Is this why you’re struggling?
Why do we often delay doing the things we know we should be doing, or want to be doing?
Come on – be honest – you have done the unthinkable – you have avoided your personal spiritual disciplines again. Once a joy, a time where you beheld the beauty and the power of the presence of God, it has now become a necessity of your job or leadership in Church, rather than the joy of your faith!
Am I alone?
Ecclesiastes 11:4 warns against the farmer who never plants or reaps because he is waiting for the perfect weather – watching the wind and watching every cloud.
The farmer would appear to have had some negative emotions or experiences attached to their sowing. Perhaps they have sowed before, and the weather ruined their crop, or perhaps their crop didn’t grow, and now the thought of all that work again, with the risk of no reward is stopping them from taking action.
There will always be wind and cloud.
There will always be opportunity to not do something. Waiting for the perfect conditions, we say. ‘When I’m less tired,’ ‘when I have more time, ‘I just need to do this first,’ and in so doing, we avoid sowing the seeds of discipline that will lead to reaping the long-term harvest reward of prioritising the presence of God in our lives.
For the moment, all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
Retraining our brain
Our brains are wired to avoid things that have a low chance of reward compared with how much effort or energy is required.
Negative experiences or mindsets stemming from a lack of immediate reward, unanswered prayer, boredom, or seemingly pointless bible passages, cause our brains to want to avoid this experience again. The experience can feel like a waste of energy so instead we procrastinate.
The challenge with procrastination is that is self-rewarding behaviour.
Watching TV, gaming, snacking, Instagram or tik-tok scrolling, and browsing the internet are so much more appealing and addictive than study, prayer, bible reading, or contemplation.
Why? Because the effort levels are low, and their reward is almost immediate (even if fleeting).
However, procrastination, like any habit, does not have to be a death sentence to the spiritual life you long to live.
So, how can we overcome procrastination?
One helpful analogy is the experience of removing a tooth from a child’s mouth. Can you picture it?
As the child sits in the chair, the big glaring light is moved in front of their face, and the dentist, holding scary implements in their hand, asks your child to open their mouth. The child senses the fear of the unknown and they begin crying and screaming. As the parent, you have a decision to make:
Do I allow this short-term discomfort?
Do I tell the dentist to back off and let the tooth rot away in your child’s mouth?
This picture helps to describe the decision we must make in that very moment when we recognise that we are procrastinating.
You would hope the parent would allow the dentist to do their work, knowing the long-term benefit is worth it and work with the dentist to help them comfort the child.
Rather than saying, ‘sit down for 20mins, we need to extract the tooth from your mouth’, they say instead ‘the dentist just wants to have a little look in your mouth’ or ‘they just need to look for any baddies so they can make you better again’ or ‘if you can just open your mouth for a few moments, it will all be over and we can take you to McDonalds’
Here is a clue on how to overcome procrastination.
1. Break the activity down in to smaller chunks.
For example, instead of thinking I need to read my bible for 30 minutes, start with just reading a verse. You often find that once you start, it’s easier to go on. The hardest part is starting – so make it easier to start!
2. Reframe what you are doing.
Instead of saying ‘I have to read my bible’ why not call it – ‘growing in my faith’ or ‘being with Jesus.’ By reframing the activity you are focusing your brain on the end benefit and reward.
3. Be compassionate with yourself
No parent would be hard on a child for not letting the dentist rip a tooth out. So don’t beat yourself up every time you procrastinate and fail to spend time with Jesus. Doing this reinforces the negative emotion toward the experience. Being kind to yourself will help your brain the next time you sit down to read, pray or just be silent.
4. Reward yourself
Knowing that a reward is coming can help you overcome the negative feelings and emotions you experience at the point of procrastination. What rewards can you implement for pushing through the procrastination barrier? By rewarding yourself, you are training your brain to see that the activity is worth the energy and effort.
And Finally – let us not forget that at, all times we have God working in us, giving us the desire and the power to do what pleases him.
Sometimes just mustering up enough energy to ask Jesus to help in our weakness is the perfect start to overcoming procrastination.