In the past several weeks I've received inquiries from two high school students, both preparing reports on the theme of procrastination. And even though you might have heard me suggest at ADHD workshops that "there's no such thing as procrastination," I actually do think that making the right choice (moment by moment by moment....) about exactly how we use our time is a really big deal. Here are the students' really good questions, along with my responses.
Q: Do you think that procrastination is truly an issue and that it may be affecting our country as a whole?
A: We Americans spend over 2 billion hours per month on social media. Some of that is important useful stuff, like learning and staying in touch. And some of that is time we wish we'd spent on really deep-down important tasks. Each of us is here on the planet to do, be, have, share, and offer something important and unique. What is that unique and important thing? What's the next most important step (phone call, conversation, decision) I need to take, the one that would make the biggest positive improvement in my life right now?
Q: What effect do you think procrastination has on the body?
A: Procrastination can make us feel listless, tired, and defeated. Even knocking out small tasks gives our brains a dopamine boost (dopamine is the neurotransmitter associated with motivation and reward), that little "boo-ya" feeling associated with getting something completed or meeting a goal.
Q: So, why do procrastinators tend to be so harsh on themselves?
A: Individuals with ADHD are often creative, bright, energetic and ambitious. They are anything but lazy! They have great dreams and really do intend to get these plans off the ground. But they are more susceptible to distractions than non-ADHD individuals. Especially when they face a task which is hard or boring, they tend to get pulled away by the dozens of things (facebook, games, talking to friends, re-organizing a sock drawer) which are easier and more instantly-rewarding. Later, they see what they've done and they feel like "Well, I did it again, I procrastinated. I didn't do what I'd intended to do." So I think they are harsh on themselves because there's a gap between what they know they're capable of and what they actually get done. Frustrating!
Q: What is the best way to overcome procrastination?
A: Take a look at the task you're avoiding. What's the end goal? When you finish this task, what will the payoff be? Money, grades, a black belt in karate, greater proficiency in a foreign language...why is this thing important to you?
Really allow yourself to be there....now, just like you've already completed the task. What's different? What do you see, now that you've done this thing? Are you carrying yourself differently now that you've done this? What do you feel - now that you've finally done this, do you feel a smooth graduation gown or a cool swimming pool or the comfort of a booth at your favorite restaurant? What do you smell and what do you hear? Really get into the whole sense of being there. As you do this, you are literally increasing your brain's available dopamine.
If I see, for example, that you're procrastinating on your gymnastics routine, I might help you paint a mental picture of your goal -- being on the team, wearing the uniform, traveling in a bus with your teammates to a tournament, hearing the roar of the crowd when you've done a great job.
And if your friend isn't working on his essay for a class assignment, you might ask him "what's the best thing about getting that paper finished?" and really get him to talk about the best thing. for him, it might be that feeling of "done!" when he finishes a task...or it might be the knowledge that getting a good grade on the paper will help him stay on the football team, or it might be part of his maintaining his grades so that he can get into a college or training program...help him think of how it will look and feel and sound when he is actually there.
Thanks for your questions!