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The You in Us –Procrastination. It's not a productivity problem...

Procrastination is a form of self-sabotage where people avoid necessary tasks by focusing on more satisfying activities, such as spending on non-essential items, stalking people on social media, and searching endlessly online for idyllic holiday destinations. Meanwhile, that important deadline you keep putting off is looming.

Do you, delay making important decisions until it’s too late? Waste time on trivial stuff while avoiding important tasks? Become easily distracted aka ‘shiny object syndrome’? Often find yourself running out of time or find it impossible to stick at things? If you answered yes to any of these it’s likely you’re procrastinating.

“One of the most tragic things I know about human nature is that all of us tend to put off living. We are all dreaming of some magical rose garden over the horizon – instead of enjoying the roses blooming outside our windows today.” – Dale Carnegie

Research shows more than 80% of people procrastinate, however most of us don’t really consider the reasons why. Contrary to popular belief, improving time management skills won’t eliminate procrastination. According to Joseph Ferrari, a professor of psychology at DePaul University, “To tell the chronic procrastinator to just do it is like saying to a clinically depressed person, cheer up.”

Here’s the gold: the battle with procrastination is not a productivity problem – it’s an emotional one.

There’s a constant war being waged in our heads between the limbic system – the ‘emotional engine room’ of the brain – and pre-frontal cortex, which is responsible for complex behaviours like focusing one’s attention, planning for the future, and predicting the consequences of one’s actions. Essentially, our pre-frontal cortex is less developed and weaker, so the limbic system wins out.

When we procrastinate, we fail to manage our emotions, not our time.

Studies reveal that people avoid doing things when they are sad or upset, and that procrastination is the result of the brain in overwhelm with conflicting emotions. This is why the pleasantness of any distraction helps regulate feelings, and why procrastination often feels so good.

Being aware of what you are feeling will help you develop a reflective approach to procrastination. Instead of avoiding or amplifying your emotions – try to understand them. There are four key patterns to be aware of, and simple actions you can implement to disrupt them.

1. Fear of failure – When we fail, we worry that we’ll be punished and feel ashamed. So, we try to avoid failure at all costs. But it doesn’t have to be that way. The first step is to overcome our fear of failure. *Next time you fail, try to find the upside. All negative experiences have some benefits (even if its hard to see at the time). Finding the benefits can help make failure easier to experience in the future.

2. Denial – Denial may be conscious but it is usually unconscious. We all do it. It can be difficult to identify something that is unconscious but it is nonetheless serious. Denial is a refusal to acknowledge truth or reality, and if ignored, it can cause problems in our lives. *The next time you have a knee-jerk reaction to opposing views – take a breath. You don’t have to agree, but listen to alternative opinions and interpretations of facts. Look at all the facts.

3. Impulsiveness – Many of us don’t know exactly why we take the actions we do. From overeating when you’re not hungry, to having yet another glass of wine on a weeknight, or texting someone we know that we shouldn’t be texting, controlling impulsive behaviour can be a tremendous challenge. *If you struggle with impulsive behaviour it’s important to understand what is motivating you. Get to the root of your impulsive behaviour and find ways to reduce the desire to act upon it. One way is to partake in quiet, centring activities, such as meditation, journaling and yoga. These practices will create space for you to process the initial impulsive thought and the action you wish to take.

4. Resistance – Everyone has a bit of the Rebel personality within themselves – the part that wants to (and sometimes does) go against-the-grain and break established rules. Rebels, however, almost always disregard the basis for rules, even though the outcomes are likely to be painful or of disadvantage to them. Many, if not all, rebels are psychologically driven by a false sense of superiority and wounded sense of powerlessness stemming from early childhood experiences. Their resistance can be seen as a compensatory mechanism. *If you value independent thinking, rebel often and can be persuaded by logic, reflect on the fact that independence and a sense of freedom are not necessarily cancelled out by cooperation and acceptance – neither is cooperation inferior to independence.

Until next time…


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