If you tell yourself enough times you’re lazy, that you procrastinate, or that you can’t seem to get anything done on time what you’re doing is giving your mind instructions to slow down, to work against you.
All these are just stories you’ve been telling yourself.
Today we’re going to look at the 10 ways we conspire to sabotage ourselves under the pretext of procrastination.
Tackle this by looking at the root cause. The reason people find it hard to start something comes from a fear of not being able to complete the task. Not finishing stuff evokes old feelings of inadequacy. We have a memory of starting projects before that lie on our laptop or in the attic unfinished, and it’s painful. Therefore we resist starting it in the first place. The solution is to focus on what needs to be done now, not whether you’ll finish it in some imagined future. The marathon runner thinks about the mile she’s on, not getting over the finish line.
Solution: The great purpose behind our actions should lie in their doing, not their completion.
Lurking in the back of everyone’s mind is the thought that someone else is more skilled, better educated, better looking, or just plain more talented than they are. Of course there’s probably someone who can play the ukulele or cook a soufflé better than you, but equally there’s a heck of a lot of people who can’t do stuff you can. It’s all about balance. The point is the way you do something is uniquely you.
Solution: Don’t compare your worth against someone else’s, judging in their favour. Allow your light to shine.
So many people have this program in their head that it paralyses them from doing anything. It’s a survival fear picked up in childhood when we’re more vulnerable, and then applied to every challenge that arises later in life. Stop it with a question: “Not good enough . . . at what?” That undermines this spurious exaggeration we are all too fond of and stops procrastination in its tracks.
Solution: Realise that all you need do is your best in any situation.
Fear of failure is probably the biggest thing that holds us back. I’ll give an example from my own life. In my time of teaching in a university I found this fear very common amongst mature students. Many, returning to college after years of work feared competition from younger students. However, time and again I observed the mature students did better than their younger counterparts. Believing in our own failure can make us doubt ourselves.
Solution: Do the thing you fear most. Often you’ll find the fear evaporates and procrastination with it.
Sometimes the problem isn’t so much starting as what happens next. We begin well, we get up a head of steam only to suddenly find ourselves stuck. Now we’ve committed to a task that’s going nowhere. Old ghosts arise to taunt us about former bad decisions. Now, I’ll let you in on a little secret, achieving something worthwhile is rarely done on your own. Elvis needed his Colonel Parker, the Beatles their George Martin. You’re no different. So the thing is to ask for help, either from friends or professionals.
Solution: Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, as we illogically think, but one of sure confidence.
who's your George Martin?
Another excuse for procrastinating can be when we’re really up for a task, but not all of it! There’s one part that we want to leave in the closet, and dancing around this will prevent us from starting the job at all. Example, you want to qualify with a law degree, but the thought of writing up that 20,000 word report that’s a requirement for your thesis is just too much. You’d rather go to the dentist. I understand the feeling! Well, there is a solution. If a task can’t be delegated (and writing your thesis really can’t!) then tackle it by breaking it into manageable pieces. That way it’s not so daunting.
Solution: Break any task down into bite-size chunks.
This is an inverted form of procrastination really, like where we insist on doing something that no longer needs to be done, usually out of some kind of stoic misplaced loyalty. Let’s say twenty years ago you decided to write the Great American Novel and you’re still on page 5, then it’s time to let it go and do something you love; that was yesterday, do something that’s relevant for today. Don’t see your present tasks and goals through the lens of a distorted past.
Solution: Know it’s okay at times – so long as you’re not perpetuating more procrastination – not to finish things!
This is where we find ourselves doing tasks that don’t really need doing, and neglecting ones that do! Cleaning the house for instance, or painting the garden fence when it was fine in the first place. A way of avoiding a task that we find somewhat unpleasant is to get really busy doing something else. Writers, in particular, are very good at this one (I know!) That way we bury the guilt and it looks like we’re being productive, when in fact we’re time-wasting.
Solution: Chill out! Being “too busy” is procrastination by the back door.
Part of the dread of starting a new project, or completing an existing one is because we’ve taken on too much. If you start ten different tasks on the same day are you likely to finish all of them? No. So what’s that about? Do you actually think you’re such brilliant multitasker? I’ll tell you what’s going on, by taking on too much you're unconsciously planning to fail.
Solution: Only do what is manageable.
This one contains elements of all the above, particularly ‘I’m not good enough’, ‘I’m afraid I’ll fail’, and ‘I’m too busy’, because it seeks to reinforce something about yourself that’s patently untrue and is used as a smokescreen to avoid what’s really going on. Telling yourself you don’t have will power gives you a reason to stop (or not start) a new adventure. Then it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. You don’t need huge will power to do most jobs. But it’s a line we give ourselves time out of number.
Solution: allow yourself to complete tasks in the time and way that is just right for you.
The 10 examples we looked at are signatures of resistance. We know when we’ve triggered one of them by a certain feeling of unease we get. ‘I’m lazy’, ‘I procrastinate’, are words we put into our head. From today here’s a new task to begin. STOP putting these words and thoughts into your head.
Start telling yourself new stories.
There is a voice that doesn’t use words - listen!
Reality is merely an illusion - albeit a persistent one.