Do you find that even when you’re clear on your purposeful goals and have created a time-balancing system that works for you, certain mission-critical projects are still not moving forward?

It’s the projects that stretch us the most that often cause us to drag our feet. Is it that book you’ve been developing for the past 3 years, or that TEDx talk you want to write for bigger visibility? Or, even just putting a video up on your home page? Suddenly you just need to clean your desk, dash off a text, have a snack or start planning dinner.

Does this sound familiar?

In our multi-tasking information overload culture, there is never a shortage of distractions to turn our head.

And, when you’re about to stretch into something new, especially with a long-term result, you are the most vulnerable to being distracted by SOD – the “Shiny Object Syndrome.” Our brains are expert at protecting us from potential threats by any means available.

The buzz of distraction is the instant gratification you get when you move away from the danger of trying something new, and toward familiar rewards such as food, community connection, or a simple task well done. “Ah!” says the brain. “Wonderful; we’ve averted danger once more. We will be safe for the time being.”

Understanding your brain’s three primal imperatives is what will allow you to transform that pleasant buzz of distraction into the fulfilling flow of acting on purpose. These survival strategies are: (1) to avoid harm (reptilian brain), (2) approach reward (mammalian brain) and (3) form secure attachment (neocortex).

You can learn more about how the brain works with one of my recommended resources, but let’s look at how this design impacts your actions and subconscious choices.

Think of the last time you planned to work on that project that’s been stretching you, and you did something else. Which primal survival strategy distracted you to protect you from harm?

If you decided it was time for a snack or time to do that easy job instead, it’s likely that the “approach reward” system hijacked you. Rather than bullying that part of yourself, the best way through is to negotiate.

Perhaps you’ve been driving yourself too hard and need to give yourself some short-term rewards. Schedule more breaks and do something fun. Be more proactive about mixing in short-term projects that give you the sense of accomplishment.

If you find yourself on email or chatting online too much, chances are your “form secure attachment” imperative has taken charge. Again, negotiate with this very normal and valuable need to feel connected to others.

Consider whether you’ve been too isolated and trying to do too much on your own, and it’s time to find collaborators for your project. If it doesn’t make sense to bring others into the work you do, find other ways to feel part of community.

If you find yourself simply losing track of time, it’s very easy to set up an alarm or alert that will bring your attention where it needs to be at a certain time. Then, give yourself the choice to either tackle that project, or spend time inquiring into what other needs and wants are tugging on you now. Once these needs are met, you’ll find much more energy to tackle the harder tasks.

Most of us are driven by a productivity mindset, where an inner taskmaster and an inner rebel disagree about what matters most. Imagine instead expanding what it means to be acting on purpose.

When you give yourself room to either forward your project or deepen your self-understanding, you’ll be that much closer to the harmony of actions that express your purpose — and the difference you are meant to make in the world.