, you might want to consider the rituals you use for reading. Programming a few steps to trigger yourself to read instead of watching television or during a break in your day can chew through dozens of books each year.

4. Friendliness

Rituals can also help with communication. Set up a ritual of starting a conversation when you have opportunities to meet people.

5. Working

One of the hardest barriers when overcoming procrastination is building up a concentrated flow. Building those steps into a ritual can allow you to quickly start working or continue working after an interruption.

6. Going to the gym

If exercising is a struggle, encoding a ritual can remove a lot of the difficulty. Set up a quick ritual for going to exercise right after work or when you wake up.

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7. Exercise

Even within your workouts, you can have rituals. Spacing the time between runs or reps with a certain number of breaths can remove the guesswork. Forming a ritual of doing certain exercises in a particular order can save time.

8. Sleeping

Form a calming ritual in the last 30-60 minutes of your day before you go to bed. This will help slow yourself down and make falling asleep much easier. Especially if you plan to get up full of energy in the morning, it will help if you remove insomnia.

8. Weekly Reviews

The weekly review is a big part of the GTD system. By making a simple ritual checklist for my weekly review, I can get the most out of this exercise in less time. Originally, I did holistic reviews where I wrote my thoughts on the week and progress as a whole. Now, I narrow my focus toward specific plans, ideas, and measurements.

Final Thoughts

We all want to be productive. But time wasters, procrastination, and laziness sometimes get the better of us. If you’re facing such difficulties, don’t be afraid to make use of these rituals to help you conquer them.

More Tips to Conquer Time Wasters and Procrastination

 

Featured photo credit: RODOLFO BARRETO via unsplash.com

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