I was in the midst of an episode of procrastination and I had no idea how to get out, stuck so deep in indecision that it felt as if I were encased in cement.
Procrastination is described as “The action of postponing or delaying something”. By that definition you are actually choosing to take action by taking no action, which is actually pretty funny when you think about it, because it feels like you aren’t making any decision at all. But that is precisely what you are doing: choosing to take no action at all and instead remaining stuck in that place of not taking action. It sort of makes my head hurt to try to wrap my brain around that conundrum.
So how do you actually over come this choice of not making a choice? The first step is to realize you are not a victim. You put yourself in this spot and you can get yourself right back out of it. But there is actually something deeper going on here, so let’s dig into that a bit more.
Buried deep in our brain is an ancient part of us that ties back to the cave man, back to the very basic most primitive part of who we are as humans. We can all agree we’re animals right? And we all know that “deer in the headlights” feeling of being frozen, paralyzed. Maybe you’ve actually seen this in action, when you come across a wild deer, raccoon, or other little animal while hiking in the woods or strolling about your neighborhood, or driving your car through a windy mountain road. The animal’s first instinct is to freeze, and after a moment, they usually bolt away, recognizing the danger we represent to them and taking action to get away from it.
It’s so instinctive you probably have no idea your bloodstream is being flooded with hormones such as cortisol, which is produced during times of stress, and adrenalin, which is produced under the same stress. That cross-signal of chemicals can produce that frozen stuck feeling, until we are able to direct our attention enough to take action, either to completely shut down, or jump into action. Hence the deer bolts away, and likewise, we can decide to pick up a pile of papers and start filing, or whatever.
When I get so overwhelmed that the feeling of being totally stuck starts to take over my soul, my brain, my body, I know it is time for me to do something, anything, to unfreeze myself. Sometimes it is choosing to numb out completely by walking away from the mess, turning on the TV and scooping myself out a huge bowl of ice cream to self-sooth (yes, ice cream to adults is like giving a baby a binky to suck on). Just remember, numbing out is making a choice! You are choosing to give yourself a time out so you can come back to the massive pile of clutter and projects facing you with a little bit of space in your brain so you can choose to work on one small thing. Numbing out is one action.
The other action is saying hello to that freaking out amygdala in your brain and let it know, this is not a life or death situation, that by taking a moment to calm your brain by taking a walk, taking 5 minutes to close your eyes and meditate, or just to sit and breath, feeling your breath calming your anxiety (which is a form of fear), you are taking another kind of action, one that might be a bit more helpful than a huge bowl of ice cream.
The effect is the same; you are self-soothing, but this time in a way that is a very conscious healthy choice; telling your brain you are in charge and acknowledging the fight or fright response that is so automatic we often don’t even realize it has happened.
By giving yourself space to breathe, to walk, to dance or to numb out and acknowledge what is happening, you are overcoming that instinct and shifting your brain into a different state of calmness, certainty, and awareness. And once you are there, it is easier to take productive action, like writing a list of the most pressing projects or tasks at hand and then directing yourself to start working on one of those tasks.
We are not victims of this very human state of procrastination but sometimes it feels like that. Just remember, you have made a choice to be stuck, and you can make a choice to get unstuck. Start small by saying hello to your amygdala, acknowledge that it is doing its job and say thank you. Then take a few short breaths, a short walk, go pet your dog, do something to consciously bring calmness to your body, and then return to what caused your indecision. You are in charge, not your fear. Choose to take one small action now.