Many of us have made procrastination an art form; coming up with a myriad of ways to duck and weave and simply avoid whatever it is that needs to be done.
And it’s not just about our ‘to do list’ for the day to day tasks that don’t light us up, such as the sink full of dirty dishes that I can see as I peer over the top of my laptop screen right now.
Procrastination is often connected to the bigger picture things that we want for ourselves and our lives – dreams and goals that we would love to make a reality.
It seems that many of us actively avoid what we truly want for ourselves. And the pile of dirty dishes.
Much has been discussed and written on the topic and there are a number of theories as to why we procrastinate.
One theory suggests that it is a form of stress relief. Former lawyer turned author and motivational speaker, Mel Robbins, agrees with this view and urges people to recognise that they aren’t ‘procrastinators’ but that they have the ‘habit of procrastinating’.
She believes that the main trigger for procrastination is always stress and that we procrastinate to avoid doing something and the reward we get for avoiding doing that thing is a bit of stress relief.
Another theory comes from behavioral psychology research. ‘Time inconsistency’ looks at how the human brain values immediate gains over future rewards.
New Year’s Eve is a good example. We might create a few (or an extensive list…) of goals that we want to achieve over the coming 12 months. Our brains recognise that it would be a very good idea to take the regular actions needed to make these goals a reality. We could even imagine what it would be like in the future, once we have made the goal happen.
And for a few days, weeks or even months we may well take these daily actions that move us closer to meeting our goals. Yay for us.
But, research shows that when given the choice, our brains much prefer instant gratification to the longer term benefits of those now seemingly lofty goals we had set. When push comes to shove, our brains are more likely to nudge us toward the thing that gives us the immediate rewards over the actions necessary to achieve our longer term desires.
There are loads of tips, ideas and advice available for how to bust procrastination. We’ve rounded up a bunch to get you started.
James Clear is the New York Times best selling author of “Atomic Habits”, which is well worth getting your hands/eyes/ears on, if you haven’t already.
One interesting idea he swears by for curbing procrastination and boosting willpower is called ‘temptation bundling.’
The basic idea is to do something that you love (or at least quite enjoy), while at the same time doing something that you tend to procrastinate on.
Some examples of temptation bundling he suggests include:
Whatever you choose, the basic format is:
Only do (thing you love) while doing (thing you procrastinate on).
Like to know more about ‘Temptation Bundling’? Have a read of this article, which is an excerpt from ‘Atomic Habits’.
Do one thing
Mel Robbins, who we mentioned earlier, is an author and motivational speaker who is ‘teaching people how to improve their lives one decision at a time’. She suggests the following idea if you find yourself stuck in a procrastination rut at work or during study.
First up, acknowledge the stress
When you catch yourself procrastinating, stop and acknowledge that there is something (or a number of things) that you are stressed about. It doesn’t have to go deeper than purely acknowledging the fact you’re stressed about it.
Count back from 5 to 1
Once you’ve acknowledged the stress, count back: 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. Mel believes that counting back from 5 to 1 will interrupt the stress habit that is procrastinating.
Then do one thing
Right after counting back from five, choose one thing and work on it for only five minutes. The idea is that you are breaking the habit of avoidance by acknowledging the stress and shifting the focus to work, but only for the super short time of five minutes.
Research suggests that by stopping procrastination in its tracks, admitting to the stress and then working on one thing for just for five minutes, that at least 80% of people will be encouraged to keep going with the activity (as opposed to retreating back into the stress/procrastination cycle).
You can check out more tips and ideas (or as she calls them ‘Pep Talks for Life’) from Mel Robbins on YouTube.
30 day procrastination diet
I don’t know about you, but as soon as I see or hear the word ‘diet’ I am about as far from motivated or excited as I can get.
But this one doesn’t involve ditching my favourite treats (unless, of course, that is something I have been procrastinating about, and well then, it might be included in this following idea after all. Dammit).
Canadian born writer, Robin Sharma, is best known for penning the book series, ‘The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari’. He writes and speaks about anything and everything to do with stress management and spirituality.
One of his many tactics to stop fanning the flames of procrastination is the idea of a 30 day procrastination diet. Sharma says that by sticking to the plan for a full 30 days, we will be retraining our subconscious mind, which apparently runs 95% of our life.
He suggests we get started sooner rather than later and just get going (as in, not procrastinate about it…)
Every day for 30 days you have to choose something that you’ve been resisting and do it. The action or activity needs to be different each day and could be as simple as making your bed right after waking up in the morning. Exercising first thing. Public speaking. Decluttering your wardrobe. Doing your tax return. Paying a bill. Calling your gran. Whatever you have been putting off.
The idea being, that as you start to do more things that you’ve been resisting, you are rewiring the brain and training it to be in action around resistance.
When you do the things that you have been resisting, you take back the power that you gave to the things you were resisting. And in doing so Sharma claims that we will increase our energy, willpower, confidence and personal power. Sounds like it might be worth a crack…
Sharma doesn’t specify to do so, but I would imagine it would help to brain dump a list of 30 things before you begin the month to avoid scrambling day to day to come up with stuff to action. Just a thought.
For some the mention of hypnosis may conjure up images of a person in a deep trance being told to behave like a chicken on a stage in front of a large audience of onlookers.
If you can separate the idea of hypnosis from this image for a moment, you may be interested to know that it can have a lasting positive effect on your procrastinating ways.
Hypnosis works by encouraging the participant to drop into a very relaxed state, usually through a guided visualisation, and once in this deep state, suggestions are made to redirect the thinking that takes place in the subconscious mind, to encourage more useful and beneficial thoughts and ideas.
Many people have used this approach to assist with a wide range of issues, from quitting smoking and easing social anxiety to improving sports performance.
The cool thing is, you don’t necessarily have to go to a hypnotist. There are downloadable tracks available online, at fairly reasonable prices.
Tim Urban has never been able to shake his habit of waiting until the last minute to get things done. His TedTalk, ‘Inside the Mind of a Master Procrastinator’, is insightful, hilarious and incredibly relatable and has over a whopping 41 million views.
Grab some popcorn and give yourself 15 minutes to watch it….technically it’s not procrastinating…it’s ‘research’…just try to avoid spending two hours watching cute kitten videos afterwards.