Overcoming Procrastination with Mindfulness in 3 Simple, Easy Steps
Some days it feels like you’re drowning. You know you want to do something, but you can’t get started. You feel too overwhelmed. What makes us feel like that?
It’s not a flaw in your character. It’s a chemical process in your brain! Neuroscience explains why we procrastinate. And when you understand why, then you can find ways of naturally working with your brain chemistry.
You can also mindfully acknowledge that one Part of you is trying to keep you safe, while another Part is yearning for growth and challenge. More on integrating these two Parts in a moment. Now back to the neuroscience of procrastination…
Procrastination results from a battle between two powerful forces inside your brain known as the “approach-avoidance conflict”. This conflict arises between two systems:
The approach system. The dopamine-rich areas of the brain are linked to pleasure, reward, and the motivation to act.
The avoidance system. The cortisol-rich areas of the brain are associated with fear and anxiety, which discourage action.
So what happens when dopamine triggers desire but cortisol triggers fear and anxiety? Inertia and procrastination! Simply put, your brain gets jammed up trying to figure out the pros and cons of a situation, so it’s easier to do nothing. And if you can’t get started, you’re not going to get into the Flow.
What is Flow?
In 1970, Psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi coined the name “Flow”. We also know it as “being in the zone”. It’s when you’re so fully engaged in your project you don’t hear or see anything else. Time stands still. So what will get you there?
Flow has different stages: struggle, release, flow, and recovery. The brain goes through many electrical and chemical changes as you shift through these stages. (Steven Kotler author of The Art of Impossible, provides a series of videos that explain.) Some of the neurochemicals that affect Flow are norepinephrine, dopamine, anandamide, serotonin and endorphins. But remember there’s more than neurochemicals being activated. So, in part, here’s what’s happening:
Flow stage, Struggle. You’re trying to get into the task, but the norepinephrine in your system causes frustration, anxiety, and discomfort.
Flow stage, Release. You keep persisting with the task, then pain-relieving endorphins kick in.
Flow stage, Flow. You achieve total concentration and absorption as serotonin and dopamine surge, keeping you in that state.
Flow stage, Recovery. As you sleep, your brain continues to process and store what you’ve learned and achieved, as it releases serotonin.
But that still doesn’t explain how you get from avoidance to becoming actively involved. How do you get started?
Overcoming Procrastination — Rev Up Your Engine
We need to rev up the feel-good neurochemicals, like dopamine before we get started. What’s the quickest way to do that? Exercise! Go for a brisk walk while you think about your project. The act of walking increases oxygen to the brain, releasing endorphins, dopamine, and endocannabinoids. I’ve experienced so many of my best ideas and breakthroughs as I exercise. Try it and see if it works for you.
While you’re exercising, state your big goal and then work backward. “I want to do ______, but I can’t do that until I do ______, but I can’t do that until I _______, but I can’t do that until I __________,” and so on, until you discover the first baby step you can take.
I always tell my clients, “Dream Big, Start Small: Here is one thing you can do today!” Everyone can do some form of exercise. Exercise starts the flow of dopamine, and you can keep it coming by taking baby steps that get you fast wins. Make the first action so easy that there’s no resistance left.
Parts Integration is Key to Overcoming Procrastination
Earlier, I mentioned that resolving the conflict between your Parts is a key component to overcoming procrastination. It’s vital to answer this question: Why is part of me saying I can’t or shouldn’t? Here are some possible reasons:
This action has resulted in pain in the past. If this is your answer, then explore what you’ve learned from the past, how you’ve grown and why that’s not your truth today.
You don’t feel like you know enough. You may or may not have the skills you need, but you can learn them. Embarking on the journey to get those skills is exhilarating and challenging enough to make you feel alive.
You’ve never done it before and you’re afraid of failure. When you remove the word failure from your vocabulary as I have, you turn every experience into a learning session without any judgment attached to it.
You’re just not set up to get started. Then use today to get ready. Buy the supplies you need. Set them out. Boot them up. Clear your mind and get started tomorrow when you’re fresh.
You’re running out of time and you can’t give it the attention you think it deserves. Two issues here — panic and perfectionism. Panic is robbing you of time. What do you do to robbers? Lock them out! Perfectionism deserves the same treatment because it’s not your friend. Now sit down and work on it for 30 minutes, take a break, then work 30 minutes more. Keep it up until you’ve got a handle on it. Break until tomorrow and pick it up again. After sleep, you’re starting from a place of empowerment!
Restorative sleep is your secret weapon.
While you sleep, your brain continues to work on your problem. So if you prepare for it the night before and then work on it the second you wake up — no social media or emails — there’s no time for the avoidance system to kick in.
Overcoming procrastination is a skill you can learn and apply mindfully no matter what situation you encounter. Remember to mindfully practice these three steps:
- Exercise to rev up your brain power.
- Resolve the conflict between your Parts.
- Get plenty of restorative sleep.
If you’d like to learn more ways you can achieve your big dreams, contact me and let’s talk. And be sure to subscribe to my newsletter, because it’s loaded with tips you can use today to make a real difference in your life.
Your “Dream Big, Start Small” take-away tip for today