There are many reasons why people procrastinate: fear of failure, stress, perfectionism, low energy level, or simply the need to feel good in the short term. But when people learn how to actually focus on the task at hand, engage with it, and even come back to it when they get distracted, they can easily overcome procrastination. Mindfulness is a great tool when it comes to dealing with external distractions, like a phone call, background noise, interruptions, and internal distractions: thoughts, worries, and anxiety.
Dr. Craig Hassed – Associate Professor – Coordinator of Mindfulness Programs at Monash University and Dr. Richard Chambers – Clinical Psychologist and Mindfulness Consultant have both authored the “Mindfulness for Wellbeing and Peak Performance” online course. They explore mindfulness and how it can help us deal with procrastination, improve performance, and maximize productivity. They recommend that, every time you feel tempted to procrastinate, to gently unhook your attention from the internal or external distractors and to engage your attention with the task at hand.
The ability to choose what we want to focus on – moment by moment and task by task – is the greatest skill that mindfulness can teach us.
Mindfulness can help us perform better, learn better, and deal with procrastination by influencing the way we feel and the way we function. It can also teach us to choose to engage with what is relevant. An open mindset always allows you to focus on and engage with your task. So instead of catastrophizing and worrying about what could go wrong in the future, an open mindset helps you start and engage.
Procrastination is delaying something that needs our attention and it is often associated with a lot of worrying about it. One of the biggest problems with procrastination is anticipation – thinking about how difficult the task will be and how long it will take to accomplish it. It’s a kind of self-sabotaging when you are worrying about the future rather than focusing on the present.
We know that there’s a job to do, but we choose not to notice it or to do something else first. Very often, when we are not mindful, we are giving attention to the wrong thoughts. We usually procrastinate because we get caught in a circle of self-doubt. We worry that the job is too big and it is going to take a lot of time to finish it. We worry about the fact that the result is not going to be perfect, and about what other people will think about us. So we don’t even want to begin doing the job.
Procrastination is seriously a big problem.
When we avoid doing an important task, not only that we don’t get the job done, but we also get caught up in worries, aware of the fact that we are avoiding something that has to be done. As we keep putting it off, we remain concerned about it and we find it hard to find rest. When that happens, the mind remains preoccupied about the problem and it becomes hard for us to find rest. We know we are avoiding doing the job we need to do, and even if we are doing something else in the meantime, we simply can’t find satisfaction when we avoid doing the things we should do. So it is even more of a burden because we also have to deal with the feeling of guilt. When we procrastinate doing something important, we never find real peace and contentment.
Have you ever wondered why we get so easily distracted? Because we are wired for distraction.
Every time we switch our attention to something new we get a hit of dopamine, which increases the activity of the reward pathway in the brain. This is why we always look for new things and are interested in new topics. Therefore, avoidance can become addictive. The more we allow ourselves to get distracted, the more we get hardwired for distraction and so we get into the habit of avoiding difficult things that require our sustained attention – and this is how we start procrastinating.
How can you deal with procrastination?
Every time your mind wanders, don’t try to fight with your thoughts or to push them out of your mind – it will make your attention being caught up in what you are trying to not think about. Instead, just notice when your attention has wandered in a non-judgmental way. Notice the self-doubt, the criticism, and the judgment without any reaction. Just notice, recognize the signs, unhook your attention from your concern, and gently return to what is actually important.
When your attention wanders again, just gently bring it back. When you do that over and over again, you create a pattern and your attention starts to settle on the task at hand. Look at the job you have to do as a succession of small steps and start focussing on one step at the time. Those tiny steps will build momentum and will keep you engaged in the task.
When we eventually get on with the thing that we’ve been putting off, we start to feel more effective, more productive, and more at ease with ourselves.
Being mindful of our habits can help us better understand the reasons we procrastinate and that, in turn, can make it easier for us to deal with procrastination. The more we practice this skill, the easier it will be for us to apply it in the moments we notice our tendency to procrastinate.
How do you deal with procrastination? What works best for you? Leave a comment below!
For more tools and resources on mindfulness check out my Resources page.