You are sitting at your desk. You’ve just finished answering emails while sipping coffee. You’re feeling good about how your day has started. You take a look at today’s to-do list and choose to begin writing the proposal that’s due next week. You open a blank document on your computer, write the title, and decide to head to the kitchen for a quick snack even though you’re NOT hungry.
Does this sound like you? Procrastination gets the best of us so many times during the day. We put off activities and decisions we need to give our attention in favor of activities and decisions we want to give our attention. When we start to feel the negative effects of procrastinating, we look for ways to overcome the urge to put things off. Maybe we’ll try a new organizational system or scheduling process. These may help for a time, but instead of asking yourself, “How can I stop procrastinating?”, you may want to consider asking a more powerful question. Why are you procrastinating?
#1 Reason for Procrastinating
The number one reason why people procrastinate is because the task is uncomfortable in some way. When we don’t find pleasure or familiarity in a task, it causes us stress. Putting it off is a stress avoidance technique. Usually we procrastinate until the action of procrastinating is causing us more stress then just doing the task. Then, we dive into the project willingly because we want to avoid the stress caused by procrastinating. This becomes a vicious cycle bringing us to the point of Googling how to stop procrastinating. We look for the quick fix, maybe find a short term solution, and the cycle inevitably starts again.
When we analyze procrastinating from this viewpoint, putting something off because we are stressed out by it makes sense. No one wants extra stress in their life. When the stress or pain point becomes unbearable, we turn our attention to it and resolve it. How do we skip all the stress and just get stuff done?
Becoming Comfortable With Being Uncomfortable
We become really good at putting things off because we’ve formed a habit. The act of procrastinating becomes second nature. There is a cue (a task we don’t want to do), a routine (we focus on anything else, even a snack break, until we can’t ignore the task any longer), and a reward (less stress now that the task is finished).
To overcome the habit of procrastination, you need to write a new habit in its place. The brain stores our habits like a computer stores information. The brain is so efficient, it runs the sequence of a habit with minimal consciousness or power. This leaves more power to devote to tasks which require more concentration. In order to signal the brain to stop running the sequence associated with a certain habit, you need to write a new sequence instead. This is called an interrupter.
Anything can be an interrupter as long as it is something you usually would not do. For example, if you’d normally go to the kitchen for a snack instead of diving into the task, instead you could take a deep breath and say out loud, “I’m comfortable with being uncomfortable. I’m ready to get started.” This is a great interrupter for many reasons: taking a deep breath relaxes you, the statement is positive and encouraging, plus you are signaling the brain to start now from a position of power instead of at a more stressful time later on.
My 3 year old son had difficulty putting on his socks when he was first learning to get dressed. He’d try unsuccessfully, grumble, and push the sock towards me while saying, “I can’t do it.” He wanted me to solve his problem for him because it was the quickest and easiest way to finish dressing and head downstairs to breakfast. Plus, it put off learning something he found difficult and frustrating. However, if I took the easy way out and did it for him, what would he learn? He wouldn’t know how to put on his socks and he’d be ready to give up on challenges and have someone else complete them for him. This was NOT the lesson I wanted him to take away. Instead of taking the sock from him, I told him to take a deep breath and say out loud, “I CAN do it.” He repeated the statement and after a few more attempts, he was able to get the sock on his foot. Then, we’d celebrate his accomplishment. Now, when he’s having trouble, he says, “I CAN do it.” without prompting and is able to help himself.
During this simple exercise, he learned how to use an interrupter and become comfortable with being uncomfortable. Also, he felt the power of getting a reward afterwards. Remember to reward yourself generously as you work towards ending your habit of procrastinating. Often we skip the reward, but this is a necessary component of writing over a habit. If the reward is not worth the extra work, we’ll go back to the old habit. Think of something you can experience right away when the task is done. The more immediately you experience the reward, the more powerful it is. A ten minute walk outside or your favorite healthy smoothie help your brain recognize the benefits of creating a new habit.
This is one of the fastest ways we can overcome the habit of procrastination to become more productive and less stressed.
The Procrastination Cure
Take a moment to think of your current procrastination routine. What is the cue? The routine? The reward? How can you rewrite this pattern to create a new habit? What will your interrupter be? Keep the process fun and positive. You’ll soon see the guilt and stress associated with procrastination melt away. In addition, you’ll discover ways to use your time better than mindlessly walking around the kitchen opening and closing the refrigerator while wondering what you’re going to eat instead of just getting started on the project at hand.
Still finding it difficult to stop procrastinating? Grab our free worksheet with 5 more ways to rewrite the habit of procrastination here.
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