Procrastination is something we all grapple with from time to time. It can be a mild inconvenience or it can cripple us for weeks at a time. Let’s spend some time exploring procrastination a little, and see if we can’t come up with a plan for how to overcome it when it strikes.
A History of Putting it Off
I’ll do it tomorrow.
No sentence has been uttered more in the corners of my mind.
I spent a lot of time during university surfing the internet. I mean a lot of time. Until 2 am most nights I could be found surfing the net, reading articles relating to my hobbies, buying or researching new games to play. This behaviour verged on addiction.
I remember doing it for a very specific reason: because it hurt whenever I contemplated getting myself together. It hurt to think of going to bed early, getting up early, having a wholesome breakfast, and getting to university before 9. It hurt to think about this.
Can you relate to this feeling? Can you relate to the ache that contributes to putting off the important task? Over the years I have tried different strategies for ridding myself of this feeling. Nothing has worked. Instead, I now follow a 4 step process that I’d like to share with you.
Let’s start with the first step…
Step 1: Accept the Hurt
If you are a chronic procrastinator like I was, chances are the thought of doing the task you are putting off makes you hurt. Not just mentally hurt, but even physically feel some kind of pain sensation. It’s interesting that we can imagine doing a task or chore we don’t want to do, and just the imagining can set off a pain response in the body.
Here’s the secret to overcoming procrastination: it will hurt at first.
If you’ve become averse to doing whatever it is you have to do, then of course it will hurt. This is normal. We have evolved to steer clear of situations that will bring us pain. The problem is that in the modern world there are a lot of very important – even essential – activities that cause us pain.
Housework can seem like a burden, but it still needs to be done. Getting up to go to work can be a real struggle at times, nevertheless we need our jobs (generally speaking; sometimes you should genuinely leave your job, but that’s a topic for another time!).
My point is this: just because it hurts doesn’t mean we should avoid doing it. The pain will subside. And often, once we get started and allow ourselves to focus on the task at hand our difficult feelings naturally fade.
Step 2: Remind Yourself Why
Why do you even want to do whatever it is your putting off? This goes back to my last post on values (see here). Knowing why you even want to do something can be very important. It can seem foolish to question why you should wash your sheets or finish that report, but sometimes it’s worth reminding ourselves.
The one I’ve been reminding myself of a lot lately is – because that’s the kind of person I want to be.
Do you want to be the kind of person who finishes what they start? Do you want to be the kind of person that commits to a project or relationship, even with the challenges you’ll inevitably face? These questions are paramount to successfully overcoming procrastination – you are feeding your motivation to succeed.
Spend a bit of time writing down what you value about the action you are thinking of taking. Why do you want to do something that’s hard? Why try down this path? Only you can answer that question.
Step 3: Write Down Your Plan
You’re nearly there. You’re nearly ready to take action. But first, let’s procrastinate a little more…
If you get to this point, and you are feeling ready to take action, then by all means, take action. If you are still struggling to find the motivation or strength to get moving, then writing a plan or to do list can be extremely useful.
Jot down your to-do list, give yourself a time of day, and then tell yourself that you’ll do whatever it is you need to do, at the time you set, no matter how you feel about it. If you do feel bad at the time, that’s ok. You’re pushing yourself to do something you would normally put off. It’s ok for it to be difficult. Be kind to yourself and get started!
Step 4: Take Action
Here it is. The key advice to the whole article. Take action.
Seems like an anti-climax, right? It is both the simplest and hardest thing to do sometimes.
Taking action is only viable once you know what you want to do, and why you want to do it. Sometimes we get stuck because we think we should take action without clarifying our intention or having a solid plan. This is half the reason we procrastinate – it hurts to contemplate taking action without a clear idea of the action we need to take.
My advice when you do take action towards a goal is this: it’s ok to hurt, and it’s ok to fall down. What matters is getting back up. It might hurt, and you might not get it right the first time, but at least you’re going for it.
So as simple as step 4 is, it only makes sense in relation to the other 3 steps. And it becomes much easier once you’ve clarified and connected to the action you’re preparing to take!
Recently I was turned down for a job that I would have been perfect for. At the time, I was devastated. For the last month I put a lot of effort into volunteering at the organisation, and I felt I was knocked back several steps. The first thing I did was spend a day feeling sorry for myself (we’re all allowed one) and stayed in bed eating chocolate. The next day, however, I got to work.
I started writing this. I finished reading a counselling textbook I told myself I wanted to finish, went to the gym, and walked the dog.
None of it was easy. In fact more than a few times I wanted to give up and crawl back into bed. But I kept taking action, because when I ask myself ‘ok, what’s next?’ there is always an answer.
Procrastination is our way of being cautious, and we are cautious with our lives because we care. We care about ourselves and our goals and we don’t want to mess them up. Still, we get stuck in that cycle of worry, and we forget to take any action at all.
Use the 4 steps above, write them down, think about them, contemplate what you need to do.
And take some action!
Stephen is a budding counsellor, avid craft beer enthusiast, and part-time Buddhist. He enjoys hiking, connecting with nature, losing himself in deep conversation, and contributing to the Conscious Beginnings blog.
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