Why don’t you do what you say you want to do?

emoticon“I’ve been going round in circles like a dog chasing its tail and just not getting on with the things I want to do”, says Alex. “I’m driving myself nuts and I don’t know why I do it.”

“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.

Here’s why:

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. 

If you’d like to talk about how to grow YOUR business, get in touch



4 replies
  1. Sarah Decent
    Sarah Decent says:

    Ann – you could easily have been talking about me here! I can be world classs at getting things done, but at other times (most of the time if I’m honest) it just doesn’t happen. I’m getting better, partly down to finding myself a couple of people that I hold myself accountable to, plus have been working through a really useful book on NLP by Felix Economakis (Take Charge of your Life with NLP) which helps on the not beating myself up bit. 
    Anyway, thanks so much for posting this,it’s been a really helpful reminder about what to do (and not do!)

  2. AnnHawkins
    AnnHawkins says:

    Sarah Decent Thanks Sarah. Accountability can be great and something a lot of us who run our own businesses really miss. I have mixed feelings about NLP. A lot of the people who are practitioners don’t seem to be able to use the techniques in their own lives! I prefer Transactional Analysis which is used by psychologists and psychiatrists and seems to be much more effective with a lot less hype.

  3. Sarah Decent
    Sarah Decent says:

    AnnHawkins Sarah Decent Interesting! Have just been looking up NLP on the WWW and  Felix’s book seems to me to be misnamed, as it’s really all about TA and not much on the NLP side at all (though I’m only half way through)! Maybe Felix included NLP in the title for just that reason – the hype?  
    Thanks again Ann

  4. AnnHawkins
    AnnHawkins says:

    Sarah Decent I just had a look too Sarah. Its good to see that Felix has some qualifications in psychology. It always amazes me that people let unqualified people rummage around in their brains!

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