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how to stop procrastinating. and why we all do it.
If you can’t stop procrastinating, and are getting increasingly frustrated with yourself, then read on to find out why, and how to stop.
The big Why
I’ve done a video and am writing about this as it comes up time and time again – both for my clients and me (yes I am human and struggle with all of these issues too;). It is such a big issue that I did some further research into it, and found out about something called ‘Present Bias’:
The tendency to overvalue immediate rewards at the expense of long term goals and intentions
Once you are aware of this term, it makes sense of so much, and you can see it everywhere. I particularly experience this with my executive coaching clients – these are very successful business men and women – CEO’s and entrepreneurs, who get so caught up in the day to running of their teams and businesses – at the expense of time spent on vision, strategy, time spent on bigger ideas, thinking time, research time. So know that you are in very good company.
And what’s happening in the brain is that it is making a decision between getting a boost of instant gratification – by say knocking off a a few easy things on your to do list, and spending time on thinking about what your long terms goals are, dealing with something more difficult and complex – where there maybe aren’t any instant, guaranteed answers or results.
There have been numerous studies and experiments which have highlighted this, and the extent to how this can affect us all. One researcher claims 95% of us procrastinate to some degree, although in my ten years of practice, and my 46 years on this planet, I have never met that alleged 5% who doesn’t.
So knowing about Present-bias, how to combat it?
1. Acknowledge the expense
This is where you really do need to take a moment, pause, and think of the effects of not spending time on and taking action towards this more difficult, complicated, long term goal of yours. If like me, you get motivated by looking ahead – 5 years, 20 years, think about the regret or what your life will be like if you don’t do this, if you don’t take the time out to spend on this longer term goal of yours.
Or another way of doing this is to visualise where you do want to be in say 5 years time – where you do you want to end up, what doing this will give you, what you will have, what you will be proud of achieving and glad you spent the time on. creating. Which take me to….
2. Set Time Aside
Whether it’s a half day, a full day a week or month, a morning – whatever it is, set that time aside – and guard it with your life. Because if you don’t allocate this time, you are never going to get around to taking action on this more difficult, complicated, ‘unsatisfying-in-the-short-term’ goal or intention.
Our brains are so hard-wired take the ‘easy’ option (this just goes back to basic survival, energy-saving tactics), that it will do all it can to stop you doing something that is more taxing on the brain. The limbic system that is concerned with survival does not care about your dreams and long term goals – it is only concerned with keeping you alive.
So in order to spend time and energy on your important long-term goals, you are going to have to override it. Which takes me to step number three on how to make that easier – both for you to action, and for your brain to accept….
3. Break it down + avoid distractions
I have put these two together as I don’t want to overload you with tips, and I think they inherently go hand-in-hand in terms of making it easier to get anything more difficult and complicated done.
Because the brain likes ‘easy’ – make things easy for it. Breaking bigger, long-term goals and intentions down does just that – it makes things feel less scary for the brain. For example, being faced with doing one single action such as ‘doing a values exercise to discover what’s really important to me’ , rather than thinking it’s faced with two hours of looking at the whole goal of ‘what do I do with the rest of my life?’.
Small chunks and actions, done one by one = easy.
And again, allowing your brain just to focus on and do one thing, without any interruptions such as emails, phonecalls, text messages, social media feeds etc., will help it be able to focus and actually get something done. So do whatever it takes and works for you around this one – some people like to use apps that clear everything off their computer, such as Pomodoro, for me I actually have to put my phone in another room and shut the door.
And remember, procrastination is normal, and yes it is a tough one to crack, and you absolutely can change this habit.
So if you want to change this and are up for a challenge, my request is within the next two weeks you set aside two chunks of time to start working on your bigger goal – the one you keep putting off but would love to start working on. I would love to hear your plans in the comments below.
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There is no such thing as perfect.
If you keep going for perfection you will never be content.