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Posted by Dr. Scott Wilson | 15-Jan-2022
The start of a new year often brings with it a sense of rejuvenation and desire to improve. While this desire can manifest itself in many ways, overcoming procrastination is a fairly common one.
Procrastination is a near universal behaviour. Most of us only do it occasionally and about things where the consequences are minimal. However, for some of us, procrastination can be a more significant issue. It extreme cases, it can lead to reduced productivity, increased stress, and even to low self-esteem and depression. This is often because procrastination is mistakenly viewed as a sign of laziness and a barrier to achieving success.
If overcoming procrastination is one of your goals this year, these five tips can help increase your chances of success.
To make the most of solutions for overcoming procrastination, it’s important to understand why we procrastinate in the first place. And, spoiler alert, it’s not about laziness. It’s actually a response to various environmental, biological, and emotional factors.
Distractions are a key environmental factor contributing to procrastination. The more distractions you have present, the more difficult it is to begin and follow through on a task. The increase in smart phone use, social media consumption and at-home work has increased the number of distractions we face. Not surprisingly, many people have found procrastination to be an increasing challenge.
When it comes to biological factors, we’re really talking about brain chemistry. The neuroscience of procrastination focuses on a conflict between the brain’s limbic system and its prefrontal cortex. The limbic system governs the flight response to stress while the prefrontal cortex is the planning and decision-making part of the brain. Because the limbic system is much stronger or more dominant, we tend to flee from an immediate challenge even when there are longer term benefits. In other words, we procrastinate.
Perfectionism and anxiety or depression are key emotional factors (although anxiety and depression can have biological causes). People struggling with perfectionism often procrastinate because they are reluctant to begin a project they fear they can’t complete up to a certain standard. Similarly, anxiety, depression or other mental health conditions, which severely impact motivation and energy levels, can prevent people from taking action on initiatives, projects, or tasks.
Now that we understand what might be causing us to procrastinate, let’s see what can be done prevent it.
Awareness is the key to affecting any kind of change. First and foremost, you need to become aware of what your particular early warning signs typically look like. For example, your procrastination may start with unnecessarily checking your phone, channel surfing or snacking. This initial awareness can help you to recognize that you are falling into a familiar pattern. It can also help you to make a conscious decision to refocus before you get too far off track.
As indicated, the nature of our working environments today means that it’s very easy to give in to distraction. Of course, the simplest solution to this challenge is to remove as many potential distractions from your workspace as possible. Try to create a place for yourself, and established times, where you can focus on completing tasks and achieving objectives.
If the phone is your issue, turn it off and put it away. Getting distracted by the TV, choose a space without a TV or turn it off and put the remote away. If snacking is a problem, stay away from the kitchen. As for your loved ones, be clear that you’re blocking time and need their help to keep you focused by not disturbing you until that time is done. If you’re at the office, consider using headphones and playing ambient or instrumental music, and turning off your computer’s notifications if possible. You can even consider a distraction blocker browser extension or app, if you find yourself still struggling with a wandering mind.
One way to overcome your limbic system’s dominance is by being clear about what you need to do, by when. Start by making a prioritized list for the week and including due dates for each item. You should also break larger tasks down into smaller sub-tasks so the whole job or objective doesn’t seem as daunting. This also allows you to experience a greater quantity and frequency of success which can help you build momentum. Of course, you’ll want to ensure that you’re being realistic about your deadlines when creating your lists (pro tip: if you can, try to identify the amount of time each task will take so you don’t over schedule yourself). Setting unrealistic expectations, and the perceived failure that often results, can be extremely demotivating – especially if perfectionism is a part of your particular challenge.
Another way of overriding your natural flight response to stress is by creating a more positive association with accomplishing a task. The biological basis for this is simple. When we reward ourselves, we trigger a rush of dopamine to our brain. Simply put, dopamine is a neurotransmitter, often referred to as the “happy hormone”, that allows you to feel pleasure, satisfaction and motivation. Too much or too little dopamine can negatively impact productivity. However, when we understand the link between dopamine impacts productivity, we can use it to our advantage by including periodic rewards throughout the day to maintain focus and motivation.
If your particular challenge is related to emotionally based factors such as debilitating perfectionism, anxiety or depression, you should consider seeking the help and a mental health professional. A registered Psychotherapist can help you to identify and understand what, specifically, is driving your procrastination. These underlying factors may be based on perceptions, beliefs or attitudes created by traumatic life experiences, problematic relationships, personal qualities and characteristics, or some combination. Together, you can come to terms with these factors and develop strategies and tactics for overcoming their influence. Of course, while some deeper issues may take longer to address, there are also specific therapies and techniques, such as Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) that may provide some more near-term benefits.
Overcoming procrastination can be a challenge, but the benefits can be well worth the effort. Depending on how significant a factor it is in your life, overcoming procrastination can actually an increased level of accomplishment, sense of satisfaction and feelings of success. Just remember, we all procrastinate to one degree or another and you may be going up against some pretty powerful forces. So don’t be too hard on yourself if you don’t succeed right away or on your own.
If you need help with overcoming procrastination caused by perfectionism, anxiety or depression, our team of Registered Psychotherapists can help. Contact us today and let us show you why at Physiomed, Healthier Starts Here.
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