If procrastination is your Achilles heel then you are not alone. In fact, it is one of the most common problems I hear in my clinic. We all have stuff that needs to get done on a regular basis, it’s life right? Part of what makes us procrastinate is that we don’t know what to do – the next step is unclear and therefore we postpone. Contrary to popular belief it is not laziness but fear of failure that is at the heart of procrastination. Fear of making the wrong choice, the wrong decision and being exposed as not good enough,
Procrastination can make us feel anxious, stressed and overwhelmed as mounting decisions loom. Sorting out our post, clearing out cupboards, doing our taxes, choosing a wall colour, deciding what clothes to keep and which to give to charity and so on can lead to potential decision-making overload and we freeze. One of our brains go-to when we are in the fight/flight/freeze part of our mind. Sound familiar?
Putting things off can seem deceptively easy but it has long term consequences. Unfinished tasks want our attention and the sheer knowledge that we have procrastinated can start a cycle of disappointment in ourselves, feeling disorganised, not good enough, guilty, worried, unclear and so on.
How to get out of the procrastinating rut.
The key to breaking the deadlock is to start small. Tiny steps in the right direction are incredibly powerful yet highly underestimated. We often feel we need to make grand gestures, big sweeping change to adjust even the smallest of ruts but just thinking of all that effort can make us freeze and turn on the telly instead.
When we start small, tackling one thing at the time, we deconstruct the size of the problem whilst gradually building a sense of achievement and confidence for each step that we nail. We eventually start to see ourselves as people who get things done, sort things out, solve problems and find solutions. That’s a sweet spot to be in.
What would they do?
Picture a person you admire who possess the qualities you’d like to have. Ask yourself, before you procrastinate, what they would do in a similar situation. How would they tackle the obstacles that are sitting in the way of reaching completion? Having a mental image of someone can be very useful as you can borrow their qualities and structure to help you create new habits.
Maria – a case study.
Maria loves entertaining and she lives alone in a two-bedroom flat. She sometimes feels lonely and loves when people come to stay but over the years her spare room has got cluttered with papers, unwanted clothes and items she doesn’t know what to do with. The mere thought of it makes her freeze as she doesn’t like to make decisions. She is ashamed of the mess.
Years ago her close friends and family used to come and stay over and in the morning they used to go for breakfast together before rummaging around the shops and cafes on her local high street. It made Maria feel happy and loved.
When Maria came to see me she was at her wits’ end yet after only a couple of sessions she was encouraged to figure out what small steps she could take to begin to tackle the clutter that would help her achieve those wonderful feelings she used to have when people stayed over. She decided she needed to sort out the biggest culprit first, her paperwork. She had put this off because she felt unsure of what to do with it all but now decided she needed files and some space to put the files.
The first small step then was to clear a little space in her existing bookshelf. This was easy because as she had old books she’d been meaning to give to charity for some time.
The following day she dropped the books at the charity shop and bought herself some colourful new files and dividers. When she came home she had a cup of tea and felt pleased with herself for achieving something useful.
The next small step was to assign a realistic timeframe to sit down and go through the papers. In the past, she used to be a time optimist yet this time she decided to give it the time it needed realistically. She then put the allocated time into her diary as an appointment so that she knew when she was going to be busy. This would help her to not get sidetracked and distracted if a friend suggested coffee. The key for Maria was to stick to commit to her diary entry without fail.
When she sat down on her allocated day and time, sifting through the piles of paper, she felt empowered and in charge. Absolutely clear of the task ahead. Some papers she filed, some she discarded. Once she had filed away her papers she tackled the rest of the clutter by going to the charity shop and giving things away and one day her spare room was empty again. It was a very big moment.
Seeing the room clear of clutter she realised she had removed the obstacles to recreate those lovely weekends that she used to have. She felt proud of herself and started to identify herself as a person who got things done.
Sticking to stuff and getting things done stimulate neurotransmitters such as serotonin, the happy hormone, which we need in order to make better decisions, have a healthy perspective and feel content with our world. The more positive action we take, the more positive hormones we produce. It is that simple.
What small step could you take today to reach your goal?