putting off the hard stuff, how to stop procrastinating, how to stop putting things off, Dina Cataldo, Be a Better Lawyer Podcast, Best Legal Podcasts, Best Law Podcasts

#218: Putting Off the Hard Stuff

If you're putting off the hard stuff in your practice or personal life, there's nothing wrong with you.

Your brain is working exactly as designed.

However, you may take issue with what it's doing because you're not doing the hard things you need to do to up-level your life.

In this episode, you'll learn:

  • how our brain works
  • why our brain was designed to put off the hard stuff, and
  • how to override that design to stop procrastinating

Just because you haven't achieved the result you want doesn't mean you can't.

This episode will help you understand why you put off the hard stuff and fulfill your deepest desires.


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Thanks for listening, and I'll talk to you next week.

All right, my friend, let's talk about putting off the hard stuff. You know, the stuff, the stuff you just don't wanna do, like there's part of you that really wants to do it, but then there's a part of you that keeps putting it off.

Did you know that we are actually biologically designed to put off the hard stuff, and that there is nothing wrong with you?

If you find yourself putting those things off and I'm gonna share with you why your brain does those things and how you can override this design, it's not a design flaw.

The design was meant to keep us alive and keep us feeling good, as good as possible.

Unfortunately, the design prevents us from doing the hard stuff, unless we know how our brain works. And the hard stuff is always the stuff that will help us feel what our higher self wants us to feel.

Our more evolved self wants us to feel things like ease and peace and growth and connection and freedom. Those are a lot of words that lawyers come to me telling me they want more of those feelings in their life and they can't understand why they can't have them, why it's not working, why everything that they try doesn't work the way they think it should.

I'm here to tell you that it's nothing to do with you.

We are not taught these things. I'm gonna teach you the motivational triad today. We're gonna talk about three different ways that our brain can override this motivational triad. We're like, we're gonna take a look at some of those things. But the one main thing that I teach my clients, what I teach on this podcast is the model. And the model is brilliant, right? It is such a perfect way to see how our brain works and why we're getting the results that we're getting. And I'm gonna break it down.

I'm also gonna link to a couple episodes in the podcast, if you're newer to Thought Work so that you can have a little bit more background on it.

So the hard stuff is what helps us design our life intentionally and create a law practice that we love a life that we love, enjoy all of the little things instead of ruminating and putting off all of those things that we know would serve us so well.

You may know for yourself exactly what the hard stuff is for you the hard stuff you've been putting off.

Here are some examples of what clients bring to me so that you can kinda start to see what's happening in your brain.

If you don't have this awareness. So first off, sometimes lawyers will come to me and they will have a packed calendar and have zero time for themselves.

They always feel behind and they have tried calendars in the past. They've tried different things in the past, but they never seem to work. So they tell themselves it's hopeless. And then they start learning things from the busy lawyers guide. They start hearing things on this podcast and they start realizing like, oh, there's something else there. There's something else going on. And I'm gonna share with you later in this podcast, why they're talking to themselves this way, why you might be talking to yourself this way, why I do it too.

Like I'm not excluded from any of this. I have a human brain too. So I'm gonna teach you why we do that.

I also have clients who come to me and they discover that they have no hobbies. They have no interest outside of the law and they haven't tried anything new. It's almost like they shut down. When they think about doing anything new, they don't make any time to discover anything new. It's just a block for them.

And then sometimes clients come to me who have a difficult home life for whatever reason. And they tell themselves that they cannot do anything right there.

And they find themselves working longer and longer hours and loving their work more and more. And they give up on the home life that they've labeled as hard and they focus their energy on their work because it feels good. And they put off making any changes because making change would mean spending more time at home where they aren't having such a great time.

I also have clients who have put off networking or making connections in their office because they think that they are awkward and they tell themselves that they don't have time. So if you see yourself in any of these examples, I wanna stress that there is nothing wrong with you. Okay?

You are not a bad lawyer, a bad spouse, a bad parent, a bad human. Of course you are putting these things off. They feel hard. And our brains are designed to avoid the hard stuff.

The reason you're here right now is because there's a higher part of you that desire something more.

I often hear those words, ease, peace, connection, growth, freedom from the lawyers who come to me. Those are feelings I want too, right? Those are what I am aspiring to and what I try to create for myself. But it means not avoiding the hard stuff. All of those feelings are on the other side of doing the hard stuff. So understanding your brain is essential here.

How does your brain work?

I'm gonna talk to you about two parts of your brain today, the primal brain and the prefrontal cortex. You, you might have heard me talk about these before. So the former is primitive and the latter is more evolved. It's the newer part of our brain that we can intentionally access to override the primitive brain. We all have the same human brain. So everything I'm talking about applies to every single one of us. None of us get to get out of being human here.

The motivational triad really explains it breaks down how that primitive wiring works.

So there are three main drivers of the primitive brain. It wants to save energy. It wants to seek pleasure and it wants to avoid pain. And if you think of this in the context of humans, when we were cavemen and women, this makes a lot of sense. We wanted to save energy so we could run away when we needed to, or chase prey. When we wanted to, we desired, we sought pleasure so we could reproduce or to eat, to survive.

We wanted to avoid pain. So we wouldn't put our hand in the fire or do something that would put our survival at risk. And even though we have evolved, we still have the same basic programming, which is good because it prevents us from walking into the street without looking both ways. And it keeps our species alive.

But as we've evolved, we've also grown out of some of the traditional old school dangers and have the same questions popping up in our head for different quote, unquote dangers. And those dangers now are things that show up in the workplace, the emotions, the vibrations that we have in our body, it interprets those things in a way that aren't necessarily helpful.

Now that we have this added component of the prefrontal cortex. So to save energy, we used to ask ourselves, and I'm, I'm just saying like, we may not have had the language, but our brain was able to process things like this. And so I'm just articulating what those questions were. Okay. <laugh> so to save energy, our brain would ask things like, do we really need to do this? Is this something I need to do right now? And now we ask those questions.

When it comes to networking, having difficult conversations or starting anything new, the answer our primitive brain will give us will always be no to seek pleasure. Our brain would ask, is this gonna be delicious or feel good? I think we can both agree that drawing up a calendar or having a difficult conversation or choosing the salad over the baked potato with butter and sour cream may not be as appealing as say, you know, having the chocolate cake or the cookie or the sex, whatever it is, right. Or the baked potato.

But maybe there's someone here who would choose the salad over the baked potato and be super happy about it. But I can tell you that's not me.

To avoid pain, our brain would ask, is this a good idea? Could something bad happen here? Are you sure you want to do this? And now our brain asks us this. When we go networking and we feel we're scared of rejection, or we feel icky because we think, oh, they're gonna think that I want something that I'm being salesy again.

Our primitive brain is always gonna answer no and keep us inside of the cave.

Three ways to override one of these categories in the motivational triad.

We're looking at saving energy, seeking pleasure and avoiding pain.

One way that we can take action and override one of those motivational triads is just because one of those desires is stronger than another.

So imagine being a teenager, you remember that it doesn't matter how much trouble you'd be in or how tired you knew you were gonna be the next morning or how much work it was to get there. If you could get the gratification of going to your boyfriend or girlfriend's house that drive would overcome everything. Anticipation of pleasure, that intense pleasure could override the brain's desire to avoid pain or losing energy makes sense, right?

The second way that we can override this motivational triad is with willpower.

Now willpower takes a lot of energy and we have a finite amount of energy within us every day. It doesn't usually last because it takes so much energy. Like imagine your brain as a battery. And the more you are will powering and forcing your way to do something. The more that battery drains down. So this is where we start a new calendar for a week or two. And then we just decide it's too much work. And we stop.

Even if we've seen some positive results, same thing with the gym. Maybe we see some positive results, but you know what? It's too hard. It's a lot easier for me to just finish this project at the office. I need to get this work done. Anyway, forget the gym, right? We might even see something positive happening for us, but because that desire not to do the work right to avoid expending, that energy is so strong. We're not going to be able to keep up with that willpower. It's also where we stop putting in the work in our relationships, whatever feels hard. It is going to take a backseat because it takes so much energy.

This is where the third way that we can override this motivational triad comes in and that's using the prefrontal cortex.

And that means it's with intentionality, not willpower. It's with intention. It's having a conversation with yourself. I oftentimes talk to my clients like this. They say, okay, well, what's the conversation you wanna have with your brain. I look at it as if you, your higher self is separate from your brain. Like anytime you are in a situation where you see yourself avoiding the hard stuff, I want you to picture your brain with the motivational triad, those three things it wants to keep at as priorities as just like a separate entity and your higher self, the one who wants the ease, the peace, the health, the freedom, the connection, whatever it is, that's a separate entity. And when you do that, then you can start observing the brain for what it is, which is a thought and meaning making machine.

It just thinks things. They don't mean anything.

They're just sentences in your mind.

Meanwhile, the higher self has a desire that is above what the primitive brain can us. So this is where the model comes in really handy.

And if you haven't listened to this podcast before, first off, welcome, and second, I'm gonna give you a two minute summary of the model for context. I'm also gonna link to a couple episodes in the show notes, if you want more on this.

The Model is made up of five parts, circumstances, thoughts, feelings, actions, and results.

A a circumstance is a fact in the world. The sky is blue. The back of this notebook here is brown. I mean like there's facts in the world that 12 people could agree on if they were on a jury. And then there are thoughts about that circumstance. That's our interpretation of the world.

So let's say our husband, this is an example I love using — So let's say our husband doesn't take the garbage out. We could have thoughts about that. We could say, ah, he's lazy. He doesn't love me. He doesn't pull his weight, right? Those are some thoughts. Other thoughts are, oh, he must be busy. He must have forgotten. Right? So there's different thoughts we can have about the very same circumstances, circumstances. Just a fact fact in the world, you didn't take out the trash. Then we have all these different interpretations available to us.

Our brain just picks one at a thin air. And then we have a feeling. The thought that we have generates a feeling, a feeling is a vibration in our body could be stress pressure. It's always gonna be one word could be love, could be freedom, ease, overwhelm. That feeling is caused by a thought in our brain. And then our actions are all fueled by our feelings. So if we feel overwhelmed, we may not be in very good problem solving mode in our actions. We may not be able to do that, but if we're in calm, then we can problem solve. We can create solutions much more easily. And then the result that we get is the result of those actions. So everything roots with some event happening in the world, a circumstance, we have a thought about that circumstance that thought it has.

We have chemicals that activate in our brain and they generate a vibration in our body with all the chemicals that surge that's a feeling and those feelings then drive our actions and then the actions generate our results. So before we go any further, I want you to know that our thoughts don't magically disappear because we understand where they come from and we still have them, right? Like our brain just generates thoughts.

We can't even help it. The brain is going to generate thoughts. Some of them are not gonna be thoughts that we wanna have, and they're just gonna be there.

Like, have you ever just had a thought and been like, whoa, where did that thought come from? There's nothing wrong with you. It's just a thought, cuz that's what our brain does. It thinks.

But now you have tools here that that can help you notice them. And then we can do something about them. We can make a conscious, intentional choice to change something. And I like to look at this as the conversation that we have with those thoughts. And it's really tempting to tell ourselves that we're doing something wrong when we don't do the hard things.

But all it is is that we have not been taught these skills. And we have not learned how to have a conversation with ourselves in a way that is going to help us do the hard things and then get what we want. Right?

Whatever that feeling is, cuz anything that we want is driven by the feeling that we think we're gonna have. If we have that thing, the force of our primal brain is really strong. So it's not surprising that if you might have told yourself things like it didn't work, it's not working. Calendars don't work for me. They're not for me. I stink at dating. I stink at relationships. I'll do it later. Like telling ourselves these things. They're just thoughts. Okay? It's not surprising. You would have them based upon the way our primal brain works.

All of those thoughts are normal parts of being human.

We're wired to tell ourselves those things to promote the primal brain's agenda to seek pleasure, avoid pain and save energy. So congratulations you're normal.

Just because you haven't made the changes that you want to make up to this point does not mean that you can't.

And if you're listening, I know that you wanna do the hard things on a certain level. Your higher, more evolved self is craving that, ease, that connection, that growth. And to do that, then what we need to do is start recognizing that our thoughts are just thoughts. Okay? They, they may feel true. Those thoughts, they all may feel true. It may seem totally factual that your husband is a total jerk for not taking out the garbage. Okay?

But we need to distance ourselves from them and be the observer of what's happening in our brain.

They are opinions.

They are observations of the world that our brain has.

They're just an interpretation our brain has in that moment.

Our brain is constantly making meanings. And then it's up to us to see that, to see that our brain just acts, it just responds to what's happening in the world.

And that those responses are not necessarily facts.

We stop putting off the hard things and start taking action when we get our brain on board intentionally.

So I wanna give you an example of this, something that happened with me recently.

And I like to go through my journals to see how my brain is thinking. And this is something that I saw. So in my business, I have a financial goal for the year. And I noticed that my brain was telling me that I've worked so hard, that I should have my end of goal year. Like that goal, it should be achieved by now, right? Like the whole year, the whole year worth of goal. All of that I should have now because I worked so hard and I'm recording this podcast in mid-July <laugh> right?

Like our brain just thinks things doesn't mean they're true. It just thinks things. This is just a thought. Now, if I stay with that thought the feeling that's gonna be generated, it's gonna feel horrible. Right. I did a whole podcast, a few episodes back. I'm feeling horrible. <Laugh> like this resonates with you. You should go listen to that. And if I feel horrible, then I'm not gonna take the actions that I want to take to do the hard things that move my business forward.

I can see though that it's a thought if I have a conversation with myself and I flip it.

I can look at that thought that, you know, I should have, I've worked so hard. I should have the entirety of my financial goal today in July that I anticipated to have at the end of the year. And I could say, okay, what does this look like? Like if, if I flipped this, it could look like I've worked so hard that I've achieved almost half of my end of year goal as of July. Right? Like my brain can look at it in a different way.

It automatically chose to look at it. The first way that I shared, which created what worry, maybe some overwhelm, right. Feeling horrible. And I have the opportunity there to recognize. Okay. That's just a thought. Doesn't feel like a thought in the moment in the moment, it feels a hundred percent true. It's up to me to look at it and say, okay, wait a, wait a minute. This is a thought, okay.

Here's another example. The thought “calendars are too much work.” A lot of lawyers believe this thought you might believe this thought and that's okay. And you might be able to rattle off a lot of evidence about how it's never worked for you before. Or, you know, you always have emergencies that pop up and then you need to ditch the calendar. So what's the point of having a calendar.

Those are all thoughts.

But now, now you know the motivational triad and you know why you're having that thought, doing new things requires commitment and repetition. And those require energy.

Our brain does not like to expend energy.

Your brain would rather have an immediate dopamine hit when you finish a project instead of sitting for an hour, working on your calendar at the beginning of the week and trying to problem solve for potential emergencies or problem solve for potential childcare issues or things that are coming up ahead of time.

The thought calendars are too much work. It's just a thought. And I can tell you that because I have lots of intentional thoughts that are the opposite of that thought, that feel really true to me. Calendars don't take much work at all. It makes my life so much easier having a calendar because it's like having an assistant. Tell me what needs to get done ahead of time. Even if I have an emergency, I'm really glad my calendar's there because then I just have my calendar and I can just go right back onto my schedule. It's not a problem.

I know exactly what needs to get done. That one hour is the best hour of the whole week for me. Like if I could spend an hour on myself every week, that's the hour like, oh, I wanna do that. It's gonna make my life so much easier. I love not having to think about what needs to get done over and over and over again, before I go to bed, cuz it's already written down on my calendar. I don't have to think about it.

Those are all thoughts that I have intentionally and that some of my clients have intentionally. And then they can generate that energy. That's needed to overcome that primal thought and not because they're will powering through it, but because they can recognize, oh my brain's having a thought that calendars are hard. Is that even true?

I'm gonna walk you through a process, that's going to help you with this.

I just want you to kind of have that seed in your mind, like help yourself realize that these are just thoughts. Just start questioning all of the thoughts. Right? We get to choose what we believe or not. Okay. So how do you get from calendars are impossible to calendars. Don't take much work at all.

The very first thing you wanna do is just start by getting curious.

Usually when we're thinking a thought like calendars, calendars are too much work, we feel something like frustrated or hopeless and that is not going to help us change things. That energy is not going to help you have the conversation that you need with yourself. All right. So if you are asking questions from a place of hopelessness, you're gonna ask questions like, Ugh, this is just hopeless, isn't it? <Laugh>

And then your brain's gonna get to work, trying to prove that that's true. Cuz that's what our brains do it like they like to answer questions. But if we start with curiosity, then we can open our brain up a bit to just make a tiny bit of movement. We're not looking for 100% change overnight. Like suddenly you're a calendar making machine.

We just want your brain to open up to the possibility that maybe calendars don't have to be quite so hard. <Laugh> right. Like we don't have to get to.

All I do is every single week is I make a calendar and it's fabulous. You don't have to do that. So one way you can do this is when your brain offers you a thought, you can say, yeah, brain, you are 100%, right. Calendars are too much work, but I'm curious what if I could make them easy?

What might that look like? And your brain, like I said, likes to solve problems.

This is a great way to put your brain to work.

So sit there and just let it think, like get quiet and let it think. Let it answer the question. It might offer you something like, well it might be easier if I wrote everything I wanted to get down this week just wrote it all down and then I just started prioritizing. And then I just start focusing day by day on what needs to get done and you know, whatever it offers you like go with it. Like let it be easy.

Now I go through this process, the process that I use in the Busy Lawyers Guide. So if you need help in this specific area of organizing and creating a calendar, you can download that guide at https://dinacataldo.com/busylawyer. I'm gonna link to that in the show notes too.

Or let's say your offer, your brain offers you that you hate networking, right? Because you feel so awkward and icky and you don't wanna feel rejected. You can do the same thing here. I hear you brain. I, you know what it is totally awkward and it is totally icky doing networking. And I don't wanna feel the pain of being rejected. I wonder though, what if it wasn't so awkward and icky? What might networking look like for me then?

Or what if I wasn't gonna be rejected? How might I approach networking differently? Is there something I wanna try? That's a step in that direction. And when I ask my clients these questions, they find answers, right? Like they're able to kind of tease their brain's thought processes apart.

And I ask question and another question and another question, and then they start realizing like what it is that is going to help them in particular because every one of us is gonna have a different answer.

Every one of us has different life experiences. We have different perspectives. We have different interpretations of the world.

And so we might have an answer that's even easier than let's say our colleague who is asking themselves that same question. But for them, the answer they give themselves is easy because of their personal life experiences. They think what you chose is super hard. Meanwhile, you're thinking that what they chose is super hard.

Just understand that when we ask ourselves these questions, we get personalized answers, right. So if I'm giving you something that doesn't resonate with you, that's okay. You can ask yourself questions to see what does resonate with you. Okay. So let's do another one. So if your brain is telling you that you wanna work late to finish another project, instead of going home or going to the gym, you can notice it and say, yeah, totally. It it'll feel really good to finish this project. But out of curiosity, what might be better if I decided to put off this project until tomorrow?

Like what might be different and just get your brain going, let your brain think on this because it might come up up with things that you would not even have expected. Your brain might offer you things like, yeah. I might be able to sit down and have a really good conversation with so and so I might be able to just, you know, put on my tennis shoes and, you know, put on my gym clothes and, and just go to the gym. And I think I'm gonna feel really good afterwards.

But until we have that conversation, we can't even open up our brain to this possibility. And if we're will powering ourselves and telling ourselves, no, you really should go to the gym, just go to the gym, just go have that hard conversation. It's gonna feel really hard because we're gonna be efforting our way into doing those things. We're gonna expend a lot of energy and then we're not going to be able to make the inroads that we need to do the hard things on a consistent basis.

We're gonna give up ahead of time.

Having these conversations with ourselves, opening ourselves up to this kind of dialogue with our brain, right?

Our higher self and our brain really having this conversation helps us do the hard things. We stop putting off the hard things, because then we're just having a conversation.

We're just dialoging about it. What might be different? And it makes it a little bit easier for you to take those actions. This is not easy work. Okay. I might have laid it out in a very simple way here in this podcast. But if you were gonna do this automatically, right, we would all be trained how to do this in elementary school, we would all know how to do this in law school, but we're not taught these things, which is why my clients hire me to help them.

We're not taught how our brain works or how to do things like get curious with ourselves to get better results. We're definitely not taught, not how to judge ourselves. Right? In fact, we're probably taught how to judge ourselves really, really harshly, which of course expends more energy and makes it harder for ourselves to take the actions that are gonna get what our higher self wants.

We have all of these thoughts and they sound really beautiful, but they're not helping us do the hard stuff. And so then it's up to us to just look for those thoughts. What are those beautiful thoughts that maybe aren't helping us, right? Like getting the project done or thoughts, like I'm gonna get more done if I just jump into the week or my partner doesn't understand me, I should network. But you know what? I just don't have time this week, maybe next week I should connect with so and so, but you know what? I'm gonna wait until I'm ready.

These all sound really nice. They probably all feel very true.

But those thoughts are just thoughts to do the hard stuff to have what you want. We have to see them for what they are thoughts that are reactions that are stemming from that motivational triad. Don't believe what your brain offers you at face value. When we involve our prefrontal cortex in this conversation, then we can start to see what's really happening. And then we have the power to change it.

If you wanna do this work, if you want to stop putting off the hard things, if you wanna start going after what your higher self wants, the calm, the ease, the peace, all of those things, book a call with me.

You can go to https://dinacataldo.com/strategysession and we'll start doing this work right away.

You're gonna start noticing your brain. You're gonna start noticing those patterns that are coming from the automatic thinking generated from the, that motivational triad that we talked about in this episode. It's so fascinating when you really start getting curious about your brain and asking yourself why it does what it does and doing it without judgment.

This is the really hard part. It's hard for me too.

We can't always see it because we're just so darn close to it. We can't see how we're talking to ourselves or how we're, you know, trying to achieve things. And it's like trying to push our way through cement versus having a conversation that dialogue between what's going on in our primal brain and what we want as our higher self from our prefrontal cortex.

All right. I hope that was helpful in helping you understand how your brain works, why you do what you do and know that even if you're putting off the hard things, there is nothing wrong with you. Okay.

This is a natural part of how our brains work. It's natural for us to want to put off those hard things, but we can take action.

All right, my friend, I'll talk to you soon. Bye.

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