Are you someone with plenty of ideas but no follow through? Do you wait until the last minute to get anything done? Do you sit on the lounge watching TV even though you have a to-do list as long as your arm? You, my friend, are running a pattern of procrastination!
There are many myths surrounding procrastination – that people who procrastinate are lazy, unmotivated or just don’t care enough. While there may be some elements of truth to this, it’s not the full story. There are other underlying issues, which are more likely to be the cause of the problem. Everyone’s reasons for procrastinating will be slightly different, so not all of these will be relevant to each person. Some of these underlying reasons are as follows:
Fear of the unknown
If you are undertaking a task or project that you have not done before or that you find difficult, you might be feeling paralysed by the uncertainty of how it will turn out.
Lack of process/steps
Achievement requires undertaking a series of actions or steps, which will ultimately lead you to a specific outcome. If you are missing some of the required steps in the sequence, you will consequently be unsure of how to proceed. Confusion, uncertainty and indecision can then prevent you to from taking any action at all.
If you fear failure or are unwilling to risk something not going exactly as planned, you might be suffering from perfectionism. Nothing paralyses faster than the need to be perfect, because of course you are holding yourself to an impossible standard. Further, if you are not even trying because you are afraid of failing, one could argue you have already failed by lacking the courage to try.
Avoidant coping mechanism
We all have different ways of coping with difficult emotions or situations. If you have an “avoidant” coping style, it means that instead of facing challenges directly, you will ignore or deny the reality of the situation, distract yourself or busy yourself with other trivial matters to avoid dealing with this head on. This can be a cause of procrastination.
Solutions to overcoming procrastination
If you run a pattern of procrastination, you will experience a form of internal conflict: logically you know you need to take an action, however you can’t get yourself to take the action. Generally you justify this by a generalised form of “I don’t feel like it.” Therefore the first step out of procrastination is:
1. Take action whether you feel like it or not.
Successful people do not wait until they feel like it before they take an action. You may actually never feel like it! What is important is to start, in spite of the internal resistance. Once you get going, you will likely feel encouraged by your progress and will be able to generate more motivation to continue. If you want to be a productive person, it is vital to stop using your feelings as the sole decision maker of how you spend your time.
2. Clarify and fill any knowledge gaps.
If you are missing steps in the process of accomplishing your goal, it is crucial that you find out the information you are missing or at least find out how or where that information can be found. Whether it be a simple internet search, talking to someone who has done what you are wanting to do, or trial and error, you won’t get far unless you are realistic and honest about whether you have what you need to accomplish your task.
3. Consider your future self.
Procrastinators are usually too focused on how they feel in the present moment. They minimise past experiences of not taking action, and minimise the future consequences of not taking action. An effective strategy to propel yourself into action is to project into the future and focus on how you might feel when it’s complete. Imagine the feeling of accomplishment and success when you achieve an outcome, compare this will the continued disappointment and pain of staying stuck for further weeks, months and years. This will give you an added boost to get going!
4. Identify your particular pattern.
Procrastination is not a personal failure or inherent fault in your personality. It is simply a pattern that you have been running. Think back to the times in your life where you have procrastinated. What have you been telling yourself? What do you typically do to justify your non-action? Create drama? Clean the house? Waste time scrolling on your phone? Get familiar with the specific ways you run your pattern of procrastination. Self-awareness is key. This will arm you with the specific knowledge you need to step out of this pattern and deliberately start a new one.
5. Acknowledge your power.
People who procrastinate tend to lack faith in their ability to accomplish, influence or change. This is a huge mistake. You are far more powerful than you think! Do not underestimate what you can accomplish as time goes by, because your actions compound when you are consistent. Adopt an attitude of curiosity and take the pressure off yourself to get it right the first time.