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Breathe, Count: This is a Basic Volitional Strategy

Breathe and count your way to ending procrastination

Breathing in meditation

I’m commonly (and I hope affectionately) known as “Dr. Procrastination.” However, if you asked me what I studied, I may just as quickly say that I study the breakdown in volitional action.

I’m interested in how we act on our intentions, so I focus a great deal of attention on volition. Volition is defined as an act of making a choice or decision. It’s the power of choice or what we think of as “will.”

Of course, most of us want to strengthen our will or willpower, as it’s generally acknowledged that willpower is a limited resource. But, how do we strengthen will or develop better volitional skills?

When I first began writing this blog, I argued that keeping the seat of one’s pants on the seat of one’s chair is an example of a volitional skill. For procrastinators, this is an important thing, because once you’ve left the chair and your desk, no more work is getting done—you’re procrastinating—escaping to feel a little better now.

It seems simple, but many people then ask, how do I keep seated when I’m freaking out? All I want to do is run away from that blank screen where my essay/report/work is supposed to be.

We have to calm down. We have to make sure that we let the emotions pass. Of course, formal mindfulness training will help, but we can use a very simple strategy right now. In fact, I think we should use it often.

When you feel that “freaking out” feeling around a task because it’s too difficult, overwhelming, frustrating, boring and just generally aversive, then it’s time to breathe. Yes, just breathe.

Breathe in deeply and mentally count “one.” Breathe out slowly and mentally count “two.” Breathe in deeply and mentally count “three.” Breathe out slowly and . . . you see the pattern. Continue to ten. You’re still in your seat. Most likely the panic, fear, overwhelming feelings are lessened so your rational mind has a chance to take over again.

Now, just get started on some part of the task at hand. Be prepared to breathe and count again. You never really know when those ugly feelings will surface, but you’re prepared.

If you want to learn more about breathing for relaxation, you can read more about it here (it’s the source of the image for this post)

If you want to consider other ways to strengthen your willpower, I’ve written about that too (Tips to Strengthen Willpower). Remember, it’s about the practice, not the reading.

Breathe, count, get started.