How to Break the Procrastination Loop

Feb 07, 2022
 

Lately I’ve been putting off revising my website. Why? Because it’s a lot of work, I need to be able to focus, and the technology leaves me feeling frustrated.  I’m also feeling stressed out in certain areas of life, so I find myself procrastinating.  What do I do instead? Well, I find myself doing the dishes, for example, which is not my favorite thing at all.  In fact, it’s something I despise.  

My husband is quick to point this out: “Wow, why are you cleaning? You never clean!” Truth.  Then I’m forced to face the fact I’m procrastinating on fixing my website.  Don’t you love how our partners become our biggest teachers? 

Procrastination is a habit that can be changed with mindfulness and self-reflection.  Procrastination is not just something “lazy” people do…it’s actually a sign that you’re stressed about something and avoiding something (could be the same “thing” or could be different things). That’s right, you heard me: it doesn’t mean you lack drive, focus, or willpower…it means you’re in a stress response. 

If you’ve found yourself procrastinating, you’re not alone.  In fact, research from a PhD at the University of Calgary found that 80–95% of college students are procrastinators.  Admitting that you’ve been procrastinating is the first step, my friend.  

Let’s break it down: if you’re stressed out, it makes sense that you want to focus on something completely opposite to what you’re avoiding (website vs cleaning) OR focus on something pleasurable instead (Friends reruns, shopping, etc).  

Just think about it: when you watch a funny movie instead of cleaning or read a book instead of working on a report it’s because you’re stressed and are looking for an instant dopamine boost.  The issue becomes: the more you give into the pleasurable activity over the “thing”...you get addicted to the dopamine reward and can get stuck in a pattern of procrastination. 

Below are simple strategies on getting out of the procrastination trap. 

  • Don’t wait for motivation to kick in.  Motivation alone will not break a bad habit loop because you’ve reinforced it too many times through repetition and reward.  Not only that, but please tell me: when will you ever feel motivated to clean the dishes or clean the toilet? I mean, maybe you will, but my personal answer: never.  I will never feel motivated to clean the toilet, however, I know it needs to happen.  What’s funny, though, is I will do it if it means avoiding my website revision.  
  • Understand how your brain works.  We have a reactive brain and a thinking brain.  When we’re stressed out, our reactive brain kicks in and it’ll make us either: fight, flight or freeze.  Procrastination is a form of freezing. When we’re stressed out our body wants us to stop expending energy as a way to protect ourselves, which can mean procrastination.
  • Use self-reflection.  Take a little time to get to the bottom of what’s stressing you out: finances, relationships, work, etc.  Once you figure out what the cause is, you can begin creating an action plan to tackle it.  And typically once you have a plan in place, you’ll feel some relief. 
  • Understand what you’re avoiding. Utilize your mindfulness skills to dig deep and reveal what you’re avoiding.  Sometimes it’s more than one thing or sometimes it’s a general feeling of overwhelm that leads you to procrastination.  But when you take time to tap into your higher self, the answers will reveal themselves. 
  • Set your timer for 1 minute. Research shows that if you promise yourself that you’ll work on it for just 1 minute, 80% of the time you will continue working on it once you’ve started. 
  • Continue moving forward. Keep doing this until you’ve completed your task or end goal. You'll feel better once you get moving, even if it's just one minute at a time.

So, the next time you find yourself watching New Girl with a pint of ice cream, take a moment to ask yourself: am I doing this to avoid something else? Or am I giving myself a (much needed) self-care break? We all deserve proper self-care breaks, therefore, if that’s what it is…great! But if it isn’t, then refer back to the steps above for clarity.  This is why it’s important to have ongoing conversations with yourself to maintain mindfulness.

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