We all love to joke about how much we procrastinate, but when we fail to meet goals and deadlines, the consequences are hardly funny. Procrastination is the enemy of success. It’s not that most people lack the talent, skill, dedication, or even motivation to succeed; it’s that they put off necessary tasks until the very last minute, and then either fail to accomplish them or rush to get them done and make mistakes.
So, why do we procrastinate? Why is it so unbelievably hard to bring ourselves to do something we know we can but don’t exactly want to? The answer has to do with our brains. Procrastination is a battle between your prefrontal cortex and your limbic system. The prefrontal cortex is like the CEO of your brain — it tells you to be responsible, plan things out, focus on long-term benefits, etc… Basically, the prefrontal cortex is smart. The limbic system, on the other hand, is one of the oldest and most primitive parts of the brain — it tells you to eat all of the cookies, have one more drink, blow off exercise and work, etc… Basically, the limbic system is kind of dull, but still necessary.
Your limbic system wants you to avoid pain and seek pleasure, which is why when you have to do something that is good for you but isn’t any fun, your limbic system tells your prefrontal cortex to be quiet and take a nap, so you can have another coffee break or check your email instead of getting your work done. The big problem here is that since the limbic system has been around a lot longer than the prefrontal cortex it has the energy to run all day; in fact, it never stops. The prefrontal cortex, on the other hand, tires out relatively quickly.
So, what we have here is a classic case of impulse control. Every time you procrastinate, essentially you are giving in to an impulse, making your limbic system stronger. What you actually need to do to overcome procrastination is make your limbic system weaker. Now, this isn’t going to be fun at all, but the best way to weaken your limbic system is to simply not give into impulses. For example, if you know you have to work, but you suddenly feel the urge to get a snack or check your Facebook, don’t. Just get to work. The later when you are done with your work, you can have that cookie or see what’s happening on Facebook.
Here’s another tip that also works very well for overcoming procrastination: Getting started on any task is the hardest part. It might feel like it is absolutely impossible to get started on filing your taxes, or writing that report you have due tomorrow, but once you start, the hard part is over and it’s all smooth sailing from there.
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