Q: Procrastination is killing me. I just can’t get started with my work. I even put off asking this question. Can mindfulness help?
A: Procrastination is a clever strategy for avoiding discomfort. Often, the thought of getting started with a big project (or anything that even resembles a project) creates feelings of impending doom and anxious dread. Nobody has time for dread and doom, so then we distract ourselves with Grand Theft Auto or trying all 280 flavors of fro-yo.
How to stay on track
Dr. Holly Rogers co-developed the Koru Mindfulness program for college students (currently available on more than 60 campuses in the US). Trials have shown that the Koru program is effective in helping students feel less stressed, better rested, more compassionate, and more mindful. Dr. Rogers is a psychiatrist at Duke University and coauthor of Mindfulness for the Next Generation: Helping Emerging Adults Manage Stress and Lead Healthier Lives (Oxford University Press, 2012).
The unpleasant feelings that lead to procrastination are usually fed by negative thoughts: I’m not in the mood for this now—maybe I will be later. I’ll never get this thesis done. I don’t know how to start on this abstract painting. What if I can’t explain this economic theory? What if I fail?
Avoidance and distraction get rid of the head-crushing feelings, but they don’t get the work done. (And no, you won’t be in the mood for it later.)
Yes, mindfulness can help. Give this a shot:
- Get off autopilot
Take a deep breath. Try to notice the thoughts and feelings that fuel the procrastination.
Once you’re aware that they exist, you don’t have to be controlled by them.
- Recognize that thoughts are just thoughts
Think about it. They have no substance. Even the uncomfortable ones are temporary. And besides, what’s a little discomfort?
- Get in sync with your (physical) sensations
Notice how your body feels. Feel your feet on the floor or your fingers on the keyboard. Feel your breath moving in and out.
- Give your environment a makeover
Eliminate distractions, then turn your attention to your work. Decide to get to it for 20–30 minutes, no matter how many thoughts urge you to do otherwise. Make a commitment to get started.
- Take a second
After you have worked for half an hour or so, take a short break—a few minutes to post a #tbt pic to Instagram or make a green smoothie. Then start again with step 1.