Everyone has at some point of their life asked, “how to stop procrastinating?” Sometimes we are on top of it and then out of nowhere we lose motivation. There might even be some signs of avoidance behavior. We will do anything to avoid what we have to get done. Call it dread or avoidance anxiety, but when we start to procrastinate, assignments and projects pile up. We get so fixated on not doing that one item on our to-do list that it sometimes causes other items to pile up. Soon, our avoidance behavior seems to have taken over, and we begin to not want to tackle any items on our to-do list. This can become quite crippling. So, how to stop procrastinating?
How To Stop Procrastinating: Before It Begins
Before we talk about how to stop procrastinating, we should talk about how we feel before it all begins. For many of us, before our avoidance behavior sets in, we are usually on top of it. Or at least more on top of it. During these times of high productivity, we feel satisfied and happy. We don’t have any avoidance anxiety. We are not lying in bed dreading the next day at school or the project that is due on Friday. How to stop procrastinating comes down to how we can make this feeling of optimal performance last. What is hard is that we are constantly growing and what works for us is constantly changing. That is okay though. What is important is to understand how we can adapt. How to stop procrastinating and create an optimal performing environment has to do with flow theory, a concept created by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.
Stop Procrastination: Understanding Flow Theory
At EFC, whenever we talk to students about how to stop procrastinating, we always like to talk about the idea of flow theory. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi expressed it best in 1990:
“The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times… The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.”
Let’s break down what this means and how it relates to procrastination and avoidance behavior. If we reflect back to all of the things we enjoy doing, those things are usually things that we are good at. However, when that something becomes too easy, it tends to become boring. We tend to exhibit avoidance behavior and lose interest. This is why social media and the gaming industry is constantly innovating; they don’t want their consumers to get bored. So, how does this relate procrastination and the associated avoidance anxiety? Well, when we look at an assignment, there is usually an associated difficulty to it and our skill to overcome that challenge. When the assignment is too easy, and we have plenty of skill to do it, the assignment tends to get boring. Although we might not have any avoidance anxiety associated with it, we might not care too much about it and then just forget to do it. Avoidance behavior and procrastination, on the other hand, set in when the assignment is too difficult, and we feel we don’t have the skills to overcome it. And without the right executive functioning skills to structure this assignment, we tend to procrastinate. These are the two most common concepts around avoidance behavior and flow theory. Let’s talk about how to stop procrastinating with these two categories.
Using Flow Theory
How to stop procrastinating with Flow Theory has to do with optimizing the challenge with your skill. We want to push ourselves to our limits without overdoing it. Something that might have caused our avoidance anxiety in the past may not anymore. Creating self-awareness that an assignment is causing avoidance behaviors and strategies to help you visualize is one of the most important executive functioning skills. Let’s talk about the first case: when an assignment is too boring. How do we overcome our avoidance behaviors on something that should be pretty easy for us to handle? We naturally like to feel challenged and when something isn’t challenging we tend to just say “well that is easy, so let’s just do it later.” What tends to happen with this avoidance behavior is that we just forget. An easy way to overcome this is to group boring tasks together and set a challenge for yourself to get them done as fast as you can. Time yourself. However, the smallest distraction will draw you away. How do we overcome this avoidance behavior? We want to break challenging assignments up into manageable pieces that still provide a challenge, but we know are doable. How do you do that? Check out our time management blog/video. Always remember, flow theory is very specific to an individual.