5 Brain-Based Solutions to Stop Procrastinating

There is a 8 in 10 chance that you procrastinate and a 1 in 5 chance that you do so consistently and problematically.* Once you know the brain-based reasons Why We Procrastinate, you can take the necessary steps to overcome procrastination.

Here are 5 brain-based approaches to curbing procrastination in your life:

1. Do Nothing

You face a task that you need to do. This task is important to your life. You want to do it. You sit down and promptly

Do something else.

The anxiety surrounding this task excites pain receptors in your brain and gets your sympathetic nervous system all riled up. If you saw a mountain lion in the woods, you’d have a similar response and seek to escape the painful emotion by getting someplace safe. In this situation, you avoid the painful emotion by doing something else.

Most procrastinating people are not being lazy- they are busy doing something.They do less important more immediately gratifying tasks as they avoid doing the more important, anxiety-producing ones.

So, research shows that one of the best things you can do is take 15-20 minutes just to sit quietly and think. Think about what you are going to do. Think about that task you are procrastinating on and how you might want to approach it. Do nothing. Just think. Read More about this in Stop Procrastinating By Doing Nothing.

2. Don’t Tell Anyone Your Goals

I know leading motivational teachers say the opposite. But brain-based research says this is the best way to go. Why?

Motivation equals pressure. You already have intrinsic motivation creating pressure. You are already prone to avoid this pressure by procrastinating.

If you communicate your plans and goals to others, you introduce extrinsic motivation. Now you feel pressure from others to complete your goals. Adding too much motivation aka pressure causes you to want to avoid it more.

3. Break it Up

Every time you complete a task important to you, your nucleus accumbens releases dopamine, causing you to feel pleasure. The bigger the task, the more dopamine is released.

If your task seems so insurmountable you can’t get started, you won’t even begin. So:

Break your larger tasks up into smaller tasks that can be completed in 20 minutes or less. Create a checklist for yourself. Every time you complete one of the steps, mark it off.

Then stop. Stop and revel in the feeling of pleasure you get from completing that task. Those little dopamine releases can keep you tracking to complete your larger tasks.

4. Reframe Your Perspective

The Sun Will Rise

Procrastinators aren’t lazy; they worry too much.

Because of this, you have to take the stakes down for yourself.

What is the worst thing that could happen if you don’t complete it?

Keep this task in perspective. No matter how bad it is, the sun will still rise tomorrow (if the Lord wills it. And- if He doesn’t, then the task won’t matter anymore).

You might take a moment to sing yourself JJ. Heller’s lullaby The Sun Will Rise.

Fear Is A Driving Force

Also, reframe your view of fearCheck out my Taiwanese student’s opposite take on fear in this video. His view of fear could stamp out procrastination in your life.

Fear is a driving force. Instead of letting it drive you away from your task, let it drive you toward it. Simply view fear as a driving force for change.

Reframe The Task From Less Adverse to More Attractive

You avoid things that are:

  • Frustrating
  • Difficult
  • Irrelevant
  • Boring
  • Resented
  • Overwhelming

Try making them more attractive:

  1. Cultivate Appreciation for how these tasks contribute to things you value and goals you have for your life. For example, folding the laundry (which I am severely adverse to) serves my family. Editing this one video will take me one step closer to completing my course for my business.
  2. Make It A Game. How much can I complete in 10 minutes? Can I do it in less time? Can I do it standing on one foot or with my eyes closed?
  3. Bundle It. Can you bundle it with something you feel rewarding or want to do? For example, I don’t like strength training, but it feels like play to me, because I get to listen to audiobooks while I do it. I don’t like this tedious task, but I do like drinking tea, so I will do them together and focus on the feeling the tea gives me. OR, I sit down and drink tea every time I finish this task.

Reframing your perspective can help you keep moving forward.

5. Follow Five Easy Rules

  1. The Rule of Gratitude: every night before you go to bed, thank God for the things you accomplished that day- even all the little tasks that lead up to bigger achievements.
  2. The Rule of Visualizing Success: Olympic runners visualize every step of a race and their success before running it. Need to vacuum the dining room (again)? Visualize yourself getting the vacuum, plugging it it, vacuuming the dining room, replacing the vacuum, and admiring the clean floor. That will short-circuit your anxiety response so you can get started.
  3. Productivity Expert David Allen’s 2-Minute Rule: If a task takes you 2 minutes or less, just do it immediately. Reply to the Yes/No email, file the mail as it comes in, pay the bill when it arrives, and put the dishes in the dishwasher right after eating. This re-trains your brain to get started on things.
  4. Life Coach Mel Robinson’s 5-Second Rule: Robinson states,“If you have an impulse to act on a goal, you must physically move within 5 seconds or your brain will kill the idea.” So, give yourself the countoun “5, 4, 3, 2, 1, go!” and get started.
  5. Rule of Scheduling: If you schedule it on your calendar, you know what day you will do it. Purge your brain of all those weighty tasks by making a list of them. Then, pull out a monthly calendar, and put them down one-by-one on days you can accomplish them (break them into smaller chunks if you need to). If they are all on your calendar (and you commit to follow-through as you would with other things on your calendar like work, a doctor’s appointment, and a birthday party), you know you are going to get to them, they stop weighing on you, and your brain begins to rewire to act instead of avoid.

Your Best Life

Sip Life Slowly is designed to help you get more out of life. To help you be more present in it and to enjoy it more. One way to enjoy your life more is simply to get those things done that are weighing on you and causing you guilt. Apply these strategies and you will be well on your way to stopping procrastination in your life. If you liked this, you may also like:

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*Outsmart Yourself: Brain-Based Strategies to a Better You 

Photo edited from Photo by Kaitlyn Baker on Unsplash


Copyright ©  2019 Angela Edmonds. All rights reserved.


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