“Look at this list”, said Elaine “I want to follow up on all these prospects but I’m doing everything else instead – what’s wrong with me?”
These are two very rational, successful people, more than capable of doing what they say they want to do but just not doing it and getting more and more frustrated with themselves – and they’re not alone.
We often call this behaviour procrastination but that doesn’t explain what is going on or how to stop it.
You may have heard that in our extraordinary, rational, creative brains there lurks a leftover from more primitive times, our reptilian brain. This controls our survival and acts on hunger, fear and lust. It is the most powerful thing we have. Whatever rational decision you make, if the reptilian brain isn’t satisfied, you won’t be able to do the rational stuff.
In our civilized world where we are rarely hungry or afraid and lust is largely contained, our reptilian brain sleeps quietly and leaves us free to do amazing things. Until ……..
You find you’re making a rational decision about what needs to be done, even convincing yourself that you want to do it and that you will be better off having done it – but you’re still not doing it.
If you’re hungry, tired or depressed your reptilian brain will try to protect you. Fail to take care of yourself, and all logical rational thought will take second place until you feel better.
What can you do?
Beyond the obvious of taking care of yourself physically, routines work. Rewards work. Accountability to people you respect works.
When faced with the same situation as Alex and Elaine, the most important thing you can do is start.
The second most important is to set a time limit on your activity. “I’ll work for ten minutes then have a coffee” – and repeat. (Well, maybe not the coffee!)
The very worst thing you can do is beat yourself up.
We are programmed to survive and to shut down the things that are not essential for survival until we are safe.
You may need to make some tough life decisions before you can get on with more routine stuff but sometimes a bit of tlc is all that’s needed.
Sleep, eat, have a hug, reassure yourself that you’re safe and keep to a routine and slowly work back up to the level of activity you’re comfortable with.
If you’ve felt like this, what worked for you?
Ann Hawkins is a business mentor and coach, author of New Business: Next Steps. To get free tips on how to Work Smart, Not Hard subscribe to this blog.
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