Why we procrastinate, especially about the stuff that really matters

I had a lovely chat with a friend recently about applying to a school program she’s interested in. She confessed that even though she very much wanted to attend the school, she hadn’t yet completed the application.

Ah!

That familiar friend: Procrastination.

Why do we procrastinate about things that are important to us?

Why is that when it comes time to do the hard work, whether it’s taking action on our businesses, filing important paperwork, writing that longed for novel or script, or making time for our art, we stall?

I mean, sure, it’s hard, but we’ve also said how important it is to us. We’ve spent money on classes, books, training, and support. We’ve written it into our schedules. It’s clearly a priority for us, right?

So why so much talk and not so much action?

It’s the size of the dream that matters.

I’ll say that again: It’s the size of the dream that matters.

The more important something is to you, the more fear, procrastination, and resistance you experience. In fact, the level of fear you feel seems to be directly proportional to the size of the dream.

Perhaps even a little bigger, just for good measure.

“The more we care about something, the more we dream, the more fear shows up.”

 

~ Robert Maurer, author of One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way

 

The problem: We’re wired to shut down in the face of fear.

The fact that our brains are wired to shut down in the face of fear is what creates the entire conundrum in the first place.

As Robert Maurer describes in One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way, when our brains go into fight-or-flight mode, our frontal cortex — our thinking, rational brain — is automatically shut off so that we can respond appropriately and quickly to the threat at hand. This is a natural response to fear. Unfortunately, our mid-brains, home to the amygdala that governs the fight-or-flight response, can’t differentiate between the fear that comes up when we’re confronted with a tiger or when we’re contemplating completing the next great opus.

And so suddenly your thinking, rational and creative brain is completely turned off . . . which when you’re attempting to create and design new business ideas or a screenplay, isn’t so helpful.

The good news

The good news is that when you can learn to expect the fear to show up, you can normalize it and make it okay. Then it’s easier to be compassionate with yourself and coax yourself through the tasks at hand.

I’ve learned to recognize my own resistance routine and treat it like a familiar visitor I know how to handle.

I tell myself, “It’s okay, I know you’re scared, you can do this anyway.” And I do (as my Writer’s Circle members can attest).

It helps that I make a point to tackle things in small pieces, just the way Maurer recommends: “Small, easily achievable goals — such as picking up and storing just one paper clip on a chronically messy desk — let you tiptoe right past the amygdala, keeping it asleep and unable to set off alarm bells.”

This is why, even on really tough days, you’ll still find me writing at least 15 minutes a day on my screenplay, six days a week, no matter what.

The really good news?

The more work you do in small steps, the more your brain gets rewired with new neural pathways and new habits, making resistance so much easier to overcome.

Your turn

What’s your experience with procrastination? How do you deal with it? Have you experimented with small steps at all? You know I love to hear from you in the comments.

Warmly,

Jenna

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