Most of us have been taught that if we procrastinate, it’s because there’s something wrong with us. We somehow ended up without enough motivation or willpower to get things done at the appropriate time. So then we feel guilty or ashamed of ourselves and just want to curl up in a ball and forget that the world exists (along with all the things we haven’t gotten done yet).
But here’s the thing:
Procrastination is actually a survival mechanism.
Like, for real, evolution actually made sure to select for procrastination while choosing traits that would help us survive.
I know this sounds weird, but stick with me.
In the field of evolutionary biology, scientists have come to understand that a lot of decision making happens below the level of consciousness. That is, we aren’t consciously aware of what decisions we are making and why. There is a hierarchy of processes that our minds go through, even on simple choices like whether to start a load of laundry.
When we understand this hierarchy, and can bring it out of our subconscious and into our conscious awareness, then we can take back control of our decision making processes.
Then we can stop procrastinating, forever.
This is how evolution wired us to prioritize our actions:
1. Will doing this reduce a potential threat?
Given that survival is the imperative, anything that threatens our survival must be dealt with. Our bodies will always find enough energy to do a thing that will keep us alive.
2. Will doing this provide any rewards?
Once any immediate threats have been dealt with, our innate drive to activate our neurological reward system kicks in.
Dopamine, Serotonin, Oxytocin, and Endorphins—the “feel-good” neurotransmitters that start flowing when we’ve taken actions that support our well-being. We subconsciously associate physical world rewards with the ways those neurotransmitters make us feel.
3. Will doing this require more energy than it’s worth?
From an evolutionary perspective, if we used 1500 calories worth of energy to get 500 calories worth of food, we wouldn’t survive very long.
Even though our actions in the modern world are much more complex and nuanced than that simple equation, our subconscious is still doing the math to see if the task is worth the payoff. On some level, we’re always looking for the ROI (return on investment).
We will naturally put off doing any task that isn’t A) reducing threat / providing rewards or B) giving us more energy than we would spend while doing it.
Because from an evolutionary perspective, it’s better to procrastinate than to waste energy.
So if you’re committed to stop procrastinating, all you have to do is figure out how the task you need or want to complete fits into that hierarchy.
· How does it contribute to your well-being?
· How can you improve the ROI?
· How can you override those evolutionary imperatives?
The good news is, you don’t need to find motivation. If you want to be more productive, you just need to work with your body instead of against it. And start taking your power back!
To learn more about how your body and mind can force you to procrastinate, and how to stop procrastinating forever, check out my course Overcome Procrastination.
For one-on-one support in putting pep back in your step and getting your to-do list done, book a Power Hour!