There are a million things that you could do right now. Work, emails, your to-do list, cleaning, laundry, making dinner, calling your mom… But you’re just not feeling it. It’s not that you don’t have dreams and goals. Or that you don’t value your commitments. Maybe you’re just plain lazy.
No! Procrastinating has everything to do with how our brains are designed – which is to seek comfort and avoid stress. That’s right. You were designed to procrastinate.
A study by Amy Arnsten at Yale in 2009 revealed that stress causes chemical signals to your brain, which impair your prefrontal cortex in order to reserve energy to deal with threats. This is convenient if you’re being chased by a saber-toothed tiger but not so much if the threat is the prospect of writing an uncomfortable email or getting to the gym. A task outside our comfort zone can produce those same stress signals and send us straight into protective procrastination.
If only there were a way to rewire this same response into something that would help us get those things we want to get done – done!
Procrastination, meet micro-steps and mini-goals.
Any time you achieve something, you receive a hit of dopamine. This positive chemical feedback makes you want more. The trick here is to start off easy and let the momentum build. That way, when the automatic prefrontal response to stress kicks in, we’ve got the habit built to circumvent it.
Step #1 List at least 3 achievable goals. They don’t have to be wellness-related but since that’s my jam – for example:
- Get 6-8 hours of sleep every night
- Walk 30 minutes a day three times a week
- Drink half my body weight in ounces of water everyday
Step #2: Choose one goal to work on first and circle it. If you’re having trouble deciding, pick the one that excites you the most right now. Don’t overthink it. You’ll get to all of your goals soon and even add some more.
Step #3: List out as many micro-steps as possible. Brainstorm and write down as many ideas as you can. Shoot for at least 10. You can edit them later! Let’s choose “Walk 30 minutes a day,” for example:
- Find my favorite walking shoes
- Track how many steps I’m getting each day
- Take some laps around the office between meetings
- Research great places to walk in my neighborhood
- Join a walking group
- Take a yoga class online
- Invite my neighbor for a walk
- Find time in my day for 10 minutes of walking
- Do a foot strengthening warm up
- Walk up and down the steps 3 times
Remember, you may not complete all the steps you list, but that’s okay! Feel free to add and subtract, re-order and re-do this list often.
Step #4: Commit to one micro-step each day.
Commit to one single micro action. If you’re still overwhelmed , that means it’s too large and you need to break it down even more. Bonus Tip: Make your commitment a part of your morning routine. Write down one single micro-step each morning. Fully commit to that one micro-step and stay consistent. If you find that for some reason you aren’t able to complete the one you chose, pick another and complete it before bed.
Step #5: Achieve your goal, celebrate and repeat.
That’s all there is to it. The golden ticket to being successful is consistency. Since you’ve got your list, you don’t have to think about it. Choose a micro step and act. After a while you will find yourself using this formula on projects and tasks of all kinds: Breaking down that to-do list (which is really just full of mini goals, right???) into micro steps and choosing which one you will take first.
And the best part is, you’ve used your brain’s ingrained protective measure of shutting down the thinking in support of action, to continue to challenge yourself and grow, which is vital to living a healthy active life.
Erika Taylor is a community wellness instigator at Taylored Fitness. Taylored Fitness believes that everyone can discover small changes in order to make themselves and their communities more vibrant. Visit facebook.com/erika.taylor.303 or email email@example.com.