I read a piece from the Smarter Living section of the New York Times earlier this week discussing reader tips for outsmarting procrastination. While one reader had gotten his do-it-now mantra tattooed on his arm, it was another reader that submitted the tip that really struck me as spot-on:
Make your list.
Not the list you might be thinking of though – decidedly NOT a To Do list and not quite a wish list, either. The reader in question titled her list “I Will Feel Great About Today If I…” and noted that this particular list is all about giving yourself the reward of feeling awesome every day. This “reward” can be directly linked to the release of dopamine – the feel-good neurotransmitter – and the pleasure centers of the brain.
Why is this important?
Procrastination can be defined as the absence of progress, or the voluntary delay of an important task, despite knowing that you’ll suffer as a result. Avoiding a task or activity that you know is good for you, or that you need to do, often will lead to guilt, anxiety, or shame, and then to further avoidance of the task. Even thinking about those feelings is not fun! In the long run this can have a negative impact on both physical and mental health.
Back to the list!
I’m calling it The Awesome List. As a concept, recognizing that you can help yourself feel awesome is perfectly aligned with the Be Nice To Yourself bedrock of HealthFit Coaching. As a practical tool, this concept is simple and easily applied (though it may not make the actual tasks any more fun). I love this so much that it’s immediately gone into the coaching processes.
The biggest benefits of making and sticking with your own Awesome List:
- It will help you prioritize. Keep your daily Awesome List short, with no more than three tasks. Remember that this isn’t a To Do list and will not encompass all you’ll get done in a day. Rather, this is about decreasing the dread that comes with the To Do list. Think of which task(s) you’ll be the most relieved to get done, or are the most challenged by. Start with one task a day.
- You get to Recognize the Suck! Many tasks we put off doing are challenging, outside our comfort zone, or things that we just plain don’t want to do. It’s not uncommon to think of the task, think “ugh, not looking forward to that” and then immediately think “But I should be better at it/should enjoy doing this/should be more motivated/etc. etc. etc.” You may recognize some of these thought patterns! Like ripping a band-aid off, admitting that you don’t want to do it can actually make it easier to get the task started and get it done!
- You’ll get a mental boost. This is the crux of The Awesome List! Anytime you do or get something that you wanted, your brain releases dopamine. Checking items off your Awesome List will lead to dopamine increases, and you’ll also get to bask in your accomplishment! Yay for you! And yay, because it will make it so much easier to do it again tomorrow.
- Reinforces your competence and ability to get things done! We often hold ourselves back because doing new or unusual things can be intimidating. Hopelessness at starting a new task and fear of failure can loom large. But as the saying goes, done is better than perfect, even if you feel challenged by the process. No longer will you feel hopeless. You did it!