If you’re like most people, you’ve been in this situation: you’ve done something and only seconds later asked yourself, “Why the heck did I do that? I know better.” You’re then launched into the position of needing to figure out what you can do to rectify the situation.
There are many different ways we can assess what motivates our actions. For example, we can look at our behavior through a developmental lens or through a situational one.
This week, I’m going to look at how our behavior is rooted in our biology. And I’m going to take a specific look at three unique behaviors: shutting down, procrastinating, and tuning out.
- 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.
- 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 relationships. 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.