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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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”