I have been wanting to squeeze in a workout session since before Christmas. I promised myself that I’d steer clear of that holiday weight gain that sticks with you six months into the new year. I keep saying, “I’ll do it later in the afternoon or early tomorrow morning,” but as you know, tomorrow never comes. So here we are, in the new year, and I still haven’t started my weekly workout routine. I don’t know why I haven’t – well, no. I do know why – I’ve been bit by the procrastination bug and if you can relate, so have you.
Procrastination has more to do with having difficulty starting to do something, rather than actually doing it. It is a sort of mental paralysis that people are so afraid to overcome, that they have coined entire scrolls of phrases like “no hurry in Africa”, to enable their procrastinating ways. It is almost natural to avoid and postpone doing an unpleasurable task until you absolutely have to. Since procrastinators only tend to start something when under pressure, the absence of a deadline can mean stagnation for years. For some, it is only a minor and manageable challenge, but for others, it is a chronic, life-altering problem.
You can’t ever seem to get started on that work proposal and it’s only a matter of time before someone else has the same idea, and you have to say goodbye to that promotion. You can’t ever seem to get started on that book, or that online course or like me, that workout routine. Procrastination greatly impacts a person’s productivity both in their work and personal lives. It is crippling; it holds you back and robs of you of your potential and success.
Procrastination is closely tied to your self-control, willpower and deep seated fears. If you lack the mental (and perhaps emotional) strength to will yourself to start something that you perceive will take away your joy, it indicates that you have not yet achieved mastery of the self. Well, not many people have or else billion-dollar industries in candy, gambling and alcohol to mention but a few, wouldn’t exist, but it tells you that you need to cultivate a little more self-discipline.
Now, let’s look at Bill’s situation. He has a report due in two weeks. As a procrastinator, Bill will put off writing the paper until it is three days away. When he does write it, he will do so under so much pressure, that when he manages to pull it off, he will get a kick of dopamine out of it. He’ll think, “Not bad, given the circumstances.” He’ll feel good about his seemingly extraordinary hack, (never mind that the circumstances are of his own making), which reinforces his procrastination and ensures that he stays average.
If Bill was able to achieve a fair result in three days, it’s not a stretch to think that he could have achieved an excellent result with adequate, well thought out preparation. He’ll never do as well as he could have though, never reach the fullness of his potential because deep down, Bill may be avoiding dealing with the fear of failure or disappointment. Sometimes people even harbour the fear of putting in the work and fear of commitment and responsibility.
So how do we beat procrastination?
Recognize it for what it is
You must first acknowledge procrastination and the role it’s had in your life before you can tackle it. Have you been stuck in a rut for a while now, missed great opportunities? Do you always seem to be doing things at the last minute? Do people always complain about your tardiness? Once you’ve fully understood the impact it has had in your life, don’t feel bad about it, just take the next step.
Make a decision to tackle it.
Now unless you have mastered the art of quitting things cold turkey, don’t try to change things all at once. Shedding old habits and replacing them with new ones takes time and work. Ease into it, but be firm in your decision to become better.
Identify your reasons for procrastinating
This will take some reflection. You might even want to take out your pen and paper here. Is it Facebook, Instagram, Candy crush? Are you completely powerless to that notification ping? Are you an irretrievable daydreamer or do you just get easily bored?
Set realistic goals and timelines
Plan the task beforehand and break it into manageable portions to make it less daunting. Allow yourself ample time to prepare and get in the right mindset to accomplish your goal. Set a realistic deadline within which to complete the task. Separate work from pleasure – plan specific times to catch up with the latest, preferably after finishing everything else on your to-do list.
Do it differently
If you keep avoiding something because it is boring, try multitasking. Put on some music or your favourite audio book. If lifting weights is not your jam, try yoga or a more upbeat Zumba class. Belly dancing could be just the thing you need in your life!
Create a reward system
Rewards are some of the most effective ways of reinforcing positive behaviour. Give yourself a treat when you’ve completed a difficult task. You can challenge yourself to go an hour without checking your phone and if you manage to, reward yourself with something to reinforce that effort, like a fitbit or new trainers.
Start dealing with your fears
Three years ago, if you had told me that I could teach a class of seventy, eager, wide-eyed children, I would have laughed in your face. I have always been uncomfortable doing public speaking. If I ever had to speak in a crowd, my voice shook, I got palpitations, my mind went blank – it was an all round terrible experience for me, but not so much anymore. I challenged myself to take a volunteer position teaching reading aloud to children who struggle to read and in those six months I achieved a level of confidence that I have never had in my adult life. In fact, I found that I rather enjoyed it.
My point being, if you are procrastinating out of fear, don’t let it hold you back. Challenge yourself to face your fear. Learn to laugh at your mistakes. Transform your perception of failure into lessons. Learn to embrace growth and progress even though it doesn’t fit perfectly into what you think it should look like. Purpose to shed your perceived limitations, build on your confidence and you’ll see your life transform in ways you could never have imagined before.1