Cavemen Don’t Procrastinate: Using Fight-or-Flight to Boost Productivity


LOS ANGELES—Putting off until tomorrow what you could get done today is standard operating procedure for some of us, and the consequences can make us feel like we’re stuck in a rut. But, according to Dr. Jenny Yip of the Renewed Freedom Center, we can conquer procrastination and become more productive by harnessing the fear that leads to inaction. It’s a matter of getting back to basics, caveman-style.

Step 1: Face Your Fear

Yip outlines her mind-retraining technique in her book, Productive, Successful YOU! End Procrastination by Making Anxiety Work For You Rather Than Against You. She says the first step is being able to recognize when we’re afraid by paying attention to our physical response to fear. That could include increased heart rate, headaches, muscle tension, tightness in the chest, nausea, restlessness, sweating, and chills, among other symptoms. Once we recognize that we’re feeling anxiety, Dr. Yip says we can pinpoint what frightens us and change the way we interpret those physical reactions.

“A lot of people fear anxiety, because anxiety is uncomfortable,” she explains. “What you have to understand is that what we call anxiety is what we subjectively perceive. Objectively, it’s our biological fight-or-flight response at play. We need that fight-or-flight response whether we are fighting the Saber-tooth out of fear, or we’re running a marathon. That energy is useful energy, and if you can shift your perspective into seeing that energy as something that can be utilized; then you can use it to be more productive rather than being debilitated by it.”

While it’s only the first step in the process Yip outlines in her book, she says it’s the key to harnessing the power of that anxiety and repurposing it as a productivity booster.

“If you’re motivated, that will lead to more fruitful behaviors. Fear and anxiety will lead to more procrastination,” Yip says. “The only thing you can control are your behaviors; this approach is about taking control of your perception. You can’t really control a situation; what you’re controlling is your reaction, your perception, your response to the situation.”

The secret to gaining control over that perception is to re-interpret fear as excitement, and then use that excitement to motivate ourselves into action. But, first, we have to learn what’s keeping us from that re-interpretation: ourselves.

Step 2: Reverse Negative Self-Talk

“Our emotions are valid,” Dr. Yip says, indicating that feeling fear is natural in situations where our fight-or-flight response is triggered by stress. But, she says, there’s a caveat to the validity of our emotions. “Just because the emotion is valid doesn’t mean it’s rational. [That is especially true when] our emotions stem from our thoughts, and we know that our thoughts are full of fallacies. It’s a no-brainer that our emotions will also be full of fallacies.”

Yip defines a list of “thinking traps” that prevent people from moving forward and becoming more productive. Known as cognitive distortions, they’re thoughts or statements that affect our emotions, which determine our next move or our next battle with procrastination. Yip says we struggle through a host of false thought processes that could include overgeneralization (I always do this.), labeling (I’m a failure.), blaming others (My co-worker distracted me, so I haven’t finished the project.), and jumping to conclusions (There’s no way I’ll finish this project tonight.). That’s just a sampling of the “thinking traps” Yip says we can recognize, disprove as unrealistic, and then change to help motivate ourselves. Only then will we be motivated and ready to start mapping out a productivity strategy.

Step 3: Implement a Success Plan

Any plan requires knowing what the end goal looks like, but Yip’s technique breaks down planning and requires a SMART approach (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timely). She says the primary objective should be to break overwhelming goals into smaller, SMART goals, and then schedule them on the calendar instead of writing them on checklists with no set deadline—and no accountability.

Step 4: Plan for and Visualize Success

Once a plan is in place and those large goals are broken into smaller ones, Yips says making appointments to complete those tasks on our daily schedule goes hand-in-hand with daily visualization. She says a person who visualizes themselves successfully completing a task actually creates that successful feeling, motivating them to be productive that day. Recognizing and reinventing thinking traps also becomes easier when we start our day feeling like we’ve already conquered it.

Yip says changing your own mind about how you perceive things is something that requires daily commitment.

“This skill that we’re talking about of identifying thinking traps takes your executive functioning skills, which occur in your frontal lobe,” Yip says, explaining that it’s not like the muscle memory it takes to learn—and never really forget—how to ride a bike. “It takes a lot more effort; it’s not like you have a memory for it….Anytime you’re asking your body or your mind to perform, it’s going to take time to train it.”


Dr. Yip is a nationally recognized OCD and anxiety expert. She is a Licensed Psychologist, and is Board Certified in Cognitive & Behavioral Psychology. She is Executive Director of the Renewed Freedom Center in Los Angeles, and is Clinical Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at the USC Keck School of Medicine.Productive, Successful YOU! End Procrastination by Making Anxiety Work For You Rather Than Against You is available on Amazon and Kindle.


About Author

Becky Dolgener

A seasoned writer and editor, Becky Dolgener is the Executive Editor and a contributing writer for Strategy Magazine. With a BS in Speech Communication, she has more than 12 years' experience in business, communications, and marketing, as well as special interests in wellness, DIY, budget-friendly living, and child wellness.

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