Lizard Brain, Procrastination and You

Lizard Brain, Procrastination and You

There is an old Spanish proverb that says tomorrow is the busiest day of the week.

Anyone who procrastinates may shake their head in agreement at this saying and, perhaps, crack a rueful smile. For those prone to waiting until the last minute to get a job done, procrastination is a destructive curse. It causes untold stress.

It ruins reputations. It contributes to financial hardship and it places a solid roadblock on the road to success. The irony is that the tendency to procrastinate is actually caused by an evolutionary survival mechanism that is maladapted to the pace of the modern world. However, because of this very reason, procrastination is preventable and curable.

The source of procrastination is located deep within the most ancient part of the human brain. This area of the brain is technically known as the amygdala. It sits at the very base of the brain on the top of the spinal column. The amygdala is responsible for controlling many, if not all, of the involuntary bodily functions. Things like hunger and thirst, sleepiness and wakefulness and pulse and respiration are run by the amygdala.

If you were to say that because these involuntary functions are so basic that they are animal-like, you’d be correct. The urges to eat, sleep, procreate and survive are common impulses shared by many different species, both mammalian and non-mammalian.

The motive force behind all these needs is the amygdala. In fact, if you were to compare the amygdalae of a human being with a horse, an ostrich and a boa constrictor, you would not see much anatomical difference except in size. Each separate amygdala functions in a remarkably similar way, no matter the species.

So, how does this all tie into procrastination? Well, when faced with a need, the amygdala can only respond in one of three ways – fight, freeze or flee. Depending on the situation, one or another of these choices becomes appropriate. So, when an individual is faced with an upcoming task or deadline, the amygdala may misinterpret the stress cause by this time limit as a life threatening situation and subconsciously motivate the individual to freeze. While this was a useful strategy fifty million years ago, today it simply causes procrastination.

The easiest way to combat what is, in essence, a mixed-up brain signal is to consciously recognize where the impulse to procrastinate comes from. Once done, it becomes harder and harder for the individual affected to give in to the urge to freeze. Eventually, the habit to procrastinate falls away, along with its harmful effects.

Fear can cause procrastination

How to Quit Procrastinating, for Real this Time!

In an otherwise balanced human being, procrastination is probably one of the most self-defeating behaviors there is.

Procrastination is the practice of delaying activity on important tasks in order to engage in more pleasurable ones. And it can be chronic.


 Any sufferer of procrastination knows what it feels like to have time literally slip away from them on a daily basis and feel crushed by the ever-increasing weight of a life unfulfilled. They also know the soul destroying feeling of worthlessness that comes from knowing their situation yet feeling helpless to do anything about it.

People who don’t suffer from procrastination love to point out that it’s nothing more than laziness, but that is just a lazy way of thinking.

The issue that lurks beneath the surface of procrastination is fear.

Fear of failure.

Fear of success.

If you do something and it doesn’t work out, you’ll feel like a failure. If you do something and it’s a success, you won’t know how to handle it.

Avoidance is how fear chooses to manifest itself on this occasion.

And as time moves on, our fear increases. That’s because the results of our procrastination builds up on a daily basis into a bigger and bigger monster under the bed. If we look away, we can avoid it eating us up.

But every day that we look away it’s growing in size. It’s growing every time we can’t pay a bill, every time we miss a career deadline, every time we forget our promise to spend more time with our kids or friends and family.

So, what can we do to defeat the monster? 

There are many, many ways to defeat it. You’ll find probably a hundred different methods blogged about, but the core of the solution is this:

Take small daily action.

Time boxing works well for this. Like someone who hates going to the gym but commits to doing 20 minutes, you’ll find that once you get started it’s much easier to keep going. That is the power of momentum. The Pomodoro Technique is a great way to segment your time and get started on short bursts of activity that quickly build up.

Create accountability.

Talk to someone else about you want to achieve and what will help you stay on track, a meet up once a week, a call or text check in every day. Keep each other in check and motivated. Prioritize you’re most important tasks and set clear times and dates to get the job done, share them with your accountability partner so they can help you stick with it! 

Beware of analysis paralysis and “busyness”.

It’s easy to feel that that you are being productive by analyzing everything, just so that you can get it right first time. You might be a master planner and set yourself up for success with plans and spreadsheets when all you’re really doing is finding a way to rationalize not taking action. Stop thinking and start doing.

Aim for progress not perfect and you’ll find it easier to take action. 


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