The Hidden Reasons Why You Procrastinate and How to Stop
by Kevin Evans — 4 min read
How to Stop Procrastinating
When pursuing personal development, we face two main decision making obstacles:
WHAT goals should we pursue knowing we have limited time available in our schedule?
Of the goals we do choose, HOW should we take action?
Rarely, when deciding which goal to pursue or course of action to take, is one option clearly better than the other. More often, multiple choices look appealing. There are tradeoffs. And tradeoffs equal FOMO.
To make a decision we spend weeks, months, and even years gathering information. Analysis-paralysis begins to take hold.
I can make a decision once I consider the 4,567 factors...
The real challenge in the knowing-doing gap is emotional. We are scared.
For millions of years this part of our brain allowed us to react to threats in the environment in an automatic, split-second manner. It helped us survive jungle cats and prevent getting ousted from our small, I-need-you-to-survive-at-all-costs-or-I-am-screwed, tribe.
Now, it’s the reason why when we get close to going to the gym, we binge watch Netflix instead. It’s why when we set a plan to start a business, we obsess over details and read the millionth business book instead of starting.
It tells us to be careful and slow down. To think about how the critics will tell us that we are idiots and imposters for trying to do what we are doing.
Here’s the thing: the lizard brain isn’t going away anytime soon.
You cannot reason with it. It will be there at every corner like an invisible “resistance” force, as author Steven Pressfield puts it.
The best we can do is to try to silence it; try to quiet it down and carry on with our day.
Quieting the Lizard Brain: Building Your Immunity to Change and How to Stop Procrastinating
A recent study showed that when doctors tell heart patients they will die if they don't change their habits, only one in seven will be able to follow through successfully. Desire and motivation aren't enough, even when it's literally a matter of life or death. We have what Harvard professors Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey call “Immunity to Change” - prior beliefs and fears that keep us stuck in our tracks.
Luckily, Kegan and Lahey have developed a process to unlock our potential and finally move forward. We slightly modified their “Immunity Map” to make it easier to fill out.
What behaviors are stalling your efforts? What are you doing instead of taking action?
This could include deprioritizing a longer term goal for more immediate, urgent tasks (e.g.doing your laundry versus writing the novel you always wanted to write) or using distraction (e.g. browsing the internet).
It probably includes reading another article, book, or watching a documentary on how to proceed, even though you have a rough idea already of how to take action.
List all these behaviors.
What do you fear most by taking action today on what you want to do? Looking at your fears, what are your hidden, competing commitment preventing you from taking action?
Here is the biggie. Look at your list in question 3 and ask yourself, “What if you did the opposite?” What do you fear would happen? These are your competing commitments that keep you stuck.
EXAMPLE FEAR #1: I fear that if I choose one goal to focus on, my relationships will slip. My girlfriend might feel neglected and possibly leave me. My friendships might get shallower. I feel guilty and selfish.
COMMITMENT: I am committed to being selfless. I am committed to not letting others down.
EXAMPLE FEAR #2: I fear if I give up information gathering, I’ll miss a good opportunity and fall behind.
COMMITMENT: I’m committed to quantity over quality. I am committed to be independent and capable of anything.
How true are your assumptions? How can you quiet the lizard brain by mitigating risk?
FEAR #1 Assumption: If I put myself first and I will become what I dislike in others; superficial and trivial.
MITIGATING RISK: Can I block time in my schedule so I do not completely neglect important relationships in my life. What does this look like?
FEAR #2 Assumption: I fear that if I am not good at multiple things, I will stop being valuable.
MITIGATING RISK: I could take one of two approaches:
(1) “Don’t be a Donkey” and realize I can do everything I want but not at the same time.
Can I really lose if I become “better” even if other areas remain the same? Maybe I do not get out of debt this year but prioritize adopting a more positive attitude toward loved ones and becoming more grateful. Would I regret that?
The year I got in shape, I was in debt. But then I became a fit, in debt person. Rome was not built in a day.
(2) Pursue multiple goals at once.
How can I set up clear progress indicators? What would take minimal time/effort each week to produce a win.
How can I read more about people who took a very slow, methodical approach to goals and actively avoid seeking out the quick success?
While intellectually we may say we want to improve, we often have competing, deeply held commitments that prevent us from actually getting to where we want to go.
By identifying these competing commitments and challenging assumptions, we finally cage our lizard brains and cross the bridge from knowing to doing.
Six months is going to pass regardless of whether you take action or remain deep in thought. Which side of the bridge do YOU want to be on? Let us help you make the leap.
Head of Growth and Marketing at Intelligent Change. I have my hands in all things from emails to product creation. Passionate about improving mental health education. Sucker for donuts. You can find me in sweet home Chicago.
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