Procrastination is the mother of all limitations, the arch enemy of our dreams and the most common complaint I hear from my clients. Most people have big, bold and beautiful dreams, some people even know exactly what they need to do in order to achieve them, but for some, seemingly unknown, reason most people find themselves stuck with an inability to translate intention into action. Having spent many years battling and slaying my own procrastination demons, I’ve managed to work out a thing or two about procrastination. In this post I share the six reasons I believe it strikes and what we can do to overcome it when it does.
This is a tricky one, because in my experience overwhelm often goes hand in hand with excitement. We get so excited about all the great things we could do that we freak ourselves about how much there is to do. I found an analogy for this tendency (of mine) recently and it’s the boiling pot. When I’m lacking motivation, I liken myself to a pan of cold water on a low heat, struggling to get heat up. The temptation is to turn the heat up very high to move things along, but what happens is that the water shoots up in temperature and boils over, so much so that there is a rush to turn the heat right down to reduce the temperature of the water. I realised that this has been my tendency with work, when lacking in motivation, I rev myself up by starting a ton of new things, seeking inspiration at every turn and then bam, I boil over and totally overwhelm myself.
What I’ve realised is going from cool to boiling over and repeating the cycle lands me firmly in the domain of overwhelm and therefore inaction. Instead what I’m aiming for is a slow, gentle simmer, where I can really get cooking! What this means in real terms, is getting things done by taking small but deliberate steps in the direction of my target rather than overwhelming myself with a hundred huge projects or big ideas.
There are several ways to deal with overwhelm and I could probably write a whole post on the topic (note to self!) but here I’ll just mention a few ways to minimise it. One popular technique is to use lists. Get everything you want, need to or have to do out in one long list, purge your brain of all your ideas so that it’s not drowning in possibilities. Then I like to divide my list according to priority. What needs to be done first? What can wait? What’s really important versus what’s nice to have? Then I start to plan out when I’m going to do what. If I feel very overwhelmed, then I use the power of three technique and limit myself to only three tasks that day. This gives you some space to breathe and get things done and once we start ticking things off our list, rather than feel overwhelmed, we start feeling empowered to do more. But remember don’t get too excited and turn the heat up too high!
2. Fear of failing
This is a big one for a lot of people, but many of us don’t even acknowledge it. This is because like many fears, it’s insidious and so we may not even realise we have it. When there is a project that requires some bold action that we consistently fail to take, we might call ourselves lazy or brand it procrastination, but the root of the problem may well be a fear of falling flat on our face. Fear of failing is very powerful, because with it, our sub-conscious mind tells us that if we never try, if we never really put ourselves out there, then we never have to fail. The problem with stopping ourselves from failing is that it also stops us from succeeding and keeps us stuck in a place of inaction.
Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.” ~ Robert F. Kennedy
There are a couple of ways you can deal with a fear of failing. First of all you can go there. By that I mean really look at what it would mean to fail. Imagine it in all it’s excruciating detail and then accept it and let it go. Accept that you might fail and know that it won’t kill you. Many of the world’s most successful people failed countless times before they achieved the kind of success that shot them to world-wide fame.
3. Fear of success
This has been a big one for me and sometimes when I mention this one in conversation, people look confused. Because why would someone fear success? Well I’ll tell you. If you have inadvertently attached ideas and beliefs to the idea of success that don’t appeal to you, then deep down you won’t want to succeed.
So for example if, like I have in the past, you lump being successful in with other things like feeling overwhelmed, being too busy, feeling stressed or having to do things you don’t want to do, then everything inside you is going to resist success or sabotage any real attempts to be successful.
Another example could be a fear that being successful might make those around you feel like failures or you fear their judgement and criticism, worrying that they’ll think you’ve become cocky or too big for your boots. If you have this going on, then staying small is going to make perfect sense to your sub-conscious mind.
4. Lack of clarity
This is one of the simplest reasons to fix because it really just requires some thought and planning. If our end goal lacks clarity, then it will feel almost impossible to envisage and plan all the steps we need to take to reach that goal. If we can’t clearly define the goal or the steps to reach that goal then we are setting ourselves up to fail. The good news is that it’s pretty easy to get clear on what your end goal is. Take some time to get really specific about it and ask yourself about it. What position will you be in when you have reached your goal? What will be different about your life? How will you feel, look or live differently? Once the goal is clear, then you can start to work backwards and define the specific steps it will take you to get there, what will you have to do differently between now and then to achieve your goal? If this is something you struggle with, then enlist the help of a friend or coach to brainstorm with you.
5. Living someone else’s dream
Knowing why you are doing what you are trying to do is crucial to your success. If the motivation behind your end goal is something that doesn’t come from a deep desire within yourself, then you’ll find yourself procrastinating for sure. Common ways in which we find ourselves working towards someone else’s definition of success include following the path of the millions that have gone before us or living out the expectations of other people such as our parents or caregivers.
Your end goal must align with your dream life if you are to succeed.
If it doesn’t this could be the key to your procrastination. Take some time to look at what your end goal is and really examine (through journalling or meditating on it) why you’ve set this goal. It could be an old goal that no longer fits or a goal passed down from others. Is it what you really want to do with your one precious life?
6. Lack of structure
Let’s imagine that you don’t feel overwhelmed, you’re not scared of failing or succeeding, your end goal is clear and aligned with something that you deeply desire and yet you still find yourself procrastinating on a daily basis. The only thing left is a lack of discipline and structure. Some people find it very easy to focus, put a task or a goal in front of them and they will focus 100 per cent of their attention on it until the task gets done.
I’m not one of these people and if you are reading this, my guess is that neither are you! I used to tell myself I had a problem with focus and concentration even half-joking that perhaps I had ADD (attention deficit disorder). I’ve since learnt not to believe my own stories or think self-limiting beliefs about myself or my capabilities but I also know that it’s important to be realistic. If you have a problem with focus or distraction then you need structure.
Two tools I have created and use every day to optimise my working day are an accountability log, which I use to set goals (or tasks) for the week. Every Sunday evening, my boyfriend and I sit and review our progress. For any goals or tasks uncompleted, we have a penalty to perform, penalties include things like an extra run, extra hours of meditation or writing an extra post. When we are busy (which is often) the incentive not to incur penalties and therefore more tasks is strong. It also helps keep us focused on the things we said we were going to do. A second thing I do is to create a daily schedule, which outlines when I will do what type of work and includes all of my daily rituals, like yoga, free writing, workouts and runs. I don’t follow the schedule religiously but setting it and having it written out (and colour coded!) helps me to know what time I have available each day for which tasks.
The key to dealing with procrastination is to understand why it’s happening, so many people blame procrastination for inaction without examining the causes of it. The 6 reasons outlined here can all stem from a disconnection from self. When you feel fully connected to yourself, your dreams and your ability, everything else flows. Check out my new program called Cultivating Connection to learn how to re-connect. Only available until October 12th 2016.
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When you live from deep connection, you create deep connection. To everything. Other people, your work, your bigger purpose, Spirit, life itself. The Cultivating Connection Program teaches you how.