understand why you are putting off your homework + Use a Three-Step strategy to stop Procrastination and reach your goals
The million dollar question for college students is how to stop procrastination, specifically how to actually get homework done on the regular. Understanding the root cause of procrastination means we can stop it and get stuff done, like writing your paper and studying for next week’s exam.
I got focused on procrastination last year because I was stuck in it. At the time I had to take four different certification exams. I studied for and passed the first three with no problems.
But the fourth one…it was not going well. I was deep in a pattern of procrastination and it wasn’t helping me get ready for the exam. My pattern went something like this:
- Create a detailed study plan and map out what to do and when I would do it. (awesome first step, by-the-way)
- Start working on my plan.
- Day 1 went well.
- Day 2 went well.
- On day 3 I came up with other things I needed to do instead. Important stuff, like laundry and finishing a movie. 🙂
- The following days I continued to procrastinate my studies and do anything else.
My procrastination was real, and I didn’t completely understand it. I had just finished three other exams with no problem, but this last one was different. I could not make myself resist the urge to procrastinate.
Can you relate?
why You procrastinate Homework
Before we can fix anything we have to understand the problem. If your car won’t start you have to know what’s wrong, then it’s easy to know what to fix or replace. Likewise, when the brain isn’t working how we would like we need to understand what’s wrong to make a change. Here’s the deal…
Your brain is wired to avoid pain. This is awesome news for the survival of our species. If you stick your hand in a fire once and get burned you will avoid it the next time because you don’t want to feel pain.
But our brain doesn’t distinguish the scale of pain. Fire, poison, shame, fear…they all equal pain. These days we don’t face a lot of deathly pains, but we do have a great deal of emotional pain. Our normal instinct will tell us to avoid shame and fear at all costs. This might mean the fear of a potential bad grade or the shame of receiving a low mark.
When we have a thought “I might not pass this exam”, the instinctual part of our brain kicks in and tells us to avoid it because it feels like pain.
The good news is our brain has higher functions which can distinguish the scale of pain. When tasked to, it can be a bit more objective for us:
- Fire really could kill me, so I should actually avoid it.
- Fearing a potential bad grade can’t kill me. I don’t have to avoid it. I can deal with it.
See the difference there?
Again, our logical brain understands this; the primitive part of the brain does not. Both parts are normal and serve us in different ways.
Procrastination stems from the instinctual, primitive part of our brain. It is a natural way to avoid something the mind perceives to have the potential for pain. This article from Psychology Today identifies the 5 most common reasons we procrastinate, and four of the five revolve around emotional pain.
How to Stop Procrastination with a 3-Step Strategy
I offer a simple solution to stop procrastination but don’t mistake simple for easy. 🙂 My approach is this:
I will explain each step below but know it takes lots of practice to get really good at this process. Earlier I mentioned my own pattern of procrastination in prepping for a certification exam. After a lot of reading and trial and error, I started using this strategy to coach myself through it and saw immediate changes in the actions I was taking. But I did have to stay focused on these three steps every day to keep myself moving forward.
With no further ado here is your three-step strategy:
Awareness is the most important step if you want to stop procrastination. It requires us to pay attention to our thoughts. Most of us are not conscious of what we are thinking.
What are you thinking about your next exam? I bet you can’t rattle off an immediate answer, and if not, you are normal. Remember, the brain wants to avoid pain. If your thoughts are perceived as painful we push them out of the forefront of our minds and become less aware of them.
How to get started? Choose one thing to focus on (like an exam, paper, course, etc.) and start with a thought download. Practicing a formalized approach and writing things down is a great way to get started.
Once you are aware of your thoughts surrounding the exam or course, decided what type of thinking you are going to adopt.
Maybe you notice some of these thoughts surrounding a challenging course:
- This is too hard.
- I’ll never be able to do this.
- I’m not smart enough.
- I won’t pass this course.
First of all, who would WANT to do their homework with thoughts like this coming up every time you crack a book?
Tap into your logical and more advanced thinking and really consider those thoughts.
- Do you believe it is absolutely true?
- Can you think of another situation to prove it wrong?
- Can you imagine a different outcome?
- Do you want to keep thinking this?
The beauty of this step is you get to choose what you want to think. Nothing says you have to keep believing you aren’t smart enough.
Adopt the thought to best serve you. Then stay focused on that thought and keep repeating it to yourself until it becomes automatic.
Finally, you have to take action. I can’t tell you exactly what to do because the action needed depends on the goal you are after. What I can suggest is you pick one thing to take action on. Don’t make a list of 20 things and try to do them all. You won’t, and this will only fuel a pattern of inaction.
Just do the next right thing.
This might mean:
- Commit to studying 15 minutes every day
- Outline your paper (don’t worry about writing it yet)
- Email your professor to set up an appointment and talk strategy for the course
- Start taking study notes daily
None of these ideas are revolutionary. They are simple and easily achievable. They are also a great start to get you moving towards your bigger goals.
Stay focused on your one action item until it feels comfortable and normal or is complete (like outlining a paper). Then take the next step. And the next.
A series of small steps will reach the final destination.
Try It Yourself: 20-minute Challenge
- Awareness: Choose one thing to focus on (like an exam, paper, course, etc.) and start with a thought download.
- Adopt: Decide what thought you want to focus on, and practice thinking it over and over.
- Action: Identify one small step and get started on it today.