Let’s get real.
Some things we have to do in life really suck.
And when faced with them, motivation is non existent while procrastination is at an all-time high!
I hate doing my accounting books at the end of each month – that’s pretty common in small business owners, unless you love balancing numbers.
I used to put my books off until a deadline was so close I had no option but to do them. But it was stressful. It was like that elephant in the room that just got bigger and slowly eroded my joy in life, causing me low-level stress, anxiety and overwhelm. It wasn’t conscious, but I just felt ‘off’, or I couldn’t sleep properly.
So the day would come when I could put the task off no longer, and I’d push and pressurise myself to get the job done. But that didn’t motivate me either. I was just dragging myself through the motions, and invariably used to end up irritable, frustrated and with a headache.
The human brain is a bit like a teenager that doesn’t want to tidy their room. It tries to avoid tasks that feel like pressure, stress and hard work. So all that procrastination isn’t your fault (and neither is it your messy teens fault!)
Fortunately there is a simple way to wire in more motivation. Even better, it’s based on something your brain already does naturally.
How to Stop Procrastination with Dopamine
Dopamine is a chemical produced by the brain that is linked to reward, pleasure and happiness (as well as other things I won’t be covering in this article). When you produce dopamine you feel good, so the brain wants to do more of what makes you feel good. If you can link the things you ‘need’ to do with reward, then you start to get more motivated to do them; it’s like a virtuous cycle.
And here’s another thing. When you complete a task, you get a dopamine hit. That’s why you often look back and wonder why you spent so long putting something off – because once it’s done you feel good!
Here’s how getting more motivation for those procrastination jobs might work in real life.
How to Stop Procrastination in Four Steps:
You’re going to incorporate four key elements:
- Achievable goals
Set yourself a maximum of three achievable goals in a day – remember, when you complete a task you get a dopamine hit. So what you don’t want to do is set so many jobs you can’t get through them in a day. This is a mistake many people make with their daily ‘to do’ lists and they wonder why they finish the day feeling unfulfilled, unmotivated and beat themselves up for not being good enough.
For each goal, think about the benefits you get from completing it. For my monthly books – even though I hate doing them – I feel a sense of relief when they are done, I have a clearer sense of what areas of my business I need to focus on and the geek in me kinda likes seeing all those neat numbers lined up in columns; I get a sense of accomplishment because I find numbers really hard (hello grade D for maths). Plus I’ve bought myself rainbow-coloured paper clips for keeping things together, so I get to use one of those each month – what’s not to love!
Give yourself a small reward for completing your daily tasks to further enhance the dopamine hit. It can be anything that is meaningful to you. You might call a friend for a catch up, give yourself fifteen minutes to mindlessly scroll through Facebook, listen to your favourite music (better still, if you can do that while completing tasks, it can help to wire in some ‘feel good’ factor into that sucky job!), go for a walk – whatever it is that brings you pleasure. The anticipation of a reward creates dopamine in the brain and the brain is motivated to move towards reward. You’re probably beginning to see by now that training our own brains is a bit like dog training!
If your child is learning a new task, what do you do when they succeed at what they are learning? You can’t help but celebrate, right? It’s natural to show our praise when a child succeeds with something they’ve been struggling with. And you know why they suck up that praise? It’s because they get a dopamine hit. It’s no different for you. Whether you’ve just completed a tax return, sorted out the garage or finally cleared your inbox, you want to celebrate to get a little more dopamine and wire in the idea that doing a task feels good and is rewarding. Just crossing something off the list can be a celebration in itself (yes, I’m that person who has sometimes finished a job not on my list, so I’ve written it on just so I can enjoy crossing it off!), get up and do a little bum wiggle or tell a supportive friend who will give you a high five. So often we just move onto the next task without stopping to celebrate. It’s important to get in the habit of reflecting on what you’ve achieved to reinforce the behaviour of getting stuff done. And notice too how you feel – more productive, relief, more at ease, in the flow, accomplished – whatever it is, give voice to it to reinforce to the brain that completing jobs is a good, pleasurable thing and you want to keep it up.
We used to think that our brains were set a certain way. But neuroplasticity is at the heart of the work I do. Scientists now know that we can ‘rewire’ our brains to work more effectively, often with simple practises such as the one outlined here. If, after trying these techniques you’re still procrastinating, there might be something deeper working to keep you stuck such as a limiting belief. By using tools such as EFT and coaching, we can help you find the root of the issue so you can eliminate it and live the way you want to. Contact me to book an appointment.