how to stop procrastinating?
“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”
Like tricking yourself into drinking raw sewage by telling yourself that what you are really doing is drinking pure alpine mineral water and not foul waste, procrastination makes no sense. Just think of what most people do when they procrastinate; they scroll news feeds, they fill themselves with anxiety, this is actually less enjoyable than making that Word document.
No doubt about it procrastination is harmful and habit forming, but the sort of tasks that we procrastinate over have very different effects on our lives. For instance; we might put off going to the dentist for a check-up, making a spreadsheet at work, or filing our taxes. Those things are unpleasant, we only do them because we have to, they don’t bring a payoff to us as such. So it is understandable that we put these tasks on the back burner. This kind of procrastination is what we often overcome.
Then there is the other, more detrimental kind of procrastination, which is best described as having an unwillingness towards doing things that have got a payoff. Examples of these could be: Starting a business, studying a subject we enjoy, taking up a hobby or exercising. Just doing these activities for the sake of doing them will bring us rewards. Then in the long term, they may help improve our lives in other ways. So why is it that we have this unwillingness?
It all comes down to how we view failure: We have a deeply held, irrational belief that if we fail at doing something we somehow fail at being ourselves. This belief manifests as a fear of failure, that demotivates us and steals our creativity. We end up putting in less effort than we would have done if we did not have this fear, thus this fear increases the likelihood that we will mess up.
To make it worse this belief operates unconsciously, we are not aware of it. To beat it we need to:
1. Plan for failure
Don’t connect your self worth to your success or your failures, our value as humans is intrinsic, it’s independent of our behaviours. Expose the belief and challenge it by actually planning for scenarios which you think may not go well for you. These situations may never arise, but having a plan in place to deal with them lessens the power that this fear will have over you. Teachers, pilots, electricians, engineers, hedge fund managers, builders… All professionals plan for failure, no matter whether you want to start running every morning or you want to develop a business. Have the mindset of a pro, accept that failure might happen, then you won’t fear it as much, and you will keep the creativity that is necessary for you to make a good go of it.
2. Build Resilience
By learning techniques to manage the self-created stress that comes to us when we procrastinate we become more confident in our ability to start and continue with our work. Even though we may have some doubt we will be able to carry on.
We will introduce you to some of these techniques. If you would like to have a more thorough introduction to what we teach, then you can do that here.
How we are evaluating and thinking about ourselves and other people has an impact on our mood. When it comes to procrastination, often the dysfunctional connection to what we want to do and our self worth causes us to develop perfectionist tendencies and an inner monologue of negative criticism that finds fault with everything we try. This can lead us to avoid taking action or give up on the things we love. And when that happens, depression or anger is usually the result. This is made all the more worse by the lack of awareness that a lot of people have about what is going on in their heads. Many people assume that they are stuck thinking, feeling and acting in this way and don’t seek to do anything about it.
Changing how we think and evaluate begins with the proposition that our thoughts and beliefs, however deeply held are not us, nor are they an accurate reflection of us. This empowers us to separate ourselves from them and challenge their direction. When we do this we can then look to create a more balanced view of how we think about ourselves, others and our world. This modifying of our thought patterns brings about positive changes, in our emotions and our behaviours that are proven to be as equal if not more effective than medication at dealing with depression, anxiety and anger (7,8).
The Resilience Triad
We are complex beings and live complicated, stimulated lives. This can cause us to forget, ignore or reject the first thing that will aid our struggle to persevere: Our purpose.
Having a purpose is not about aspirations like being rich, or successful. It is also not about the goals that you set for yourself in life. Rather, it is the reason why you have goals and aspirations. Everything that you love to do and that is good for you is down to your purpose. We all share the same one: It is to look after yourself and others. Others can be family, friends or people whom you feel rewarded by when you give them help.
If we know and strive to carry out our purpose our lives can be fulfilling. We can have the direction and resilience to keep trying the things that we love, the things that are good for us. We are also more able to deal with the things in life that are monotonous or not good for us.
The Buteyko Breathing Method
Preventing and controlling the physiological effects of the emotions we experience that are brought on when we experience procrastination is yet another weapon in our war against inaction. This is how Buteyko breathing helps:
Buteyko breathing is nasal breathing. Nasal breathing influences the parasympathetic nervous system which controls rest and digestion (1) you feel calmer consistently. Mouth breathing, on the other hand, impacts the sympathetic nervous system, which controls the fight or flight response (2), this way of breathing contributes to us being agitated. Everything seems like a chore.
Buteyko breathing is diaphragmatic or belly breathing, which means that the most efficient muscle that you have for pushing and pulling air into your lungs is used as opposed to chest or thoracic breathing. Diaphragmatic breathing helps you relax, lowering the harmful effects of the stress hormone cortisol on your body (3). It also lowers your heart rate and helps to lower your blood pressure (4).
The main aim of Buteyko breathing is to reduce hyperventilation both at rest and in times of stress. Hyperventilation occurs in response to emotional states, such as depression, anxiety, or anger (5). When hyperventilation is a frequent occurrence, it’s known as Hyperventilation Syndrome. It is indicated by a faster than normal breathing pattern that can cause light-headedness and poor concentration. It has also been to shown to prolong, and increase felt levels of anxiety and perceived autonomic arousal (6).
Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT)
Learn to use cognitive methods and mindfulness meditation as a way of recognising in the moment when negative thoughts are creeping up. The purpose is not to stop these thoughts from occurring but to stop us from running with them. It is our racing thoughts which often stop us in our tracks.
To do this you can separate your thoughts and emotions from you and treat them as entities that can be observed without placing any importance on them. The reasoning behind this practice is that when we are fearful or treat our thoughts and emotions as being heavy burdens, they tend to become magnified. Conversely, when we treat them passively, – when we are at peace with them – allowing them to come and go, they lose their power of us, our day does not become consumed by our heads.
When you continuously apply MBCT techniques you build a life-changing habit of being at peace with yourself and being able to carry on despite your thoughts.
For many of our students it has helped them to combine mindfulness meditation with Buteyko breathing:
Our ability to cope and carry on is hampered by unhelpful beliefs, negative self-talk and poor moods. Learning and practising ways to deal with these beliefs, thoughts and emotions will make it easier to get what we need done and put out our best work. To get a good foundation of some techniques, and exercises that will help you build coping skills, read our introduction page here.
(1) Scientific American: Proper Breathing Brings Better Health
(2) Cureus: The Influence of Breathing on the Central Nervous System
(3) Frontiers in psychology: The Effect of Diaphragmatic Breathing on Attention, Negative Affect and Stress in Healthy Adults
(4) Frontiers in Public Health:The Impact of Resonance Frequency Breathing on Measures of Heart Rate Variability, Blood Pressure, and Mood
(5) Scandinavian Journal of Caring Sciences: Hyperventilation and exhaustion syndrome
(7) Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience: Cognitive behavioral therapy in anxiety disorders: current state of the evidence
(8) The Efficacy of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy: A Review of Meta-analyses