Do you have dreams? Do you have goals? Do you ever talk yourself out of going for it? I get it. It’s so easy to think up all kinds of reasons why you can’t pursue that degree right now. There are so many reasons why you can’t run that marathon (besides the fact that you have never even run a mile before!). It’s so easy to create reasons (or excuses, ahem!) why things are too hard/expensive/impossible to do. I think we’ve all been there.
Are you someone who can’t seem to get herself motivated? Is your inner critic really obnoxious? So many of us get stuck in our lives, stuck in the same old routines, stuck in the same job or career, and we tell ourselves that we can’t change things. We tell ourselves that we don’t have time. We tell ourselves that we’re just too tired. We fool ourselves into thinking that we will do it tomorrow.
Well you sure won’t with that attitude! If you want to change things in your life, you have to change the status quo. But, how? First of all, it helps to figure out why you are blocking yourself. Why are you telling yourself it can’t happen? Do you believe you aren’t capable? Are you afraid of trying and failing? Are you afraid you’ll let other people in your life down? Usually procrastination has reasons much deeper than just being lazy or undisciplined. Let’s look at those reasons and find some ways to tackle them, shall we?
Impulsivity: Some studies suggest that procrastinators are also impulsive (Gustavson et al., 2014). Do you let yourself get distracted easily, thus knocking yourself off track? I’m not going to lie to you. I once decided I was going to become a runner. You know, one of those cute, tight girls in the perfect running outfit? I had heard about all the benefits of running, as we all have, and really wanted to become one of those people I see in the morning while I drive my kids to school. So I went out and bought a bunch of cool running gear, thinking that would get me motivated. That weekend I went for it. Yes, I did indeed get my butt outside and went jogging for 30 minutes. I managed to do this everyday for about 2 weeks! I was so proud of myself. And then? It rained. And after it stopped raining? I decided I didn’t really have time to waste running when I should be writing (or doing yoga, or insert-excuse-here). I know this doesn’t really sound like impulsivity, but it is, my friends. I got distracted by all kinds of things and dropped the ball. I haven’t been jogging since. Impulsiveness is letting yourself become distracted by things, and then NOT doing the things you set out to do.
Solution: So how can we counteract this? Don’t let yourself feel like your new task (whatever it may be: jogging, writing a novel, signing up for massage school) is too much for you to handle right now given all of your other commitments. Instead, try only spending a minimal amount of time on it each day. When I say minimal, I mean ridiculously minimal. Like 10 minutes. It’s much harder to tell yourself you have too many other things to do when the task takes less time than it takes to get a shower. No excuses!
Premature Perfectionism: Or, do you feel too afraid of failing to start at all? Perfectionism is only a good thing when you are putting the final touches on a project. There is no room for it at any other time in the creative or productive process. In other words, perfectionism at the beginning of a project, whether it is training for a marathon, writing a book, or starting the sales proposal that you have to write, is never good. I call this “premature perfectionism”. Premature perfectionism will ruin anything you set out to do.
Solution: Put perfectionism in its place until it’s time to let it out of its cage. Hold out of being perfectionistic until you are literally putting the final touches on your project. Remind yourself that the beginning of anything is imperfect. It’s supposed to be.
Fear of Failing: This is slightly different than perfectionism. Being afraid of failing will cause your creative juices to stop flowing. Fear will cause you to want to either flee the scene or get all agitated. Neither is conducive to success. Whatever you set out to do, whether it is something artistic, creative, or just finally cleaning out the attic: if you get yourself in a tizzy over it, chances are you either will procrastinate, do a crappy job, or you will not enjoy the process at all. Why not enjoy what you’re doing? When you are having fun at something, you are usually also performing well.
Solution: Remember: what’s the worst that can happen? When you are afraid of something, trying to think of the worst (realistic) thing that could possibly happen almost always relaxes you instantly. It might not make you totally chilled, but it will release some of the fear so that you can go about pursuing your goal.
So, what’s stopping you? Just start that project! Whatever it is that you have set out to do this year, don’t sabotage yourself. Try to identify the stumbling blocks that are preventing you from taking the first, second or third step in your project. Try these steps to remove those blocks. You know you will feel so much better when you get out of your own way!
And, by the way, did you know that regular meditation or similar mindfulness practice creates actual physical changes in the parts of the brain that are involved in impulsivity, awareness without judging, and attentional skills? It's true. Science is proving it as you read this.
Do you have any other ideas about why you procrastinate? Let’s talk about it! Post your ideas in the comments section, either directly on the blog or on my facebook page!
Genetic Relations Among Procrastination, Impulsivity, and Goal-Management Ability: Implications for the Evolutionary Origin of Procrastination, Psychological Science June 2014 25: 1178-1188, first published on April 4, 2014