Procrastination is a habit that tricks us into feeling safe. Similar to an evolutionary instinct, we delay tasks to avoid failure or difficulty. The more we procrastinate, the stronger the habit.
We’ve all done it, and some of you might be doing it now. When you’re dusting instead of researching for an upcoming project. Or you decide to clean your bike instead of creating a proposal for a new client.
But imagine if you could stop procrastinating. Focus on the things that matter. Be proactive and transform your thoughts into action.
Some of you may already be experts at scrolling through social media instead of creating spreadsheets. Don’t worry, you are not alone! We can change, improve and mould our mindset to drive our daily habits. There are several reasons why you might procrastinate, maybe you’re:
- Bored with your current project, job or career
- Confused about your purpose
- Overwhelmed by the amount of work you’ve got this week
- Happy but not fulfilled
Whatever your situation, improving your mindset will help you to live with a different perspective.
Actionable Plan To Stop Procrastinating
My experiences over the last few years from losing my company and living for a few weeks in a hostel in London with nothing to signing multiple 6+ figure sponsorship contracts for my next running challenge is down to the right mindset. A hard-working, organized, confident and proactive perspective towards life can transform an 8-hour working day into a source of huge value.
To help you turn this information into an actionable plan to stop procrastinating your success, we’ll be dividing it into three stages.
- Understanding (The Science Behind Procrastination)
- Identifying (The Psychological Mechanism Behind Procrastination)
- Resolving (Turning Procrastination Into A Key To Success)
In Stage 1 we’ll be looking into the parts of the brain that make us procrastinate. This will build a better understanding of why we decide to scrub our running shoes when we should be replying to clients.
Stage 2 explains how the common misconception of procrastination being time management is wrong. The reality is several demotivating factors can reduce the likelihood of completing a task. By realizing what might affect your daily motivation, you can start to turn those factors into positive drivers.
Lastly, Stage 3 will combine your understanding and identification into actionable steps. By this point, you’ll start to find ways to resolve your procrastination and learn how to be more productive.
The Science Behind Procrastination
Social scientists define procrastination as the gap between intention and action.
The debate is whether this gap can be explained by the inability to manage time or the inability to regulate moods and emotions. What do you think?
Studies have found procrastinators carry accompanying feelings of guilt, shame, or anxiety with their decision to delay. This makes sense when you feel guilty because you’re not doing what you’ve planned.
This emotional element suggests there’s much more to the story than time-management alone.
The Limbic System
Ishan Daftardar, a science-obsessed mechanical engineer, explains procrastination as a fight between the limbic system (subconscious pleasure centre) and the prefrontal cortex (our internal ‘planner’). If the limbic system dominates, then we will delay tasks until tomorrow.
The most important part of this information is the limbic system. Why? Because if you can find pleasure in your work, career and lifestyle, then, in theory, you will never procrastinate. Living a life of fulfilment and purpose will make you a productive machine full of pleasure.
Sounds good, right? It comes down to how you perceive the tasks at hand.
I Was a Chronic Procrastinator
Before I started building my athletic lifestyle business, I can admit, I was a chronic procrastinator. But since I transformed my expertise into a profitable lifestyle, I can’t wait to wake up and make things happen.
And let’s be honest, it wasn’t easy and it didn’t happen overnight. Removing something from my life which I’ve been doing for nearly 40 years is difficult. But by implementing very simple steps and using my watch I managed to turn my chronic procrastination into being highly productive.
Self-Control & Motivation
When you’ve got 1 mile left until the finish line and you’ve been preparing for this race for months. Training daily and rewarding yourself for every achievement along the way. This is self-control and motivation.
Both are drivers for productivity, but can also make you more susceptible to procrastinate. This happens when hindering or demotivating factors outweigh the following.
Self-Control – the ability to push ourselves to get stuff done.
Motivation – based on the expectation of receiving rewards for our efforts.
Demotivating And Hindering Factors
Demotivating factors can cause us to delay unnecessarily, these include:
- Fear of failure
- And other negative emotions
Hindering factors can influence our perspective towards a task, these include:
- Exhaustion (perhaps after a full day’s work)
- Minimal rewards
- Rewards that are far in the future
Overall, we procrastinate when our self-control and motivation is either hindered (e.g. by exhaustion) or outweighed by certain negative emotions.
In summary, this explains why we procrastinate. However, there are several reasons for procrastination based on your situation or personality, which we will highlight in the next Stage.
The Psychological Mechanism Behind Procrastination
“As I tell people, to tell the chronic procrastinator to just do it would be like saying to a clinically depressed person, cheer up. ” – Joseph Ferrari.
Joseph Ferrari, professor of psychology at DePaul University, makes a great point – “Everyone procrastinates, but not everyone is a procrastinator”. As a psychologist, he believes it has nothing to do with time management.
There are several false beliefs we develop as a habit of procrastination:
- I don’t feel like doing it now
- I did well considering
- I’ve got loads of time
- I don’t care about this anymore
One task you can do now is to note down any false beliefs you relate to, either from the list above or from memory. Then try to think about a recent moment of procrastination and what emotions did you feel towards it.
Being honest with yourself and identifying the emotions and false beliefs we tell ourselves can help to break those habits.
Reasons For Procrastination
In this section, we’ll be listing the specific reasons why people procrastinate. Everyone delays their tasks for different reasons, and if you can identify yours, you’ll be one step closer to resolution.
Take your time to reflect and be honest with yourself. This is a vital process to tackle your procrastination.
You probably won’t relate to all of them, so feel free to skim-read and identify the reasons that are important to you.
Saying to yourself ‘lose weight’ or ‘start cycling’ are vague goals. But if you transform this into ‘start cycling on Monday, Wednesday and Sunday for 2 hours a day in the morning’, it’s a solid goal. You’ll have more chances of taking action if you do this.
Leaving your exam preparation until the day before the exam could be because you want to make your revision more exciting. This will happen when the task at hand is boring and you need some sensation from it.
A disconnect from the future
A doctor tells you to start exercising because of your health but you don’t feel the need because the harmful impact on your body will occur to your future self. Also known as temporal disjunction, this disconnection can lead to an inability to think about the future. If you relate to this, the first step is identifying and then trying to reconnect to your actions.
Too much focus on the future
Planning for the future with several dreams without considering the present can lead to long-term procrastination. Someone might decide not to go swimming because they’ve already planned to start running next week.
Optimism about the future
Let’s say you need to write an article for next week. You decide not to do it today because you’re confident there’s enough time to do it over the next few days. This is a form of procrastination and is generally caused by bad time management.
Do you ever think about doing something? This is the ultimate form of indecisiveness and there are a lot of people who relate to this reason. Having loads of different options in front of you or having too many similar options can cause delay and stop you from taking action.
Everyone has certain tasks they don’t like doing but this is also a reason to procrastinate. You might delay organizing a meeting with a colleague you don’t like or decide you’re not a fan of weekly badminton classes because of the coach.
Lack of control
This is when you delay important tasks because you don’t feel able to control the result. For example, not training for your next race because you know your coach will criticise you.
Someone who feels anxious about weighing themselves might continually delay the experience. Anxiety can occur in a variety of ways, but when we focus on procrastination it is classed as a demotivator. In some cases, the habit of procrastination might also cause anxiety, leading to a ‘feedback loop.’
Prioritising your present mood
Some procrastinate because it makes them feel better in the present. Let’s say you wanted to start cycling today but you decide to watch TV all evening because it’s better in the short term. Identifying this will help to solve long-term issues.
Being a perfectionist is a blessing and a burden at times. In this case, it can cause someone not to want to make a mistake, and therefore procrastinate the task at hand. Aiming for pure perfection is unreasonable and we need to embrace our failures to truly progress.
Fear of failure
Whether we’re scared to talk with investors or uncertain about running 10km at the weekend, it’s natural to be afraid. You’re not alone if you feel afraid to fail. I always teach my students to embrace failure. Learning from your mistakes can be the best form of progression.
This is when procrastination is used as a reason for failure. Therefore ‘protecting’ the procrastinator from failing because of their skill or ability. Some will use this reason if they believe they’re likely to fail when it comes to the task at play.
Your manager drops a large stack of paperwork on your desk at 5 pm and now you’ve got too much to do. This common example causes you to feel overwhelmed and to deal with this, your mind will try to protect you by procrastinating. As an example, want to start running 10km every weekend can be overwhelming if you view the task as a whole. But if you break it down into smaller goals, it helps to take action.
Actively sabotaging your progress could be because you don’t believe you deserve to be better. There are several reasons for self-sabotaging and it can lead to negative behaviours towards other people, repelling those who matter.
This relates to attention-span. Someone that can’t seem to concentrate on one task for more than 10 minutes has a high level of distractibility and is more likely to procrastinate.
If you’re someone who is spontaneous and acts on a whim, there’s a possibility your impulsive behaviour could be a reason for procrastinating. For example, suddenly deciding to go to the pub instead of finishing your latest online class.
This generally happens when a task is given to you by someone else and you decide to delay because you want to rebel.
This is when you can’t be bothered to start a task. You’d rather sit in the same spot on the sofa than start planning a proposal. In some cases, people blame their laziness, when in reality it is their fear of failure or perfectionism that is to blame.
Rewards that are too far away
Do you remember being in school when having an exam in a month felt ages away? But then a few days before you cram in as much information as possible. This is because the concept of a good grade is too far in the future. This also relates to punishments, whereby a potential future punishment doesn’t motivate you enough to take action.
Turning Procrastination Into A Key To Success
Forming new habits involves a behaviour, through regular repetition, becoming automatic or habitual.
Now we’ve gone through the list of reasons to procrastinate, hopefully, you’ve identified at least one which you relate to.
Some of you will find many of them familiar, while others may only identify with one. What matters is that we can identify the target and start to take actions to resolve it.
From my experience, I have developed a method to stop procrastinating which focuses on four habits. Each of these habits is also a core element of developing our personality.
- Inner Peace
Perseverance Is The Key To Stopping Procrastination
Understanding this enables you to prepare for the regular repetition. Some of you may be in the habit of running in the morning. Others like to read a book just before bed. Each habit builds your character, but some can be inhibiting. Procrastinating is one of those.
When you are a chronic procrastinator for most of your life, it’s a tremendous task to resolve it. You must be patient, flexible, push yourself to resolve your issues and accept it will take several months or years to stop procrastination once and for all.
My battle with procrastination was solved by these 4 habits. The following sentence explains how this is possible.
You can’t resolve procrastination without perseverance, and to build your unbreakable perseverance, you must focus first on resilience, patience and inner peace.
Some people may call this a theory, but for me, it’s what I’ve been through. It’s built from experience. From a chronic procrastinator to making 5 Million Steps in 101 days and running unsupported 7,000 miles through Asia. If it works for me it can work for you.
My Journey to Resolution
Beating my chronic procrastination was very simple but one of the most challenging tasks I’ve ever assigned to myself. Imagine planning to run every day 50, 60 or even 100 kilometres. This means to make around 50,000, 60,000 or even 100,000 steps every day and it means at least 5, 6 or 10 hours of running daily.
If you try this, I guarantee you will not feel motivated on the 10th day. But if you break it down to 2,500 steps (2.5 kilometres) which will take around 15 minutes – that’s okay, no big deal. Still, it’s easier said than done, because by the end of the day you will pass those 50, 60 or 100 kilometres.
I spilt my activities into 30-minute sequences. This means that I trained my brain to focus only on the nearest 30 minutes, then I rewarded myself with fruits, energy drinks, healthy snacks, chatting with local people for 5 minutes or simply a short break.
I was running from one break to another intending to pass 5 kilometres and made 5,000 steps which I was controlling on my watch. You can then go one step further to 15-minute sequences because then you will be already halfway to get your reward.
This way I trained my mind to increase the dopamine levels every 15 minutes. I didn’t wait for success after covering the entire distance. Every 15 minutes I had mini successes. Every quarter of an hour brought me closer to the desired result.
Easy, everyone can do it!
Now, I teach these techniques during my university coaching programs, corporate training and online courses. It’s simpler than you can imagine, but hard to break to make it a daily habit.
Automatic Writing Practice
I implemented this experience to build my writing and improve my productiveness. I was travelling with my notebook to many different places. To forest, jungle, noisy beach, busy market, road, etc.
I have many pictures which I took on the side of the road when I stopped to make notes of my thoughts. It was a nightmare at the beginning.
I was frustrated because I couldn’t bring my thoughts together, but I remembered how hard it was to run my first 5 kilometres, and how easy it is now to run 60 kilometres and finish it by midday.
If you ask me now to write a sponsorship letter when we are in the middle of lunch in a busy restaurant, I will do it within one hour, having a 5-minute break for dessert in the middle.
I copy this system each time I have to start a new task, especially if my mind is trying to find an excuse not to. I always say to myself, let’s do it for 5 minutes and then I will take a break. A few hours later the task is done and I don’t need to wait for my reward as I’ve already had one every 30 minutes.
The 4 Habits to Turn Procrastination into Success
Running 50, 60 or 100km a day continuously for nearly 12 months wouldn’t be possible without developing my 4 Habits technique. By focusing on inner peace, patience, and resilience, drives your perseverance.
Imagine a funnel of habits, all flowing into perseverance. You have chosen to persevere with your task and before you know it, you’re doing it!
Running for 10 hours a day for a week doesn’t just happen. My journey to becoming an ultra-endurance athlete took an unbreakable mindset. One which I built over a couple of years.
None of us was born with perseverance in our blood, and it’s something all of us need to develop.
I use the link between my mind and my body to establish my limits and develop perseverance. I create a vision in my mind of starting and finishing my challenge, no matter how difficult it will get.
Visualizing the task ahead is like telling your body, ‘you can do this!.’
Professional gymnasts will use this method before a routine on the rings. Visualizing every move, how they connect, maintaining posture and holding their shape. Try it with your next task and see if it helps!
Resilience is the capacity to recover quickly from difficulty. To get back up and continue when the going gets tough. Interestingly, we tend to focus on the negativity in life, counting how many losses the day has given to us. You need to turn that around!
Use your notebook to catch all the wins of the day, week, or month. Writing them down with big, bold fat letters framed a few times all around the page.
It helps to enjoy what you’re doing, to make it valuable, to see that you’re moving forward. Then you will start to feel good about failures. Failures then become motivators, not setbacks.
If you’re struggling to start a task and feeling anxious, make notes first, just a short draft. Then leave the task for a couple of hours and focus on other activities. You could go for a run or jump on your bike.
It always works for me. After an hour, I come back to my desk with a bunch of fresh thoughts. The time away from the task lets your brain process and bounce back.
Accepting your procrastination is part of building patience. And if you’re frustrated, take a step back. Realizing that impatience is rooted in frustration can help you to understand how to be more patient.
Remember, it’s okay to take your time. Learning to breathe deeply, stimulate your brain, and view your tasks with patience will foster clarity.
I like to define inner peace as; learning how to accept what is out of your control, and focus your energy on things that you can control.
In the modern world, the search for inner peace and peace of mind can seem continuous. But we must remember that inner peace is a choice.
Every action we take today is a link to what we do tomorrow. Each of the steps we take tomorrow is a link to what we will accomplish the day after.
Your search for inner peace may include nature, eating well, improved organization, or more physical activities. Everyone has a different journey to inner peace.
Through my experiences, I have learnt not to jump into a big goal without dividing it into small goals. Setting up a plan of what needs to be done first with reasonable timescales.
That’s how we find balance and become more productive. If you’ve got a big task ahead, try dividing it into small achievable goals. Trust me, it works!
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