Are you a chronic procrastinator or do you simply tend to procrastinate at times? Some studies say that about 20 percent of us are true procrastinators. By that, they mean that this group repeatedly procrastinates to a point that complicates a situation and causes stress. The rest of us put things off from time to time for reasons that can be addressed to improve or eliminate the habit.
Either way, studies also suggest that the stress associated with procrastination increases our vulnerability for illness. This includes headaches, digestive issues, colds and cases of flu, and insomnia. There's more at stake than work performance and reputation. So then, why do people do it?
Recently, researchers at Ruhr-Universität Bochum used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI's) to study the brains of 264 men and women who chronically delay doing things. The research identified two areas of the brain that are linked to our ability to control our actions. The study participants with poor action control had a larger amygdala. Also, the amygdala (the part of the brain that controls the fight or flight instincts) and an area called the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dorsal ACC) had a less pronounced functional connection. Basically, there appears to be a physical difference in the brains of chronic procrastinators.
"Individuals with a higher amygdala volume may be more anxious about the negative consequences of an action--they tend to hesitate and put off things," speculates Dr. Erhan Genç. "Due to a low functional connection between the amygdala and dorsal ACC, this effect may be augmented, as interfering negative emotions and alternative actions might not be sufficiently regulated."
Depending on how you interpret Genç's findings, it could sound like chronic procrastinators can't help themselves. If we buy into a theory that the problem is embedded in our brain's physiology than all hope of a solution is lost. My question is, which came first, the larger amygdala and less pronounced connection to the dorsal ACC or the anxiety and procrastination tendencies? Do our thoughts and actions cause the brain to change or are some people born this way with no hope for improvement? Is procrastination a behavior that you can stop, modify, or even cure?
I've spent years working with the best-of-the-best in the world of procrastinators: struggling entrepreneurs. And yes, I can be guilty of indulging in a bit of it myself. From these experiences, I can tell you that the propensity toward procrastination in entrepreneurs can usually be reduced or eliminated. Perhaps I've never had a client that fits into the 20-percentile referred to in these studies, but I doubt that. In every case that I have encountered in the last 15 years, there has been a link between procrastination habits and poor clarity about the entrepreneur's business model and strategy. Most often, this is compounded by negative thoughts and beliefs that that limit the individual's ability to advance his or her success.
Once an entrepreneur clears up a muddled vision of their business model and growth strategies they tend to act efficiently and quickly. If low self-worth and other negative thought patterns are involved, they must also be addressed. The combined approach changes not only the health of the business, but the health and happiness of the entrepreneur.
If you have labeled yourself a procrastinator you may want to explore your business vision, as well as any limiting thoughts and beliefs you may have developed. Here are some questions to ask yourself. Your answers may lead you down the path to a positive change.
How clear are you about your business model?
- Do you know exactly who your audience is, how to reach them, what you offer, and how to package your offerings?
- Do you have a marketing strategy in place to attract and capture your ideal audience?
- Do you have an enticing story to tell?
- Does your branding reflect your company values? Do you even know what those values are?
- Do you struggle to make ends meet? (This is an indication of lack of clarity and/or a poor model.)
- Do you have an upsell process and/or a system in place that keeps your customer coming back?
- Do you know what your business will look like in one, three, and five years from now?
What about your mindset? Do you slip into negative thought patterns that limit your ability to succeed?
- Do you frequently doubt your value and the value of your services?
- Do you harbor negative thoughts about your qualifications and whether or not you deserve success?
- Do you find yourself totally disinterested in most of the work you do? (This happens when an entrepreneur is working in their business, rather than on the business, as an entrepreneur should.)
- Do you tend to feel down, or even depressed?
- Do you believe that outside circumstances are keeping you from success? (Someone or something out of your control is at fault.)
- Do you think that success is nearly impossible?
- Lastly, do you feel good about how you've answered these questions?
If not, please know that no successful person does it alone. Sure, books, online articles, podcasts, and webinars can help to educate and inspire, but one-to-one support can't be replaced. That may be a great coach, a therapist, a heavily involved mentor, or sometimes (be careful here) a business partner. You and your business are worth it and your investment will certainly be recouped if you involve the right people and take action. That's the key, right? Taking action. Don't worry, the odds of you being a certified procrastinator are slim.