It’s early January, and many of you are still feeling highly motivated towards fulfilling New Year’s resolutions.
But what of those of us who, despite our very best intentions, struggle with procrastination when faced even with highly desirable goals and objectives? Why does it feel like, just when we have a burst of energy and enthusiasm for some long-awaited dream, to be suddenly swamped with lethargy, frozen in indecision, or overcome with excuses and rationalizations?
It’s extremely common, and it’s not laziness. Let’s just make that clear first.
Procrastination, along with its ugly stepsisters evasion and inertia, is the by-product of inner conflict or struggle. It’s often self-sabotage, neatly wrapped and disguised as perfectly good reasons for why we ‘shouldn’t do something just yet,’ or why we need to ‘reconsider our options.’ Unfortunately, procrastination is often followed by feelings of guilt and shame, and an increase in stress and anxiety, making it even more difficult to get back on track.
So how do we deal with procrastination and avoidance when it rears its distracting head?
Here are eight great ways to help overcome procrastination and push forward towards creating the life of your dreams.
#1. Recognize When You Are Procrastinating
Sometimes, the reasons behind our avoidance or indecision are valid, and it’s important to discern when this is the case. For example, there may be an actual conflict in pursuing a given goal – perhaps the dreamed of end result involves a lifestyle change that you’re really not ready to make, or requires you to spend money that you can’t truly spare.
Once you’ve ruled out any valid conflicts, it’s equally important to be honest with yourself about whether or not you are in fact procrastinating. Don’t beat yourself up over it, but don’t pretend it isn’t happening either.
#2. Watch Your Internal Dialogue
Procrastination often involves a great deal of unhelpful and negative internal dialogue.
It can take the form of catastrophizing (‘this is going to be horrible,’ ‘I’m never going to finish this,’ ‘this is unbearable’); blaming & guilt (‘I should have done this weeks ago,’ ‘Why can’t I ever finish anything?’); or dictating & pressuring (‘I have to get this done by today or I’ll be fired,’ ‘I can’t blow this presentation – I need to get it right!’).
When we use critical, harsh, pressuring or otherwise negative self-talk and internal dialogue, we set ourselves up for, at worst failure, and at best, a very unpleasant time. Much of this language is disempowering and belittling, and does nothing for our self-esteem (ironically, low self-esteem is often cited as a primary cause of chronic procrastination).
Try rephrasing your inner dialogue with helpful, encouraging, and empowering language such as ‘I want to,’ ‘I will,’ ‘I choose,’ and ‘I’m capable of’.’
#3. Manage Your Environment
This one is so important. Whatever your reasons for procrastinating (avoidance of unpleasant or difficult tasks, fear of failure, low self-esteem), you’ll be much more likely to delay if there are distractions within easy reach.
Don’t make it easy for your mind to find excuses or other ‘things’ that need your attention. This means putting away your phone, turning off email and social media alerts (if you’re working on your computer), having an organized and tidy environment to work in, and not having the TV on in the background. Set yourself up with any necessary tools, materials, or information you may need ahead of time, to eliminate possible excuses such as, ‘I can’t do this now, I don’t have my favorite pen.’
It may also mean asking those sharing your space to respect scheduled ‘do not disturb’ times or days.
#4. Focus on the ‘Why’
Sometimes in order to motivate ourselves and get past the anticipation of an unpleasant or arduous task, we just need to remind ourselves of why we want to accomplish the goal in the first place. Think of all the good reasons you want to achieve or complete the task, and imagine vividly how wonderful/satisfied/relieved you will feel when you have completed it.
#5. Chunk It Down
This is an absolute necessity whether or not you procrastinate. When we are focused on finishing a large, challenging, or lengthy project, we can become overwhelmed by the sheer volume of work ahead of us, and feel defeated before we’ve even begun.
By breaking a larger project or chore down into smaller individual tasks, we can instead focus on getting through just one chunk at a time. This does two things: it lets us break through the inertia of intimidation and actually start the project, and it provides us with mini-opportunities to celebrate our accomplishments and reward ourselves for the progress we are making.
#6. Be Realistic, and Drop the Perfectionism
Many people procrastinate because of a need to have everything perfect. They feel they cannot start a project until the situation/environment/equipment/weather is ideal, and they also hold themselves to such high standards for the completion of their goal that they are fearful of starting in case they fall short of this envisioned perfect outcome.
It’s important to drop unrealistic expectations, and just get started. Set manageable, achievable goals, milestones, and outcomes, and be realistic with your schedule, always building in a buffer for the little things that inevitably come up.
#7. Forgive Yourself for Past Procrastination
Watch for more of that negative inner dialogue in which you beat yourself up over past delays, false starts, or dropped balls. Recognize where you have procrastinated in the past, take a useful look at what beliefs, behaviors, or motivations were behind it, and move forward.
#8. Find an Accountability Friend
This may not work for everyone, but if you work well with a little external motivation, finding someone to be your accountability partner is a great way to move past procrastination.
Let a friend, family member, or coworker know of your intentions towards your goal, and ask them to check in on your progress. Be sure to let them know you only want positive encouragement, rather than shaming or chastisement.
Don’t Forget to Make it Fun!
Certainly some tasks are less pleasant than others, but nothing is as bad as we tend to make it out to be.
On top of changing our inner dialogue and language about the tasks ahead of us by making them positive and empowering, we can include frequent mini-breaks where we rest, relax, and give ourselves a reward for our accomplishments thus far. By making the rewards small and frequent, we give ourselves something to look forward to all the way through the accomplishment of bigger projects or goals.
We can also work to stay present with our task (mindfulness), establishing a feeling of gratitude that we have the abilities and inner fortitude to accomplish our goals, and to move in the direction of our dreams.