by Dr. Kate Siner
If you’re like most people, you’ve been in this situation: you’ve done something and seconds later you ask yourself, “Why the heck did I do that? I know better.” You’re then left wracking your brain, trying to figure out what you can do to balance out your blunder.
Psychology allows us to assess our motivations and actions from many angles. For example, we can look at our behavior through a developmental lens or through a situational one.
More times than not, though, our behavior is rooted in our biology. This means that our sometimes puzzling actions are motivated by unconscious bodily reactions and not failures of our thinking. When we shut down, procrastinate, or tune out our bodies are reacting in ways that often times don’t serve us.
The good news is that there are things you CAN DO to counteract this. Let’s look at each of these behaviors one-by-one.
Do you have a hard time staying present when people yell at you? Or do you freeze when you hear certain noises?
In these moments, your Autonomic Nervous System (AWS) – the part of you that is responsible for the automatic process of your body – is taking over your show and acting on your behalf. A response like this is often the result of extreme or preverbal trauma.
We commonly refer to this experience as “shutting down.” People “shut down” in this way because they’re over-loaded with stress, or they’ve gotten in an argument or they simply feel powerless.
What you can do about it: The first thing to know about “shutting down” is that you really can’t verbally or rationally explain why this behavior shows up. When this behavior presents itself in your life, you might not even have access to the traumatic memories that instilled this reflex. The easiest way to look at “shutting down” is to see it as a response initiated by the nervous system and not a response to a memory. When this happens, be gentle with yourself and give yourself a bit of time or space to allow your nervous system to settle.
Can you find anything and everything to do besides what you most need to do? Do you wait until the last minute to begin important tasks?
Evidence shows that procrastination is partly due to a maladaptation in your prefrontal cortex. Your prefrontal cortex is responsible for your executive functioning and governs tasks such as planning.
While procrastination has a behavioral component to it – which is the habitual reinforcement of last-minute behavior – telling a procrastinator to just DO what needs to be done is like telling a depressed person just to cheer up. This approach never truly works because procrastination – like depression – has as much to do with one’s physiology as it does with their psychology.
What you can do about it: One of the easiest things you can do to help counter-act your tendency to procrastinate is to break your task down into small, easily accomplished steps. To support your progress, you can remove all distractions from your work environment, set and keep a consistent schedule, and monitor your mood.
Do you zone out when your spouse is telling you something? Do you have trouble paying attention in meetings?
This is often about more than a simple avoidance of things in your life that bother or bore you. It’s often about an adaptive process by which you tune out unchanging data. This means that if repetitive information keeps coming your way, you’re going to stop being aware of it. This can also happen if you steadily assume that the information you’re presented with is going to be repetitive, regardless of whether or not it actually is.
What you can do about it: Sometimes your lack of ability to see the newness around you is more about you than about the unchanging nature of your relationship. My advice here is for you to challenge yourself to approach your life – and all the people in it – with a sense of curiosity. Look for what you have not seen before.
Dr. Kate Siner is an award-winning Entrepreneurial and Personal Development mentor, speaker, author and radio show host. Kate has a PhD in Psychology and years of both clinical and coaching experience. Her passion is to help people move past whatever holds them back so that they may embrace all they can be. Kate has developed a series of successful personal development programs, newest of which is LifeWork Virtual. Learn more at www.katesiner.com or at [email protected]om.