Recently, I joined other business owners at Hazel Weyman’s fantastic online brainstorming session for blogging. We were sharing insights on what people may be wanting to learn and read about during this challenging time. Interestingly, most of the questions that the participants asked me revolved around procrastination.

The aim of today’s blog post is to share with you my insights from working with my clients coupled with some latest neuroscience findings. I hope you find it useful.

What does it actually mean to procrastinate?

Procrastination defined by the Merriam Webster dictionary means – to put off intentionally and habitually. Now, within this same context, one of the participants asked me what was the difference between “I can’t” and “I don’t want to”?

It’s the want!

If you do want but you think you can’t,  why do you think you are thinking this?

The thing is, we tend to give ourselves all sorts of excuses. But are they really valid?

I invite you to write down all the reasons why you think you can’t do something and then,  try to find solutions. You could invite a friend to join you in brainstorming possible ways of overcoming current challenging circumstances. This will reorient your brain  to a solution focused mode and help you move from “I can’t” into “I can”!

If, on the other hand, there’s something you don’t want to do but there’s another way of achieving your goals that resonates more with your personality, then that is your way forward.

Are procrastination and laziness the same thing?

You have most probably heard that lions hunt mostly only when they are hungry. Similarly, some people tend to leave things until the last minute. Why is this the case? There is a common tendency to view procrastination as laziness or dawdling.

However, if this is a recurring theme  in the procrastinator’s life then there might be some other underlying issues they have not  addressed. I noticed from working with my clients that one of the major hindrances are general overwhelm and a lack of self-belief.

If we don’t believe we are good enough or we compare ourselves unfavorably to others, then it’s a race we won’t even bother to run. In our mind’s eye we already see ourselves failing.

The neuroscience of goal achievement

The thing is, humans do more to avoid pain then they do to gain pleasure. It has a lot to do with self-preservation which also indicates that if we want to excel in something, there needs to be more effort involved on our behalf. Our brain operates according to established patterns of behavior. This means that when we learn something, whether through observation or experience, that information becomes stored as part of our subconscious programming. In this situation the brain creates a template so in the future, it has an automatic response that does not involve conscious awareness. Although this allows the brain to save energy and operate more quickly, the subconscious beliefs created like this make the difference between our success and failure. Consequently, even when we identify unhelpful patterns, we may be reluctant to let them go and prefer keeping things as they are. Procrastination may be just another way of avoiding change and taking action. Why is this the case?

The brain’s status quo bias

The brain is naturally wired to resist change. However beneficial it may be, we are naturally more inclined to stay within the familiar then having to face uncertainty and the unknown. According to the research by scientists at the University College of London “The more difficult the decision we face, the more likely we are not to act.”  This may explain why we are struggling to achieve  our goals.

Is procrastination really about managing time?

All this brings us to the conclusion that there’s much more to procrastination than just managing time. Having to keep up with all the demands of daily life may feel overwhelming, especially if you’re running your own business. What I’ve learnt from working with my clients and my personal experience is the importance of having structure and the right mindset. The thing is, if there are unhelpful beliefs running in the background, they will always win. 

As Jameson Frank wisely explains : “Our greatest battles are those within our minds.”

Interestingly, whenever there’s a conflict, the subconscious mind will always prevail. So as long as we are afraid to put the wrong foot forward and experience new possibilities, we will stay in our comfort zone. 

There’s an inextricable connection between self-doubt, procrastination and feeling overwhelmed and these three combined can stop you from achieving  all that is possible for you. The good news is, we can learn to manage our emotions and introduce structure into our daily life. On top of this, to achieve our goals, there needs to be a good reason to leave the familiar. Now, with that in mind, I’d like to know what will be your reward? Why do you want to achieve that goal?

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Want to read more? Try this – How to overcome overwhelm when reality hits you