Wellness — January 1, 2019 at 9:00 am

Overcoming the 7 Deadly Triggers for Procrastination


Despite knowing what we should be doing, procrastination is pervasive, with “chronic procrastination” afflicting twenty percent of the population. How does the siren call of the snooze button continually overpower our good intentions? Research suggests that when a task is not intrinsically rewarding, is boring, frustrating, ambiguous, unstructured, or lacks personal meaning, the brain’s emotion-driven limbic system senses displeasure and overtakes the executive prefrontal cortex in an act of mood repair. If you’re feeling aversive towards a task, evaluate whether it meets any of these seven criteria, and use these life hacks when applicable to help overcome procrastination.

The task is boring or not intrinsically rewarding

Humans are driven by the neurotransmitter dopamine – the “happy chemical” – used for positive reinforcement in the pleasure center of the brain. When you complete a task, your brain releases dopamine to reward you for your success, perpetuating your motivation. You can gamify your tasks by adding elements such as checklists to mark the completion of each subtask, points, competition, and a reward system with small, tangible perks. Gamification can stimulate dopamine and make the completion of your task engaging on a chemical level.

The task is unstructured or ambiguous

Getting started can be challenging when a task is poorly defined. To create structure, first divide up the primary task into reasonably sized subtasks, then create checklists outlining every step for each subtask, and finally set deadlines. Doing so can resolve ambiguity in what needs to be done, set clear expectations for what needs to be accomplished, and make you accountable for your time. In addition, by creating numerous items on your task list, you’ll trigger a dopamine release with every step of progress you make.

The task is frustrating or difficult

In addition to structuring and gamifying your tasks, you can make tasks less challenging by alleviating subconscious strains on your brain. Your willpower is a finite resource that’s expended throughout the day, which is why you should always tackle the most challenging subtask first thing in the morning when it’s peaked. Another culprit for procrastination can be your ego projecting frustration and difficulty to mask a fear of failure. We can be completely unaware that the true reason we feel aversion towards a task is because trying and failing can be more damaging to our ego than not trying at all. To counter this, write out the consequences of not trying versus trying and failing. Lastly, let go of any resentment you hold onto for procrastinating in the past. Self-forgiveness for past incidences of procrastination is correlated with reduced procrastination in the future.

The task lacks personal meaning

When a task is framed as a stepping stone towards a greater purpose, accomplishing it becomes its own reward. For example, custodial staff in hospitals have high rates of job satisfaction due to a technique called “job crafting”, connecting the mundane aspects of their job to the vital role they play in the healthcare process. If you’re struggling to find meaning in a task, document how this task benefits you or others in both the short and long-term, as well as the repercussions if it’s not completed. Many tasks, no matter how small, can be opportunities for self-improvement and altruism when framed to highlight its contribution towards a larger goal.

Procrastination can often be a warning light for a task that’s insufficiently defined or understood. If you feel procrastination looming, it’s time to consider what may be contributing to your task-aversion. By identifying the root cause and deploying these techniques, you can transform procrastination into a speed bump instead of a stop sign.

Contributor: Chad Morris, Staff Writer

The statements made in this article have not been evaluated by Health Canada or the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. None of the information presented is intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent disease.

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