By: Catherine Plano
We have all experienced procrastination… some more than others. There are even those chronic procrastinators who avoid any difficult task at hand by deliberately looking for distractions. But there is hope! It is possible to overcome procrastination with effort and self-control.
"Procrastination is the bad habit of putting off until the day after tomorrow what should have been done the day before yesterday." – Napoleon Hill
So, why do we procrastinate? It's our neurobiology.
In our brains, there is an ongoing internal battle between the conscious pre-frontal cortex (executive function and willpower) that focuses on what is best for us in the long run and the unconscious limbic that focuses on the immediate and short-term pleasure. Unlike the pre-frontal cortex, the limbic system is motivationally very powerful, having a direct line to the brain’s amygdala where our basic emotions arise.
Here is the thing – the limbic part of our brain will take over as soon as we are not consciously pushing forward on a task, and it will make us give in to what feels good, leading to procrastination.
Our procrastination effectively comes down to our biology. How can a task activate our emotions positively? What will we gain from doing this task immediately? The body and mind require long-term rewards and short-term pleasures to stay engaged and, ultimately, genuinely interested. So in order to stop procrastinating, you need to keep the end goal, the reward, in mind.
The Power of the Unconscious Mind
Our unconscious mind is like a 5-year-old child. It is all about feelings, and it speaks the language of pictures. What does that mean?
Think back – have you ever decided to give up something starting Monday? But then Monday comes and that very thing you want to give up you are craving more than ever, correct? All you have to do is replace the picture: focus on replacing it with something completely different. Let’s say you want to give up smoking. Don’t even think about giving up smoking. Instead, think of replacing it with a walk and allow your mind to pick 6 new objects while you take a walk. Then try to relate those 6 objects to you or what is happening with your life. This activates the creative part of your mind that carries a lot of emotion. This in turn moves you away from the cigarettes and towards your new focus, the messages in your walks.
Our unconscious mind represses memories and any unresolved negative emotions. We need to understand what is the underlying reason as to why we are procrastinating.
Knowing this about the unconscious mind, it is fair to say that a lack of self-confidence plays a big part in why we procrastinate. We may doubt our ability to complete a task, but where do these doubts come from? Of course… our unconscious mind! If our unconscious mind is like a 5-year-old child, it is here to protect you. So if once upon a time you did something and it wasn’t quite right, and let’s say your teacher, parent or sibling went off at you, then your unconscious mind will strive to protect you from ever feeling hurt again will procrastinate on a task because once upon a time someone yelled at you. So, there is unrealized fear – fear of failure, fear of not being good enough or fear of the unknown.
[Related: Why Failing Is The Key To Your Success]
Fear is false evidence appearing real. It is not real. It is a figment of your imagination. It is the meaning you give any situation. It is the picture you have in your mind. A picture really does speak a thousand words. That, fueled with feelings, creates behaviors that are not conducive to your outcome.
The next time you find yourself avoiding a task, or procrastinating over a project, it’s often based on fear that is holding you back. Your limbic has taken over and is protecting you from any unpleasant circumstances. It wants to make you happy, instantly!
Watch out for procrastination – this is a sign that you are avoiding dealing with the problem. As soon as you find yourself procrastinating, stop and check in with your priorities. It’s likely that you’ll find that the very thing you’re procrastinating about is the exact thing you should be focused on.
How to shift your mindset from procrastination to action:
- Start your day with the least desirable task first thing in the morning
- Focus on three goals in one day and unpack them into smaller tasks
- Reward yourself after each task so to feed the limbic part of your brain
- Embrace your fears, they no longer serve purpose
- Visualize the long-term effect and impact on you acting now!
It’s that simple!
When a new task comes in, act on it immediately and do this for 21 days straight and you will conquer procrastination.
Pick the biggest, hairiest, most difficult goal that stands between you and the next giant step towards success and do it now! Dedication is key here. Keep at it and see the magic you can create.
Catherine Plano is an International Keynote Speaker and Executive Coach, Leadership Development Professional, Queen of Transformation, a Creative Soul Adventurer, a Theorist and Provocateur of Change, and an Agent of Philosophy.
Ellevate Network is a global women’s network: the essential resource for professional women who create, inspire and lead. Together, we #InvestInWomen.