There is something cunning and treacherous about procrastination. While it feels good in the short run, since we are momentarily spared the possible discomfort involved in pushing ourselves a bit, in the long run procrastination can lead to a type of soul sickness. We begin to doubt (and increasingly so, as the days and weeks progress) our capability to take care of things – ourselves, our loved ones, our health, our jobs…
Yes, there are times in life when we need to take a break, such as during illness, injury, mental exhaustion, or to reassess our priorities and goals. We all need chances to rest. Driving ourselves too hard is never productive.
However, it’s common that after a protracted period of rest, getting back to business can feel more arduous than usual. For example, have you ever felt despondent or exceptionally resistant about returning to work after a holiday break? This is a common syndrome. While this could also be a sign that you’re less than thrilled about your current job situation and might benefit from looking into other employment opportunities, it’s also pretty normal. You’ve shifted gears during your holiday time, and now it feels like a herculean task to resume your usual pace.
So, just imagine if you’ve gotten sidetracked for a considerable length of time from your customary semi-on-top-of-things mode. The reason could be a fractured ankle, the ending (or beginning) of an important relationship, moving to a new town, or flareup of a medical condition. Whatever the case, your memory of having tackled things with vigor has grown dimmer by the day. You now doubt your ability to do just about anything.
So you fall into worrying, which often leads to increased distress, which segues into “I’ll tackle this tomorrow, when I feel better”. Tomorrow comes, and maybe you don’t feel better. So you put things off again – and the cycle continues.
When we run unnecessarily from things – relationships, jobs, etc. – we stunt our growth and potential. We grow by facing what we fear, be this emotional discomfort, possible rejection, physical pain, or loneliness. Fear is not the problem. Owning it, or letting it run the show, is. The solution is in our response to fear.
Staying motivated is akin to a marathon. It can be a slog at times – no getting around that. Hearing an intensely inspirational speech may get your adrenalin going for a short while, but it’s not likely to sustain you for long. Some keys to sustained motivation:
- Go where you are celebrated. With whom do you surround yourself? Whose company do you keep? Do you feel celebrated by them? And do you do the same for them? Or do you sense a lot of back-stabbing, subtle or overt, in your relationships? If the latter, you may want to reevaluate those connections and possibly back away from them (or discuss the issue, if possible). If you do feel mutually uplifted in your relationships, nurture these connections – you and your companions are likely to be all the better for continued, consistent contact.
- Have a strong social support system. Maybe you’re fortunate to have friends and family that fit the bill. If so, wonderful! All the same, you might benefit by broadening your social circle, as we could all use more honest encouragement (which is not the same as kissing up). Another benefit of a supportive social network is that you can learn from other people’s experiences – both positive and negative. You don’t have to make all of the mistakes yourself – and if you do falter, sharing your experience can help others to avoid the same missteps.
- Be accountable to someone. This can often make the difference between sticking to previously determined plans (like getting to the gym, or spending a specified time on a work or school project) and procrastinating. While ultimately nobody’s going to do your work for you, having made a commitment to someone else can tip the balance in favor of your (perhaps begrudgingly) doing what you’d intended on doing. To quote Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Our chief want in life is someone who shall make us do what we can. This is the service of a friend. With him we are easily great.”
- Know that your choices are ultimately your own responsibility. Nobody can really make us do anything, at least not in the long run. It will ultimately come down to what you choose to do, which is in large part determined by what you think that you can do and what you want to do. So, while it’s advisable to have some people in your life who “see the oak tree in the acorn” or your potential, and who encourage and support you, it’s also necessary to have your own back and live in such a way that you can be at peace with yourself.
- Push yourself a little bit on a regular basis, preferably every day. Choose to be willing to do things, assuming that they are in line with your chosen objective, even if you don’t want to or feel like it. In fact, especially if you don’t want to or feel like it. In doing so, you teach yourself again and again that actions speak louder than words, and that you can act your way into right thinking, rather than the other way around. Do something – anything – to show yourself that you’re on your own side, that while things may be tough today, you are going to persevere. Remember that courage is not the lack of fear, but the determination to not let fear have the last word.
- Think about how relieved you’ll be after you’ve accomplished your planned work for the day. In fact, your energy may actually increase. As William James said, “Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task”. Fear and procrastination can cast big shadows.
- Celebrate your victories. Give yourself a pat on the back when you’ve accomplished something challenging. Only you know the time and effort it took. What somebody else might have found easy to accomplish, due to years of experience or innate ability, might have really been a stretch for you. Don’t minimize what you’ve had the courage and willingness to risk.
- Acknowledge where you could improve. None of us is a finished product – we all have areas in which we can grow. So, recognizing characteristics or habits that you’d like to change is the first step in moving forward.
- Make room for all of your feelings. Having a wide range of feelings is different than acting out on every feeling you have. Being angry is sometimes justified. Throwing a lamp across the room due to anger is generally unwise.
- Treat yourself with self-compassion. In other words, be kind to yourself, both in moments of triumph or missteps. If you fall back into destructive habits, yelling at yourself isn’t likely to be helpful. Instead, accept your detour while also treating yourself in respectful ways, such as gleaning what you can from your experience.
- Get back on the horse if/when you fall. And do it quickly. This is your opportunity to practice resilience. And what is resilience? Getting back up after a setback. Without a fall, there wouldn’t be a need for resilience. Resilience is your ability to bounce back.
- Remember that setbacks are usually part of the journey. Be prepared for them, so as not to be overwhelmed by them.
- Run your own race – don’t compare yourself with other people. In fact, don’t even compare yourself to yourself on a day-to-day basis, given that at times you may be fighting a cold, be sleep-deprived, have had an extra-long day at work, or have recently suffered a personal tragedy. Simply do the best you can, given your current resources.
- Strive to live in line with your values – not what other people deem is important. Know your “whys” – what matters most to you. Once you’re clear on this, the “hows” tend to get easier (to paraphrase Friedrich Nietzsche).
- Know the difference between your wants and your needs. The former are negotiable — the latter are not.
- Ask yourself what your life will look like in five years if you persevere with your desired changes and goals. Also, ask yourself where you’re likely to be in five years if you don’t make any changes or strides forward. What is the bigger risk – changing and growing, or staying the same?
- Check in with yourself on a regular basis (i.e., weekly or monthly) about your progress. Were you overly ambitious with your goals? If so, modify your plans, so you don’t fall into dejection.
- Also, check in with yourself periodically (i.e., once or twice a year) about your priorities. Have these changed, based on your recent experience? Often the only way to know if your stated priorities are truly what you value most is to do a test run. If you change your mind, that’s fine. However, don’t give up without trying.
Enjoy – or at least appreciate – the journey. This doesn’t mean that you find every moment of your life to be pleasant, but that given the alternative (not being alive), you’d rather be here than not. Be grateful for every day, as none of us know how much time we have. This isn’t an invitation to be morbid but rather an impetus to use your time and energy wisely.