Fear and doubt are what’s actually causing us to procrastinate most of the time, so to alter that habit we need to look into what’s causing our fear and doubt. When we put off something we really need or want to do, it’s often because we have imagined that:
- There are too many difficulties and we won’t be able to handle them
- We can’t do it perfectly now, so we have to wait for more time and energy
- We will make mistakes and then will be blameworthy
- We are not in the mood, and we have to wait until we feel just right
When we use our mind to imagine future difficulties, we stimulate the release of the same stress hormones into our brain as if those difficulties are actually happening. Using your powerful mind to frighten yourself and create stress when there is no need for stress is a poor use of your intelligence and energy.
To defeat procrastination, identify what you’re telling yourself that causes you stress and gives you permission to delay. Then: challenge that thinking. For example, you might find that you’re saying something like,
Things might be difficult, but they are not too difficult. You’ve done difficult things in the past and you’ve usually been pleased with yourself once you’ve finished them. The only way to find out whether you can handle the difficulties is to get started.
This comment is often shorthand for “I can’t do it perfectly right now.” Many of us mislead ourselves into thinking that we must, or have to, do things perfectly. First of all, you can’t do anything perfectly because that would mean that it couldn’t possibly be improved in any way. So delaying yourself from starting because conditions are not “just right” is neurotic and a terrible waste of time. Striving for excellence by doing the best job we can with the time and energy we have is much more healthy and realistic. Susan Sweeney, best-selling author and internet marketing speaker, and a person I really admire because she has accomplished so much, told me that her favourite saying when she finds herself beginning to procrastinate is,
Delaying starting something you’ve got to do, like your tax return, means that you will be stressed about it for longer and you will probably have to rush it at the last minute, which leaves you open to making mistakes and doing a less than excellent job. Delaying starting something that you want to do, that will bring you some real benefit from getting it done, by telling yourself any of the above excuses is just a bad thinking habit.
Remind yourself that the most successful people make the most mistakes. They learn to be successful through their mistakes. Just like a young child tries, tries, and tries again until she learns how to do something, successful people know that the best way to learn is to get into action.
The last excuse is often the one that causes the most procrastination.
Basically when you’re facing a challenging job, you’re almost never in the mood before you start. Remember the last time you faced an overwhelming project like cleaning out your closet or basement? You didn’t really get in the mood to do it until you were well started. Then once you were started, you kept going and worked at it longer than you had originally planned because you got into the flow. You had a clear goal, unambiguous feedback about how you were progressing, a good match between your skills and the challenges of the task, a sense of control, and few distractions.
It helps tremendously to recognize that we’re rarely in the mood to do something before we’re actually involved in doing it. The answer here is to say to yourself, “I will be in the mood to do this once I’ve started.”