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How to Stop Procrastination

How to Stop Procrastination

Definition of Procrastination

In order to learn How to Stop Procrastination let’s first define what it is

Procrastination is the practice of carrying out less urgent tasks in preference to more urgent ones, or doing more pleasurable things in place of less pleasurable ones, and thus putting off impending tasks to a later time. In order for a behavior to be classified as procrastination: it must be counterproductive, needless, and delaying. Similarly, it is “to voluntarily delay an intended course of action despite expecting to be worse off for the delay.”

It is strongly advised you first read the article that defines What is Procrastination.

The first steps in How to Stop Procrastination is to understand the emotional realities that influence our impulsive acts. The emotional reality of your experience is always real and valid to you, they are after all, ‘how you feel’ – which is an important aspect of your self identity. But your emotional reality, may not reflect anther’s emotional reality – or in fact be related in the slightest to the real situation. More often than not, our default mode is reacting to these unconsciously produced emotive components without forcing ourselves into conscious and rational evaluations.

In the previous article we established that the primary reason for acts of procrastination is due to our impulsive personality traits. It is a fundamental lack of self control that allows us to accept the emotional payoff of the pleasure in the moment over the future potential for a reward benefit. By understanding these personality aspect in more detail – this knowledge can be used to consciously make decision and increase your control and discipline to taking action.

How to Guide to End your Procrastinating

1) Understand the Role of our Emotions
2) Develop strategies that enforce Control and Discipline

Step 1: Recognize Emotive vs Rational Thinking

We humans have evolved from a world where our instinct (our immediate emotional response) was crucial for survival. For example, When we were hunter gatherers, and out in the wilds, we had to determine if the movement in the grass was a predator, food or just the wind. Those who developed a sense of anxiety would stop and act with caution; those who did not develop an immediate emotional response would continue ahead without emotions indicating a change in behavior was required. Over time, the people with the traits of instinctive emotional response lived longer, breed and passed the genes onto the next generations.

We are the result of hundreds of thousands of years of selective breeding of our ancestors whose survival relied upon the response between our instinctive emotions and the actions we took because of them. The bottom line is, that in today’s world, our response to ambiguous external situations is not the life or death situation it was in the past. However we still have the same model of neurological adaptations, and experience the same levels of emotional intensity as if life events where still a matter of survival.

You need to understand that your emotional response to, and feelings about a situation are prehistoric in origin and do not reflect the reality of the life we are living now. It is easy to respond at an emotional level without rational evaluation – so easy a caveman can do it!

Step 2: Know your Pleasure vs Pain Motivation Strategy

Any action you take, any behavior you adopt can be boiled down to the essential question “Will doing X, bring me more pleasure or pain in relation to right now“. Some people are motivated more by adding pleasure to their lives, some are motivated more by avoiding pain. Both Pleasure (fun, enjoyment, excitement, relaxation, socializing, etc) and Pain (boredom, anxiety, stress, worry, etc) are experienced at an imagined emotional attachment in the present moment to the choices we have.

While we primarily have a predominant motivation strategy, both pleasure and pain influence our behavior. For example, you might procrastinate about doing a task because it is boring, while the conversations you are having are stimulating (moving towards creating pleasure strategy). But at some point the stress and anxiety of not completing the work begins to build until the pain of procrastination exceeds the pleasure we get from the avoidance (moving away from pain strategy).

You need to know at a conscious level which of these unconscious processes is controlling your motivation. Are you motivation to do something because you think it is going to bring you pleasure? Or are you engaging in any activity because you are avoiding doing something painful?

Step 3: Present Bias vs the Power of Goal Setting

We are in general, predisposed to favoring a preference for the present moment over our long term objectives. One of the main reasons we allow for our impulsive behavior to satisfy the now, is because it is forefront in our minds. We also have the ability to future pace reality within our imagination and fantasy – but this type of thinking is usually done when we are resting and producing more Alpha brain wave activity. There is no doubt that setting yourself goals has a powerful influence on the type of actions and decision you are likely to take in an effort to move closer to those goals.

When you write down your goals, and focus on them, creating an emotional payoff association with the act of completion, you are not only consciously aware of – but directly communicating to your subconscious your expectations. It is important that you have a future goal, a positively detailed and highly emotionally satisfying reward that is achievable (rather than a fantasy).

Your personal life goals are something that you want to review on a consistent basis, imagining yourself in the experience, fully enjoying the payoff of completion as if it has already happened. Goal setting allows you to future pace your reality and from this perspective you can see yourself having already completed the various tasks and strategies that you needed to do in order to be where you are now. The ability to mentally step into this time frame and experience, can act as a moving towards pleasure motivation strategy. In addition you are programming yourself to sense you have already completed the tasks you are about to start.

Step 4: Getting your Subconscious on board – Mindful Awareness

Your Subconscious Mind can be thought of as a part of you that is separate but connected to who you are and how you act. The function of the Subconscious is to make life easier for you by creating programs that run automatically to influence your attitude, beliefs and behaviors. These programs are influenced by both our genetic history (initially) and then the influence of our environment, upbringing and most importantly our self-talk (thoughts, feelings, inner voice, focus). Your Subconscious attempts to give you what you want, and it knows what you want by monitoring your self-talk; it listens to the questions you ask yourself, and creates through a focus of attention and awareness experiences that provide answers to the question you are asking.

For example if you are procrastinating and you are thinking along the lines of “why can’t I start this task now“; your subconscious will answer this by drawing your attention to situations and thoughts that will provide you with something more interesting to do in your present movement. These types of thoughts then seem familiar and provide the basis of the excuses we make in justifying our procrastination.

We have around 60,000 thoughts a day, yet at the end of the day most people can not recall consciously even 10 thoughts they have had. You make decisions about what, where, and when to eat, when to go to the bathroom, if you should walk or drive, – making decisions all the time. More importantly what to do, think, and feel about the tasks you are avoiding and what pleasure motivating activities you could fill your time with. This thought process is a double edged sword! Your thoughts are on automatic pilot from your subconscious mind, and your subconscious mind takes your thoughts and creates future emotions and behavior to encourage or discourage actions to move towards your goals.

Mindful Awareness is the ability to notice, monitor and challenge your self-talk. By having predetermined goals, that you take the time to write down and immerse yourself in the experience you are instructing your unconscious in what direction to take to make things automatic for you. When you notice at a conscious level that your thoughts are focused on what you do not want – instead of moving you towards what you do want – you can challenge and direct your thinking using positive affirmation.

Emotional Procrastination Aspects Solutions and Action Plan:

Understand, re-frame and dismiss the negative or unplanned unconscious and emotional reasons that drive your behavior. These fuel your impulsive acts to satisfy the emotional needs in your present moment. In order to control your actions, and maintain the discipline to stick to the plan to defeat procrastination – conscious and rational self-talk negotiation needs to be more of an influence than the immediate emotional feelings you are experiencing.

  • Remind yourself that how you are feeling is merely a biochemical process that developed generations ago to shape survival behaviors. And why these feelings are real and valid to you – You are NOT your feelings, you are the one who decides what your future holds for you. You are the one who will determine when you choose to really enjoy the experience of pleasurable emotions and when you choose to knuckle down to create the opportunity to experience this freedom.
  • Ask yourself “What pleasurable or painful emotion am I attempting to move towards or away from. Once you are able to label a usually unconscious fuzzy feeling as “I am trying to avoid the pain of boredom of doing this task” you have the ability to dismiss the feeling as not being part of who you are choosing to create (your mindset, traits and natural default attitude)
  • Have a clear idea of your future self, and realize that procrastination is when you allow your current self to dictate to your future self how they are going to spend your time. Your goals should be clearly defined and written down, and during your review fully immerse in the emotional experience. As the reality of the future self you becomes easier to access you can do it at will and weaken (eventually demolish) the current self and its present bias.
  • Develop Mindful Awareness. Know that you are consistently programming your future attitudes and behavior (and the intensity of the emotional experience attached to them) throughout the day. When you notice that you are dwelling on or making excuses for continuing to procrastinate you can say to yourself “Cancel that thought, what I mean is abc” and provide a position statement of intention as if it has already happened.

Practical Strategies How to Stop Procrastination Develop Self Control and Discipline

Now that you have an awareness of the intrinsic emotional aspect of why we procrastinate, and some ways to identify, challenge and modify yourself at the core – lets examine some more pragmatic methods. These systems, are designed to create new working habits, that make up the foundation of a work ethic that promotes greater self control and over time the discipline to stick to working in a productive way.

In order to avoid procrastination we need to become more productive. Productivity is the process of completing tasks within a suitable time frame, and a Mindset that greatly aids in the resourcefulness to rid ourselves of being a procrastinator. As you become more experienced at setting yourself realistic time frames to perform your tasks, you will find that you simply have forgotten to remember how to find ways to put things off in the first place.

The following solutions are commonplace. You will more than likely find them on any blog, and probably already know most of them. But I am betting you are not doing them on a regular basis you would not be needing to learn how to stop procrastinating. Do not just skim through the titles, within each suggestions are explanations to further enhance your understanding and knowledge of how these skills relate to the emotive reasons we do not take instant action on tasks at hand. In no time at all these will become a normal part of how you go into your work day, a wiser, smarter and more productive workday.

1) Create a to-do list.

Make yourself an old fashioned to-do list, start the practice with a hand written one, then later if you prefer move on to an App or program. A hand written to-do list will increase the integration of your intention, short term goal setting, and awareness of the tasks by increasing the muscular-neurological associations. Your aim is to not only have a list of activities you can breakdown and check off – but to also make a statement to your subconscious mind of your intentions and desires. By using greater neurological activation of the motor skills when writing, you are increasing the effectiveness of your unconscious communication.

  • List everything, big and small, that you have to do for your entire day
  • Break down bigger activities into smaller bits if necessary.
  • Allocate a number to each task 1) Priority 2) Interest 3) Difficulty
  • Arrange an order of importance and allocate a time frame

While this might seem like more initial work than just getting started on the day, you are training yourself in smart work habits that increase productivity.

As you finish on each task, check them off, visually monitoring your progress of a smaller and smaller list will increase your pride, respect and motivation to continue. Make sure to mentally ‘pat yourself on the back’. As odd or egocentric as it seems, studies show that just the act of mentally congratulating yourself will secrete a neurotransmitter feedback system that strengthen connections making it easier to engage in the same activity in the future.

By listing an interest value, you will be aware of tasks that are going to require a little more mental effort to monitor and correct when you start to daydream.

2) Focus on the End Result.

Remind yourself during your reward or rest breaks of the long term goals you have set for yourself. Imagine yourself in the future enjoying the returns from the work you are about to do. Make sure this is an emotional intense feeling, you might for example, have a trip planned to visit your friend after the job has been done, so imagine yourself in their company, maybe having a coffee and chatting. Sense your future self and imagine how it will feel as you think back to the present moment and mentally give yourself a wink and says “Thanks for doing that – You rock!”.

By doing this you are training yourself to respond more to the longer term payoffs of working rather than being influenced by the present moment bias. For long term productivity mindsets it is important to know where you are heading, what you need to do to get there and focus on the longer term benefit. In the shorter term you can focus on the days activities and how well you are moving towards its completion. Every now and again as your mind begins to wander – use that time to remind your subconscious of your intention.

3) Remove and Avoid Distractions

Although things might pop up that seem like they are worthy of your attention, it is likely these are elements of the impulsive traits that make us day dream and procrastinate. You should look at it as a wonderful opportunity to train yourself in more rational thinking. For example, if your planning on cleaning up the yard, but someone calls and invites you out. Here you can go through your process of establishing knowledge of your emotive vs rational needs, and make mental challenges to your caveman responses and reaffirm to your subconscious what you want it to make automatic for you.

Being prepared before hand will help you during the moments of temptation. You have your to-do list and can anticipate when you are going to be tempted more during the less interesting tasks. Turn the television or radio is off (if required). Cover the computer screen if you have a bit of an internet surfing habit – it won’t matter if you find out your friend on Facebook is having a bad day until later. Put on some noise-cancelling headphones, turn off your phone, and hide your temptations. If interrupted politely let the person know you will catch up during a break. There maybe people and events where this is next to impossible – but you are taking responsibility for what you do and not influenced by your boredom.

4) Give yourself a break

If you are working on procrastination it is likely your ability to focus for long periods of time is not strong. Make as part of your work day scheduled breaks, to mentally recharge and physically relax. It is during this time you can socialize and inject activities that satisfy your present self. It is important to not only set yourself tasks and schedules, but to also give yourself short term rewards and breaks. This lessens any stress that you might feel due to the work, and it revitalizes you and your motivation to continue.

You will also gain resolve when temptation comes around, by saying to yourself “I know I want to check Facebook – if I still want to during my break then I will do it then”.

The object here is to remove the sense of immediacy. Remember we are programmed to respond quickly to our emotions because unconsciously we feel like it is a life or death situation. Here is where we make an effort to think with logic over responding to emotion

A major component of procrastination is the feeling of urgency associated with the impulsive nature of attending to our emotional feelings. Psychological the very idea of having to commit yourself to long periods of work time can stir immediate feelings of dread and boredom – thwarting attempts to even starting to work. By doing this on a regular basis you teach your unconscious processes of impulsiveness to engage in delayed satisfaction.

5) Productivity not Perfection

One of the biggest factors for many people is that they want everything to be perfect. Maybe the house cleaning can not be done right because the vacuum sucking is bad. Perhaps you think there is no point starting an assignment until you have all your research completed. Get over this personal belief NOW! Unless you are in a specialty where perfection is essential – it is the quantity of production that relates more to your success in life. The same principle relates to the time to start your projects; if you’re waiting for the perfect time, the perfect supplies, or you won’t stop until you’ve “perfected” your project, you’re putting off completing your task.

Your prime objective is to complete as many tasks as you can – and to get stuck in the ‘perfection mindset’ is counter productive to progress. There is nothing wrong with adding to your to-do list to come back to a task to finish it off, but you will find it psychologically much more rewarding (not to mention productive) to plow through as many tasks as you can.

6) Motivation

Studies consistently show that the claim “I work best under pressure” is incorrect. If you tell yourself this, do some self reflection and see if this is not one of the justification methods you use to protect your ego from the negative effects of being a procrastinator. Any behavior you wish to increase (both mental and physical) responds to positive reinforcement/punishment and to a lesser extent negative reinforcement/punishment. Although we all have different motivators that work best for ourselves.

The terms in a psychological content are a little different to common usage … Positive here means ‘Adding’ while Negative means ‘Removing’. Reinforcement refers to increasing a behavior while Punishment refers to decreasing a behavior. It is also important to note that the immediacy of giving yourself these rewards has an impact on their effects. The reinforcement and punishment must be instant; and it can be as simple as a mental pat on the back.

Positive Reinforcement: occurs when a stimulus is presented as a result of operant behavior and that behavior increases.

Example: You just finished a set task within the time frame and checked it off your list … Tell yourself (maybe in a characters voice) “Oh you da man!” and high five yourself or neighbor

Negative Reinforcement: occurs when an aversive (unpleasant) stimulus is removed as a result of operant behavior and the rate of the behavior increases.

Example: When you have a loved one nagging at you until what they want is done. You complete the task and the nagging stops

Positive Punishment is the adding of an aversive (unpleasant) stimulus to decrease a behavior or response.

Example: You have a friend who is permitted to jab you in the ribs if they witness any behavior you’re doing that is procrastinating

Negative Punishment is the removal of a pleasant stimulus to decrease a behavior or response.

Example: You are starting to daydream and not doing any of the methods to prevent it and get back to work – so you immediately take away one of the cookies you were planning on having during your break

These systems of reward and punishment work! There is absolutely no doubt at all about the effectiveness of these systems, and employing them in your work day will in increase your levels of self control and self discipline. Obviously the better or worse you can make the rewards or punishment the increase effectiveness of them starting to change you at the core.

Reinforcement methods usually work better for most people, and the rewards do not have to be so high. An opportunity to mental pat yourself on the back and give yourself positive affirmations eg “I am such an amazing Mum” along with a feeling of accomplishment produces amazing results. The punishment wants to be more painful than continuing with the activity you want to stop – If you are really having a problem maybe $50 donation to a friend, spouse or child will make you think twice.

7) Accomplice and Accountability Buddy

Humans are social creatures. We thrive on interactions and a sense of belonging to and contributing to like minded groups. We also tend to adopt the behaviors of those we associate with and like. So use this to your advantage if possible, but learn to make the distinction between friendships and work partners. Your best friend, the one who brings out the animal in your when you are out – might not be the best accomplice during your working day.

Having a work buddy who knows your to-do list, and knows what tactics you are using to avoid procrastinating can help you (and you help them) by encouraging you to stay on task and help you when you need it. Telling someone about what you need to do will motivate you to finish your project, because if you don’t you will have to suffer the embarrassment of admitting it to them (or even worse pay for their coffees with negative punishment).

If you are unable to have someone with you then using the same principles as an accountability buddy will also help. Set up and schedule “check-ins” with your friend where they call to see where you’re at. These can be deadlines for certain tasks, at which point you will either be praised or chastised by your friend based on your progress report.

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Andrew Dobson

Dr Andrew Dobson is a qualified Psychologist, Hypnotherapist and Life Coach and the owner and creator of Mindfit Hypnosis - providing online hypnotherapy since 2002. For over 13 years, Dr Dobson of Mindfit, has provided Real Therapy based on Science using the Subconscious Modalities of Hypnotherapy and NLP. Join Mindfit Hypnosis on Facebook and Google+ for updates and special discounts