You are about to get started on that project, you know what you have to do and you are clear on when it’s due – then all of a sudden as if out of your control, you notice your browser opening up YouTube and here we go: cats making pancakes while performing backflips. What happened?
One of the biggest challenges young professionals are dealing with today is something we all know too well, procrastination. It can all be so easy yet for some reason we all struggle to do the things we are supposed to do and find ourselves distracted in a matter of seconds. The ability to focus on a single task for a given time has never been more important as we find ourselves in the age of digital media distraction.
Many believe that procrastination happens due to one being lazy, not good enough at time management or not having your priorities straight. While there is some truth to all of that when we dig deeper into what procrastination actually means, we find an enlightening truth. You procrastinate because you are scared. Allow me to elaborate a little bit on human behavior before explaining the connection to fear.
Human behavior is primarily controlled by two forces:
The need to seek pleasure and the need to avoid pain. Naturally, the need to avoid pain is a much stronger driver as it is connected to our primal survival instinct. Think about it, would you rather go for the chocolate cake or run away from the hungry lion that is moving closer?
This dynamic is taking place on a subconscious level and affects every aspect of our lives. Even though we have evolved a lot as a human species, our brain is still operating the way it did when we were hunters and gatherers. One of the features of our brain is that it cannot determine whether something is really happening or just an imagination, either way the same neurological responses are triggered.
What that means is whenever your brain perceives something as very painful, especially a new experience, it will activate the protection mechanism that keeps you safe or you could say it keeps you in your comfort zone. Even though being in the comfort zone is pleasurable, the main driver here is the need to avoid pain. You might be consciously aware that working out regularly is very good for your health in the long-term but subconsciously your brain is connected to the time where you failed the sports class in school and are now horrified by the idea of failing again. Your subconscious mind makes up more than 92% of your operating system – you can’t logically think yourself out of it.
Therefore, if the perceived outcome of the task at hand is more painful than the task itself, the brain will activate the survival mechanism and come up with reasons to protect you from perceived pain. This is your recipe for procrastination. To sum this up, you do not procrastinate because you’re lazy but because you are controlled by the fear of the perceived outcome of the task at hand which inherently is a subconscious process.
How do we overcome procrastination?
I’m glad you asked. There are many ways of handling procrastination powerfully so that you become much more effective, focused and overall productive in your career. Essentially when you master the art of taking massive and focused action whenever required, you free up your personal time which I call “going from busy to effective”.
As a possibility mindset coach and speaker, I have helped hundreds of young professionals all over the world become crystal clear on what they desire most out of their life and career, identify what is preventing them from having it so that the necessary action steps are simple to implement. When you clearly understand what is causing your procrastination you have the power to make a change. Therefore, it is crucial to understand what the core reason for your inaction is. In order to achieve this, you can go through to the following exercise.
1. What is the pain I have connected to taking action?
It is important to continue to dig until you find the actual reason. If for example you are thinking about launching your own business and somehow you cannot get past researching new product ideas, you might be controlled by the fear of failure that you are subconsciously connected to. If you find something painful, keep digging and asking yourself “where does that lead to?” until you find a reason that emotionally touches you.
2. Identify the false pleasure
Human beings don’t take action (not taking action is also an action) unless there is a pleasure return in it. Procrastinating on the business idea might give you a sense of safety because you don’t have to take the risk of starting something new. It might also give you a sense of control because you know what’s happening, it’s all within your hands as opposed to stepping into the unknown of starting a new business. Ask yourself “what pleasure am I gaining by not taking action?” and keep digging until you got it all.
3. Connect massive pain to your inaction
Since pain will always be a strong driving force for human behavior (unless our brain evolves beyond it) it’s wise to use the dynamic to our own benefit. This part is crucial because you really want to be creative and add enough pain to your inaction so that it becomes an absolute must for you to get the train rolling. My invitation is to use something that already moves you and connect it to your inaction. Say for example you have a family member that you love dearly and it’s very important for you to him/her to be their best. In this case, you could say something like “If I don’t get this business off the ground, X is going to see me as a terrible example and will be demotivated by that. The message I’m sending to her is that it’s ok to give up on your dreams. I’m really a terrible example if I don’t start working on my business and it will also affect my mood and make me a shitty person to be around.”
Remember that your brain does not know the difference between real and imagined, so be creative even if you think it’s not logical. The question you need to ask yourself is “what am I losing by not taking action? What is this costing me down the line?”
4. Connect massive pleasure to your action
This is the most fun part of this exercise and you get to paint your ideal picture of your future. Here you want to connect a very pleasurable outcome to you taking action. For example, once you have begun to take action you are going to feel much more confident and energetic because of the movement. You will eventually be free to have your own business and so many insights and beautiful moments to share. You will create a business that allows you to work remotely from anywhere in the world and enjoy sunsets on the beach every day. You will be a stellar example for the people in your family to show them that it’s possible to live your dreams. I think you get where I’m going with this.
This exercise will only work if you put enough emotional intensity into it. If you half- heartedly write down the answers on the go without putting proper thinking into it, you are wasting your time. The more real you can make this, the more effective it will be. Really allow yourself to feel every step of this exercise and get as creative as you can. The more often you repeat it with emotional intensity the faster you will get over procrastination.
At this point, I really want to emphasize that all I have been sharing with you is 100% in your hands. It doesn’t matter how old/young you are, how much money you have or how much you think you know; this stuff works! Clarity is such a vital part of your career and life success because it allows you to really understand yourself and with it craft a powerful path for the future. When you notice yourself procrastinating, remind yourself of the things that are at stake. Make a list on your phone, write it down on paper, whatever you need to do to make it handy and easy for you to be reminded.
Every time you are procrastinating on what is most important to you, you are cheating yourself and miss out on the opportunity to go from average to extraordinary. My firm belief is that you got what it takes inside of you to become a master of focus and execution so that you are free to build a life that is truly worth living for.
A special thank you for you!
Since I honor committed people that take action, I want to thank you for reading this article until the very end and have a special gift available right here. This is my video course on how to kill procrastination where I share many more effective techniques to boost your productivity and free up your time.
Here is to your success!
Mario Lanzarottiis an entrepreneur, speaker & coach with a background in fashion, marketing, and self-development. With a strong dedication to bringing out the best in people, he gained multicultural experience that spans from Italy to Berlin to Cape Town to New York City.