Try this power move to beat procrastination
It’s really amazing how creative we can be when it comes to procrastination—there are so many ways we can put off doing things that we actually want to do. From making major career moves to something as simple as updating your wardrobe, there are always sticking points along the way.
What hope is there for fighting procrastination as social distancing drags on? It comes down to figuring out why we procrastinate and how this common behavior fits into the current crisis environment. One reason we are procrastinating more is the number and variety of distractions in a home work environment—like homecare, childcare, other adults at home, improvised work spaces.
So much procrastination stems from our projections of the future and what it might look like. But, of course, the truth is, we never really know what the future will look like. The only thing we can do is make the most educated decision in the moment with the information we have at present.
It means that if you focus on some small steps that you can take immediately, you will make incremental progress that eventually adds up to big gains. A ‘now step’ is the smallest meaningful action that you can take in the face of a challenge. It reminds the brain that your behavior matters as you experience a win from completing it.
A ‘now step’ can take two minutes, or 20 minutes, or two days—and they are all equally valuable. Because making the tiniest progress proves to yourself that this is a project that has meaning for you. Plus, once you complete one step, the next ones will start to fall into place. All you have to do is locate the following ‘now step’—and do it.
Procrastination is an emotion-focused coping strategy. The brains of procrastinators have a larger amygdala, which is part of the limbic system known for fight or flight. The procrastinators are reacting emotionally, and the emotion-focused coping response is to escape. It’s saying, ‘I don’t want these negative emotions I’ll experience during the task,’ and so it avoids the task.
When we face a task that presents boredom, frustration, or fear, the limbic system lights up, and the amygdala hijack overrides the prefrontal cortex, which is the home of executive function that includes things like impulse control, planning, and organization.
The key to getting control over procrastination is emotion regulation, and one method is practising mindfulness. Use breathing and muscle relaxation exercises. Then practise non-judgmental awareness of the emotion. Acknowledge your feelings. And then look for the reasons for those emotions. Your emotions are trying to teach you something. But you don’t need to freak out.
Once you find a way to get control over your emotions, it’s time to move forward. Procrastination, whether it stems from fear or boredom, is resolved with action. It’s getting yourself to do something you don’t feel like doing. Propel yourself forward by breaking down a large goal or task into individual steps. Keep it as small as possible.
As humans, we have something called a “complexity bias.” It’s our tendency to make things that are simple seem way more complicated. It makes us more likely to ignore or overlook simple solutions and instead focus on the more complicated option. It’s that alarm that goes off in your head, blaring, ‘Warning: Difficult and complicated task ahead. Bail while you can.’
The good news: There’s a way to override the complexity bias and start seeing the simpler path forward. Ask yourself: What would this look like if it were easy? The ‘easy’ question, challenges us to frame a task in terms of elegance instead of strain. In doing so, we sometimes find incredible results with ease instead of stress. Sometimes, we ‘solve’ the problem by simply rewording it.
It’s important to remember that a task can be simplified and still require work to get it done. The “easy” question isn’t finding the lazy way out—it’s creating a more straightforward process that we have an easier time wrapping our brains around and starting. It means still putting in the work, but feeling clear and confident regarding what that work actually entails.
Research has shown us that when you make progress, even a little on a goal, it fuels your wellbeing. Even if you just take the tiniest of steps, you’ll help yourself get started and then you’re on your way. Mindfulness + action: the one-two punch that can cure procrastination.