Skip to main content


How to be an active procrastinator

Dealing with the bad feelings around procrastination

Procrastinating makes us feel awful so why do we do it? Because as bad as the feelings are when we've put something off, they're often not as bad as the feelings we have when we're trying to start something. 

If you learn how to deal with the bad feelings of starting a task, often you can overcome your propensity to put things off.

If you're a procrastinator, I don't have to tell you how annoying, frustrating and stressful it is. You may know that procrastination is caused by factors like fear of disappointment from oneself or others, in fact you can make the task so scary that your survival brain will make you avoid it because it senses that it is threatening.  Also the task could be stressful to do - hence avoidance of the stress of doing (and so you create the stress of not doing) - isn't it ironic? Then there's perfectionism ("I'll never get it just right"), lack of organisation and so on.

Many procrastinators justify their stalling tactics by convincing themselves that they "work better under pressure" (this may be true, but is it just that they always put themselves under pressure and so don't know any other way?). The result is almost always stressful.

Solutions offered often focus on your thoughts as a procrastinator and ask you to challenge distorted thinking – like: "I work best under pressure", "I can only do this if I get it perfect", "it's too late to try now" (no it isn't), or "I'm stupid to even bother trying".

Challenging these dysfunctional thoughts is always a good idea, but it doesn't address the emotional component of procrastination – the stress, anxiety and depression; feelings of worthlessness, fear – even boredom!

Take a deep breath and step back

How best to use the #1 essential coping tool

People have asked me, if I could only give one coping tool, what would it be? This is an easy one to answer.

When you're in a tricky situation and you're starting to react (your stress bucket is rising and you're about to get stressed, anxious, angry or fearful) – my 'go to' coping tool is the 'Deep breath and step back'.

We've always known that taking a deep breath can help, but we now know that the things that enhance that deep breath and take it to a new level.

Breathing in and out slowly sends a message to our limbic/survival brain that there is no need to fight or run away, because if we can breathe like that there mustn't be any threat. This slow in and out breathing can help you calm down, relax or even get to sleep.

Breathing deeply into our chest can also help stabilise the Vagus nerve which is involved in the 'freeze' part of the stress reaction (fight, flight or freeze).

But what is the optimal deep breath and how can we best use it in a stressful moment?

The seas and trees

At peace on the beach

The effects of water and nature on our brain and emotions

The health benefits of being near water are legendary. Remember the Ancient Romans and their baths? In the days before beachside was the most common summer holiday destination – the forests of the mountains were popular. One would 'take the air' or 'take the waters' – walking in it, bathing in it, and drinking it (in the case of mineral water). Here in Victoria, the mineral springs at Hepburn or here on the Mornington Peninsula have seen a recent revival.

We might have to deal with the stress of a thoroughly modern world, but our brain and emotions were not designed for it. We evolved to be close to nature, our psyches are soothed by it and this goes back millions of years.

In his TED talk 'A Darwinian Theory of Beauty', the art philosopher, the late Denis Dutton combined evolutionary psychology and a survey into contemporary preferences in art to point out that a 'beautiful' landscape was the same across all cultures (even polar peoples). The ideal landscape consisted of open spaces covered with low grass interspersed with trees – water – and surprisingly, a path. The theory is that all these elements are needed for human survival. Grass for animals to eat (and for humans to hunt), trees to escape predators, and water to drink. In our unconscious, this idyllic scene represents plenty (although where the path fits in is unclear).

Marine Biologist Wallace J. Nichols theorizes that we have a 'Blue mind' (the title of a recently published book) that is activated when we are in or near water. He says this is a 'mildly meditative state characterized by calm, peacefulness, unity and a sense of general happiness and satisfaction with life in the moment'.

Sophie's rules for living

Sophie Jack at 96

My mother passed away recently at the age of 98. Her name was Sophia Charlotte Waring Jack. She was bright and feisty right to the end and this was, I believe, largely due to her 'Rules for Living'. She did not call them that; I have collected them and put them into a list to pass on to you. They're good for any age.

  1. Use your brain. Sophie quoted her father often, who used to constantly say 'God gave you a brain, use it!' She firmly believed in the 'use it or lose it' principle. For example, while she was waiting to go to sleep, she would:
    • Do her times tables
    • Count backwards from 100 by 3, 4, 6, 7 etc.
    • Go through the alphabet and put a girl's name to every letter, then a boy's name. She would try to pick different names each time.
  2. Go for a walk every day. "You've got to move", she would say. In her later years she had a walker she called her 'chariot'. As long as she had that she could walk anywhere. She could walk without it but had limited eyesight. She especially enjoyed nature and would sit outside whenever she could.

Get it done with my 'Motivation Marbles'

Whether we want to:


  • Get that project done
  • Do that homework
  • Change that behavior
  • Do our daily exercise/meditation/ daily mental health practice
  • Overcome that fear/anxiety
  • Get though a day of depression
  • Not smoke/emotionally eat/gamble for a day

It can be hard to:

  • Get started
  • Keep started and
  • Reach our goal

Rewards work very well for humans because we are goal and achievement oriented. Each time we reach a milestone, even a small one – we get a little burst of dopamine in our brain – the neurotransmitter that is involved in our reward and pleasure centres, but we do tend to put things off, so that burst can be a long time coming.

Clients often say to me 'I feel so good when I use the techniques you give me – I can't understand why I'm not doing them'. In other words – you're getting a dopamine burst so why isn't it enough to keep you on track?

How to develop better mental habits

Better mental habits through mindfulness

'Prevention is better than cure', so the old saying goes. People tend to be proactive when it comes to physical health. We make sure we eat properly and exercise regularly because we're taught to do so as children. Keeping ourselves mentally healthy doesn't come as easily. We're not taught how to think and often we don't learn to emotionally regulate either. Sometimes that's because it's culturally unacceptable to show our emotions (or we're taught that "boys don't cry"). Or we're taught that some feelings are bad and we shouldn't have them (anger for example), but we're not taught how to channel them properly.

Developing better mental and emotional habits when we're adults is much harder to do. If you're saying to yourself 'I don't have time for that' or 'how am I going to remember?' ask yourself how you learned your good physical hygiene habits. Your parents nagged you ('For goodness sake go and clean your teeth') and/or you learned it in school. As for not having time, it only takes a minute here and there. Practice ...

'A little and often'

As grown-ups, we need to make an extra effort because that effort is up to us. We need to be pro-active. Initially, being pro-active can be a little stressful. You're the one who has to do the nagging but do it gently and be persistent. Here are some things to do and ways to remember how to do it.

Our inner bully - silencing the critical voice

Troubled woman at work

Our harshest critic is usually the one inside our own head. It tells you things your best friend probably never would.

"You're no good."
"You're so stupid."
"You're such an idiot."
"You're such a loser."

Does this sound familiar? How often does this voice invade your thoughts?

Because humans have a moral self (Freud called this the 'super ego'), we are meant to hear this voice when we are about to break the social contract that says "If I am kind to you, you will be kind to me".

However, as Freud pointed out, that voice can become over-inflated and crush us with a constant barrage of self-criticism. The moral voice that helps us with our altruism and kindness becomes harsh and overbearing. We can feel powerless to stop it.

So, how can we put this usually helpful voice in perspective?

Can happiness simply be a choice?

Smiling woman giving thumbs up sign

Memes on social media assure us that happiness is a choice. But is that really true? Often we see this as a glib cliché. For someone whose life is affected by stress, anxiety and depression, those words can seem like a cruel joke. When you're in the depths of depression, saying you can simply choose to be happy can seem downright insulting.

But can you get to a point where it is possible to choose to be happy?

Few people are naturally happy. Our brain is not wired for happiness, it's wired for survival and that means stress and fear. Most of our thoughts are automatic and most of them are not happy or positive. But if we make fearful, negative thought patterns automatically, can we learn to be happy, and how do we do that?

Happiness is usually a multi-faceted project and not a quick or easy fix. You need to work on it.

Here are some steps to developing the ability to choose happiness and to organise our lives to give us the maximum chance of happiness.

My top relationship tips

Angry wife fighting with confused husband

We could all do with a reality check every now and then when it comes to relationships. You were riding along a smooth paved highway and it suddenly peters out, leaving you on a rough, corrugated road. More often than not the cause is stress. When stress goes up, so can irritability. Whatever the cause, here are some ideas to help you get over the corrugations, whether it's you or them. Here are my top relationship tips.

What to do when suddenly, everything about them irritates you

Suddenly every little thing your partner does is annoying. I could list them here but you know what they are. Things you used to tolerate, or even think were cute, now enrage you. Cultivate tolerance of these things. Take a deep breath and step away from your irritability. Do a reckoning of the good things about your relationship instead of focusing on the small, irritating things. You can ask the other person to stop doing the small, irritating things, and they might try, but old habits are hard to change. You need to have patience, remembering that it can take up to 8 weeks to change behaviour. Try to see the funny side. Picking your nose can seem hilarious when seen in the right light.