Mindfulness: Overcoming Procrastination Using the Power of Your Mind

Does this ever happen to you?

You have a task to do, but you don’t do it.

Of course it has!  Now, a tougher question; have you ever chosen a task that you really want to do, that you’re committed to complete because the results are desirable and one where you feel relatively confident you can accomplish, and yet still you can’t get started?  When you think,  “Ok, now I’m ready,” instead of starting, each time you disengage from the task and get distracted by something else.

As an adult with ADHD, you know you’re easily distracted,  especially when tasks don’t interest you or you find them unpleasant.  But when the task is interesting, it’s something you want to do and you’re looking forward to the results?  What gives?  Here’s a case where the source of the problem only seems to be distraction.  A little sleuthing will be necessary to get to the root cause of your procrastination.

Rooting Out Procrastination

One of the biggest challenges adults with ADHD face is procrastination.  If I had an instant cure, trick or secret that could eliminate procrastination, I’d probably be crushed in the stampede of people trying to get their hands on it.  Unfortunately, there is no one single way to overcome procrastination.  You need to:

1. Determine what exactly you are procrastinating;
2. Find the real source of the problem; and,
3. Implement a solution that attacks the problem at the source.

Your Chance to Play Detective

This is where the sleuthing comes in.  If you assume all procrastination is the same, you may apply a solution, even a solution that has worked for you in the past, and be disappointed in the results.  And without some detective work, you may not even be aware that something else is happening.  If the root cause is resistance rather than distraction, you’ll need a completely different approach, but you’ll have to dig deeper.  After all, the symptom is the same; you procrastinate.  If you have a knock in your car engine, and the last time that happened, changing the oil fixed it, you’ll change the oil this time.  But if the problem is a faulty spark plug, changing the oil won’t help a bit.

Looking for Clues to Resistance

Mindfulness will allow you to discover the true cause of your procrastination.  Think of mindfulness as putting on your Sherlock Holmes hat and pulling out your magnifying glass.

Your mind is a finely tuned machine designed to protect you from any perceived danger.  In this case, you’re not aware of it, but you’re disengaging from the task because your mind is trying to “protect you” from an uncomfortable physical sensation.  Resistance shows up as an uncomfortable feeling in your body.  Using mindfulness, you’ll be able to discover what’s really going on as you try to accomplish this task.  That’ll identify the real source of the problem, which puts you in a much better position to solve it.

How to Track Down the Real Culprit Behind Your Procrastination

For best results, choose a task you are procrastinating but that you:
1. Really want to accomplish; and
2. Feel confident you can accomplish.

In other words, choose a situation where there is no uncertainty about the task to learn how to use mindfulness to discover the real culprit behind your procrastination.  Once you’ve mastered this strategy, you’ll be using mindfulness at the drop of a (detective) hat, but start with a straightforward case.

First, get set to complete the task.  For example, if you’re attempting to make a sales call, have the name and number of the person you want to call ready to go.  Sit at the phone and have the information you need to proceed handy.

Now, begin the process as if you were about to complete the task.  In this example, you would pick up the phone.

This is the point you usually remember that you haven’t cleaned out your bottom drawer in a year and you’d better do that first.  However, as soon as you feel you are about to resist it, stop!  Don’t force yourself to complete the task, but don’t allow yourself to disengage from it either.  Instead, shift from resisting to allowing and simply notice what is going on in your body.  This is what we refer to as mindfulness.

What sensation or feeling are you noticing?  Are you feeling any tension?  Has your breathing changed? Do you feel nervous?  Do you have butterflies in your stomach?  What do you feel?  Where?

Stay with the sensation a little longer.  Stay mindful and detached.  Imagine you’re able to step back and watch yourself as if you were a CSI at the scene of the crime, investigating the cause of your procrastination.  Just become aware of these physical sensations.

Next, notice any thoughts you may be having right now.  Let the thoughts float around as you observe them.  When was the first time you recall having these thoughts?  Or having this type of physical sensation? (Hint: you most likely felt like this when you were young.)  You may need to explore some of the thoughts further, especially if they are self-defeating or limiting beliefs.

What’s happening is that each time you attempt to complete the task, your mind and body are reacting in the same way they would if you put your hand on a hot stove.  Your brain detects an uncomfortable sensation and thinking that your body is in danger of being damaged, prompts you to move away from the source of the sensation.  On a hot stove, you pull your hand away; here you disengage from the task by finding something to distract yourself.

In this case, it is irrational for your mind to protect you from the task because the physical sensation your resistance generates is not a sign of real impending danger.  However, the mechanism reacts automatically (after all, if you took the time to think it through before pulling your hand away from the stove, you’d lose a lot of fingers!).  You’re not in physical danger from the tension in your shoulders or the butterflies in your stomach as you begin the task.  Instead these sensations come from your thoughts.

Mindfulness can help you notice the physical sensations you are avoiding and the thoughts that have caused them.  It can also help you move forward.

Mindfulness Weakens Resistance

Once you’ve noticed that the task generates uncomfortable physical sensations, you may be able to move beyond the discomfort, using the same method.  Once again, set up everything you need to begin the task but stay present to any physical sensation you feel.  As you notice any sensation, mindfully observe.  Don’t force or avoid, just BE with the sensation.  As you stay with the sensation, you’ll notice it loses strength.  The longer you stay with it, the weaker it gets until it actually disappears, leaving you open to move ahead with the task.

Many of my clients have had success using mindfulness to determine the source of their resistance, and identify the true cause of their procrastination, and you will too, and with practice, you can take it even further.

Tapping Into Intuition

Mindfulness is a powerful technique to tap into your intuition.  Adults with ADHD or as I prefer to call them, Creative Geniuses, are usually very intuitive, often knowing the answer without understanding how they got there (they hate teachers who insist you “show your work” in school!)  Though many people dismiss intuition, tapping into your intuition can help you make better choices.  When considering which path to take, use mindfulness to investigate the sensations each option produces in your body.  Doing something because it “feels right” usually works out, as long as you’re listening to your real feelings.  Mindfulness will help you separate your intuition from other people’s opinions.

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12 Replies to “Mindfulness: Overcoming Procrastination Using the Power of Your Mind”

  1. I think of mindfulness as harnessing the ADHD brain’s natural tendency to ruminate over every tiny detail, and using it to achieve something positive.

    If you’re going to ruminate, you might as well learn something from it!

  2. If there is a different cause of resistance behind each and every form of procrastination I show I am in BIG trouble. That’s not just one Pandora’s Box, it’s dozens.

    I think this queasy feeling I have right now is telling me this article sounds dead right, and I have work to do! DAMN IT.

    See, this is why this website feels like family: you love it for knowing you so well, but you can’t gloss over the tough stuff because people here see through your little foibles.

  3. Amazing. Reading this, is like watching someone sit opposite with a sketch pad and pencil, then after 3 minutes turn the page around and show you a portrait.
    Mindfulness, I’ll try and remember this tool.

  4. I am currently struggling with procrastination. Being a CSI investigator, using mindfulness, sounds like a do-able strategy that works. One cautionary note: the article states,”Mindfulness can help you notice the physical sensations you are avoiding and the thoughts that have caused them. It can also help you move forward.”

    Seems to me that there is a huge chasm to cross between mindfulness and moving forward. The person has this self knowledge but where is their source of strength to help move forward (find and keep momentum)? As a person of faith, my personal strength comes from my Lord, Jesus Christ. Doctor’s prescriptions and quality counseling may also be required to deal with depression, anxiety, and unresolved conflicts.

  5. Quote of the day: I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make when they fly by.”

    Hey, to me, it’s very straightforward—it is EXTREMELY difficult to get my brain to focus on anything when there is a more compelling idea competing for my attention. So, I don’t always procrastinate. I procrastinate when there is another REALLY interesting idea/project that won’t leave my brain alone—it’s like paying proper attention to the girl you brought to the dance when the girl you’re REALLY interested in is standing right beside you giving you that “hey baby” look . Knowing what’s going on doesn’t help me in the least.

  6. The example of a sales call is spot on. I am a real estate agent who absolutely hates calling on clients past or present. I understand what you are getting at here. I just don’t know how to overcome it. I think my problem is ahead of the call, trying to go over and over just right thing to say on the phone. Then the more I internalize this, the more I need to make it perfect. Once I think I have my “script” down perfectly, the phonier it sounds to me.

  7. This comment by bburgdaddyo comes close to bringing forward a possible reason for my procrastination.
    “ I think my problem is ahead of the call, trying to go over and over just right thing to say on the phone. Then the more I internalize this, the more I need to make it perfect. Once I think I have my “script” down perfectly, the phonier it sounds to me.”
    The “perfect script” rarely works. The “impromptu” also rarely. Occasionally, when they do work it’s a alleluia moment that is always short lived. The “merging of the two”, never works. It not that I’m not mindful, it’s the blasted inconsistent, on the spot, always “moving” (for lack of a better term) inconsistent short term working memory, related to the fast track changing thoughts relevant to whatever task is at hand. Verbal tasks and interpersonal tasks are the worst.
    In some ways I’m so mindful, it’s the mindfulness that makes it worse.
    “Don’t think so much” and “just try harder” comes to mind. I’m so aware of it I just have gotten to the point of shutting down.

    Holding on to a thought, when it could be most useful, for an outcome in the future, rather than the thoughts going on in the moment in time is the problem. Mindfulness can and does work, to a point. But, for me, it can sometimes highlight the cause, and increase the frustration and the discrimination of not fitting in.

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