I often find myself procrastinating on tasks, and I’ve always wondered why people procrastinate. Is there a set of common causes out there? Which ones are they? What tactics can you use to combat procrastinating?
A couple of days ago I posted a question on reddit on what kind of workshop would bring most value to your life today? And Why? I wanted to find out what problems people are having and get ideas for my workshop in April. One of the users mentioned a workshop that deals with procrastination.
I wanted to know more. What made it hard to stop procrastinating? I.e. why did they procrastinate?
Lack of motivation and interest
I began thinking of how I used to be, and how I am today. I noticed that certain tasks almost always come easily to me. Whereas others I tend to procrastinate on. For example, it’s easy for me to put away stuff directly after I’ve used them. I don’t like having stuff visible when I don’t use them. I like my room clean. Now I haven’t always been like this. I become orderly after I moved from home. But at first I usually just stuffed visible things into a drawer. The drawer itself was chaos, except for one time every year when I cleaned it out. You know what I’m talking about, right?
Then suddenly a day, everything changed. I started organizing everything inside my drawers. What changed was my mindset. In Steve Jobs bibliography he mentions that you should pay attention to hidden details. Because even if you can’t see them they still exists in your mind.
I saw that I would be proud to have ordered drawers. How many have ordered drawers? It would also save me time in the long run. I wouldn’t have to search for an item, because everything had their own place. Putting away things after you’ve used them takes 10–15 seconds. Keeping the drawers ordered adds another extra 5–10 seconds. Not a huge loss.
Why is it so hard to do something so simple?
If it only takes a couple of seconds, why was it so hard before? And why would you rather procrastinate than lose 10 seconds? Lack of motivation and lack of interest are the most probable culprits. The task isn’t compelling. If you don’t think it will give you anything why would you do it in the first place? There are many tasks you can do to improve your life, but you can’t do everything. So you pick those that motivate and interest you. For example maybe you would want to have ordered drawers. But you’d rather focus on exercising daily. Then it’s better to focus on exercising daily. Or is it?
Sometimes I’ve found that focusing on something smaller creates a snowballing effect. Having one orderly drawer gave me energy to fix other drawers. When I see my drawers today that gives me energy to stop procrastinating on another task.
Returning to the Reddit question. Why did they procrastinate?
For me personally its more like just the self-discipline part, I have a hard time explaining it. Like this shit has to be some form of serious illness or I dunno. […]
I wanna do shit but taking the first step is really hard for me, and not just that, persistence, persistence is really the biggest issue after that. […]
I have high ambitions, I wanna live a nice comfy life and I can’t even get myself to fucking click 2 buttons on a job searching site, not to mention actually committing and finishing any kind of education :\
How to develop your self-discipline
I pride myself of having good self-discipline. But it’s not something I’ve been born with. In fact, my self-discipline has plummeted these past two years. I started thinking it doesn’t matter if I do the dishes now or later. And a task that I’ve most trouble with today is that I don’t want to cook food today. It used to be so simple. Whatever day I decided to cook I did. Fortunately when I cook I make 5–7 portions and put them in the freezer. So I don’t go without food or have to buy any fast food. In one sense it doesn’t matter if I skip cooking today and cook tomorrow. But what often ends up happening is that I postpone it another day, then another day, for about a week… That’s not a good habit.
To deal with the lack of self-discipline I’ve found many tactics that work for me.
Practice doing ridiculous easy tasks
A month ago I watched an interview with John Assaraf. 12 minutes in he answers the question: How do you develop self-discipline if you down have it?
Start small. Start small. If you don’t have discipline show yourself that you can give yourself one command and one follow-through. […] Right now I’m gonna get up and do two push ups. Right now! Not like later. Now! Can you give yourself a simple command. […] Right now I’m gonna get a class of water. […] Reduce it to the ridiculous. […] Can you do that? WILL YOU!?
I find this so simple and ingenious. This makes your mind form connection that everything you say will become true. In the beginning it’s enough if you say you’ll just stand up and then sit down. Your mind will start to form connections by itself. After a while you will be able to say. I will pay my bills now. And because the connection is there your mind goes into autopilot and you pay you bills right then and there. No willpower required.
He also has the the habit resetting and refocusing his mind every hour. Every hour he gets a notification and then stops everything he’s doing for 60 seconds. He asks himself: what am I doing now, should I be doing something else to achieve my goals?
I combined both approaching. Meaning every hour I reset and refocus my brain. But I also practice self-discipline by doing something simple. I installed Hourly chime on Android to remind me every hour.
Associate the long-term goal to a short-term goal to find your motivation
If I see that an action (short-term goal) has a positive effect on a long-term goal I find it easier to do. For example I put away stuff right after I’ve used them (action, short-term goal). In long-term I know I will be at peace. I will work better. I will be proud of myself. And there’s no nagging thought interrupting me all the time. If I instead decide to not put away stuff but do something else (another action, and short-term goal). That will make me stressed. I lose self-esteem and self-respect. And there’s this nagging thought interrupting me all the time telling me to clean up my stuff.
To associate my long-term and short-term goals I’ve developed a trigger. This trigger makes me think of the long-term goals and consequences of any short-term action. This comes naturally to me now. But when I started with this I had to insert a trigger to catch myself when I thought of doing an action. I then forced myself to think of the long-term consequences of the actions. The difference being that now I’m on autopilot and think of the consequences. Whereas before I had a hard time thinking of the long-term consequences.
If you want to develop this trait I suggest that you only focus on doing this for at least 30 days. Make it your top priority for the next 30 days.
Returning to what the Reddit user said. I can see that they are motivated and interested. So there must be another reason for procrastinating, right?
Fear of failure
The answer came from another Reddit user that also posted a reply why they are procrastinating.
Imagine that you need to do something. Anything. Let’s say a report for work. You know that you need to do it, you know that you could get fired (or sued) if you don’t do it. You’re wide awake, and have the knowledge, ability, energy, and time to do it. Every other person in your department is doing it.
But you just CAN’T start it. Once you do start it (15 minutes before it’s due, and it gets turned in 5 minutes late because of that) you bang it out quicker than anyone.
It feels like a physical fear/repulsion. You start thinking about all the things you could do wrong, instead of all the times you’ve done it right.
This is an entire different reason than mine for procrastinating. At least for procrastinating on small household tasks. But the more I think of it, the more I notice that I’ve also procrastinated because of the fear of failure.
I’ve always had a fear of rejection from women. That meant that I often procrastinated to talk with women in any situation. I’ve put women on a pedestal. Thinking of them as more worthy than I am. Almost god-like. A mindset that haven’t served me well. If a conversation doesn’t go great I think I’ve wasted their precious time. Thankfully I’ve come to think higher of myself and almost gotten rid of that mindset.
For example the previous week I tried Tinder again for the third time. The last two times I tried it I messaged about 50% of the people I matched with. And it often took a day or two before I messaged them.
I waited because I was afraid. What should I say? What happens if they don’t like me as I am? How can I show my true self and not some fake façade? This time around that fear was gone. Or it wasn’t gone entirely, but it didn’t control me. I was about to click ‘Message later’. But I forced myself to take action and at least write something. 😀
How to remove the fear of failure
One way to remove the fear of failure is to practice at failing deliberately. To get over social anxiety you can go out in the city and ask people weird questions and do weird things. But be respectful to those you do this to. You could go to a hair dresser, stand outside the window and look in for a while, smile and wave. Or you could practice walking up to people saying “I like yellow ice cream”. Or tell a joke and deliberately fail at the punchline.
After you’ve done this enough times you will start to notice that it isn’t that much of a big deal to fail. Life goes on, no one really cares that you failed.
Take small steps
Another approach is to take small steps. This is like what John Assaraf talked about. The difference being that the step you take is a bit challenging, and not ridiculously easy. Going back to my example of fear of women. I could start with looking people (especially women) in the eye when I walk outside. The next step might be to say hi. Next step to either say a bland statement (the weather is nice today), or ask a question (how do you know X). Either outside, or in a social situation.
The important part is to keep challenging yourself and be OK with achieving your goal, not more. If your goal is to say a bland statement, you only have to say a bland statement. Everything else is a bonus.
Fear of success
Then there’s also the fear of success. I’ve found that I fear success more than failure.
What if the game I’m developing will be huge. Then I have to hire a lot of people. There will be so much to do…
I’ve found myself hindering publishing my game. Because what will happen if I’m successful? But it’s not only with business.
What if I can have a nice conversation with a women. What does this mean? What if I start to like her? What should I do then?
How to remove the fear of success
Go through obstacles and challenges in advance
Start by listing all things you fear can happen if you succeed. Then come up with a set of actions you can take to solve the problem. I often visualize the event and how I’m able to solve it according to plan. I never used to visualize my problems before. But they work amazingly well. So I definitely recommend that. If you have problems visualizing—just as I had—you can check out Visionary Dreaming.
By finding solutions to the obstacles and challenges I fear makes me confident that I can handle them. I feel in control. Although sometimes I need even more control. And that’s when I…
Create an escape route in advance
Sometimes there are occasions that you can’t plan for. For this I have a backup plan. An escape route. The escape route always works. It might be damaging in the short-term though, but rarely in the long-term.
This might not work for all occasions. But I’ve found it useful for most situations. If fear that a conversation will be ‘successful’ with a women. I can create an escape route in advance. E.g. I can say that I need to go to the lavatory. Now I’ve never had to use an escape plan. And that’s the idea. You probably won’t have to use the escape route. But because you know that you have an escape route you feel in control. If things go awry, or if you can’t handle a situation you can just use your escape plan.
If you decide to take the escape route, you can go over the situation in the head afterwards. How could you’ve handled the situation better? What is it you fear now? Maybe you can do this in the lavatory and have a plan when you get out 😉
There are a lot of ways to combat procrastination. The most important thing to do is to take action. Action could be to just research and come up with a plan. If you’re reading this you probably want to find a way to conquer your procrastination.
What one thing can you do right now? Not later. Now!
Can you do it?
I urge you. Don’t finish reading this article before you’ve made that one action. It doesn’t have to be big. The end of my article isn’t important. What’s important is that you take action right now. I’m going to do some stretching exercises right now. Even though the article isn’t finished. What will you do?
Stop now. And come back when you’ve finished your task.
If you want to read more about how to stop procrastinating, improve your self-discipline and get more things done faster. I can recommend Eat that Frog by Brian Tracy. This was the first books I picked up on the subject of personal development. It changed a lot for me, especially on how to get more important things done faster. You can buy it from Amazon (affiliate link) by clicking on the button below.
What action did you take?
I’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment below of what action you took (if you returned)? Or what procrastinating challenges do you have?
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