How To Make Procrastination Your Friend
20th November 2015
I always thought procrastination was a byword for lazy until I met a neuroscientist who gave me a startling and very different take on it.
Hilary Mantel, the double Booker-prize winner, once said: “Imagination only comes when you privilege the subconscious, when you make delay and procrastination work for you.”
So, can procrastination indeed be our friend? Yes really!
Words: Kate Tojeiro
Our brains have all the resources we need to sharpen up our awareness, to notice thoughts and to question them for greater insight into what is possible. It is also exceptional at swiftly and efficiently finding the information and experience that you have gained in your life so far which will take you forward to what’s next.
Procrastination, like all brain systems has many different functions. The first and foremost is to tell you that you need more information, more knowledge or insight to make a decision or judgement. Procrastination could also be a sign that you are feeling a little uncomfortable with the new and hence delaying engagement. The key is to self-analyse and see why the procrastination is occurring.
Often, when we ‘procrastinate’ it’s because something new, different or even hard is on the horizon. Something that we may have told ourselves is impossible. It may even be something that we’re very excited about but for some reason we are dawdling and finding every distraction possible fascinating.
Developing your ability to get comfortable with discomfort will enable you to make procrastination your friend faster. It is also a crucial skill to master, to set yourself the perfect foundation to achieve your potential. Consciously breaking out of your comfort zone into the world of possibilities, is achieved by creating the new habit of doing something new and different everyday, which may well give you discomfort.
When we explore something new and different, we will develop new pathways in our brain and also new neuronal (brain) cells. When we repeat or reinforce said new behaviour or activity, this will strengthen the neural pathways and grow our brain, and therefore also our capability, knowledge and of course resilience.
Incidentally, our genuine discomfort actually lies within our ‘comfort zone’, when we are thinking about something new it causes us a certain amount of anxiety. Yet once we recognise our discomfort and procrastination as a welcome signal, which alerts us that the brain needs new information as a route into the exciting world of realising potential, we will be on the way to getting comfortable with discomfort. Notice the discomfort, crack on with a plan, and make a deliberate action.
Do you feel like procrastination and delay has set in?
1. Find some more information, do some research, talk to someone who has no knowledge of what you are procrastinating about, it will help you view it from another, perhaps useful angle.
2. Do something new, speak to someone new, go somewhere new.
3. Take a first step, a small action that you can take right now.
4. Get comfortable with discomfort – take a stance that you wouldn’t ordinarily.
Think about a project or activity that was going well and no procrastination had set in.
1. What were you doing? What was happening?
2. Who was there?
3. How much data did you have, where did it come from?
4. What was going well, i.e. were you hitting deadlines, seeking out the right people. Write it all down and then apply to your current scenario – is anything missing?
Remember that procrastination is the brain’s way of telling you that you need more information to move forwards. In other words the brain is saying ‘I need more data’ to make sense of something and act upon it.
Through recognising procrastination for what it really is, you will be driven to gain more information and develop your muscle of potential.
Of course there is always the possibility that your procrastination is just laziness masquerading as procrastination. Do some research, make a phonecall, find a different angle – then my challenge back to you is that deep, deep down, you probably do know!
Reaching your potential is about being in a constant state of discomfort. The only reason that we feel uncomfortable is because it is new – nothing more, nothing less. Make procrastination your friend and take a step, even if it is tiny. When we realise and see glimpses of what might be possible through discipline, action and embracing the new, taking procrastination as a signpost to seeking out more, it is a very exciting place to be. Enjoy and remember; everything was impossible until someone made it possible. That someone might just be you!