All procrastination is not created equal. And before you can eradicate or circumvent your delaying tactics, you must understand where it’s coming from.
Let’s look at how you can identify the three main reasons for procrastination, as well as simple ways to overcome it.
You stare into the abyss that is your financial records from the past year and you think, “There’s just no way I’m getting this done by next week, I think I’ll go golfing instead.” Sound familiar? Then you’re well acquainted with overwhelm procrastination, which is the urge to avoid projects that are just too big or that you’re not sure how to tackle. You can’t find a way into the project or task, so you just put it off. Many Ph.D. thesis has been abandoned due to overwhelm.
What to do: One of the biggest mistakes people make with regard to goal setting is to try to tackle projects without breaking them down into small, concrete steps you can take immediately. Break any large project or activity into actions that can be finished in 15 minutes or less.
For example, if you’re applying for a line of credit for your business, your first step might be to make a list of five banks you’ll approach. Your next step might be to call and get the name of a commercial lending officer. If you need a tool, a piece of information or something else before you start, then that becomes your first step.
Sometimes, we avoid taking action for the simple reason that taking the next step requires us to push ourselves into the unknown. Asking for a raise, calling on a new customer, submitting a book proposal to an agent or publisher… we put these things off because we don’t know what might happen, so we assume the worst.
While this strategy might have helped keep our cave-dwelling ancestors alive, it’s not doing much for our own state of mind or achievement.
What to do: We have to learn to fool ourselves into thinking all is well and there’s nothing to worry about. Again, taking tiny steps can be the solution.
Instead of telling yourself, “I need to apply to law school”, break it into smaller, less threatening pieces, such as, “I’m just looking up the dates for the LSAT” or “I’m going to create a list of online law programs.” Small steps allow us to tiptoe past the three-headed guard dog lounging in front of our well-being without alerting him that something important or dangerous is occurring.
3. Lack of benefit
Humans are comfort-seeking animals. In order to motivate us out of couch-potato status (literally or figuratively), we must see a clear benefit in pushing ourselves into discomfort. In other words, if we don’t think going to the gym is going to bring us a tangible benefit, we won’t do it. Why rock the boat when we’re so comfortable right where we are?
What to do: We need to amplify the pain of inaction and simultaneously inflate the reward of action so it’s crystal clear that we must move to get out of the way of the meteor that’s headed directly at us.
If your reward isn’t big enough to make you act, ask yourself, “What will happen if I don’t change? Where will I be in a month, a year, three years, if I continue on this path?” Make it a full surround-sound, Technicolor vision of what life will be like if you don’t change your trajectory. Then do the same for a “success” vision. Describe exactly what you’ll gain if you move in a new, better direction, and then focus on the contrast or gap between the two.
Seeing exactly what you’ll feel and look like a year from now if you keep eating a pint of Häagen-Dazs Dulce de Leche every night might be enough to get you to set down the spoon and head out for a walk around the block instead.
When you’re faced with a project you just can’t seem to tackle, no matter how many times you write it on your annual plan or put it on your to-do list, it’s time to go deep and figure out exactly why you’re avoiding it.
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