01 Jan How to Stop Procrastinating and Achieve Your Goals
Taking Action to Beat Procrastination
So what is procrastination? The term derives from the Latin word ‘cras’ which means ‘tomorrow’. Procrastination therefore means putting off till tomorrow what you could do today.
Most people will regularly procrastinate about something. What often happens is that the most important or most difficult task is deferred and lesser tasks are undertaken. So, instead of painting the garden fence the procrastinator will tidy the kitchen. Instead of revising for an important exam, the procrastinator will paint the garden fence.
Procrastinators aren’t lazy, or unproductive, they just have unhelpful ‘thought-to-task structures’ which lead to unwanted decisions and inappropriate actions.
There are 3 main causal factors behind procrastination:
- Fear of failure
- Overestimating the scale of the task
We live in a society where ‘failure’ is ridiculed and people are routinely condemned as ‘losers’. As a result, many people find it easier to take no action and avoid the possibility of failure and ridicule. The problem is that when you take no action and don’t strive to achieve goals, you remain unfulfilled and drift along in a boring and unsatisfying life. Also, when we don’t set our own goals, other people or even life itself soon do it for us.
So, let’s reframe ‘failure’ and look at it differently. Failure is an opportunity to learn, it’s a stepping stone to success. Think of any important skill you have ever learned. Did you get it right first time? Did you have to persevere and overcome setbacks? How good did you feel when you eventually mastered the skill?
From now on, regard failure as nothing more than an inevitable part of the learning process. You embrace it, you learn from it and move on towards your goal.
The second major causal factor behind procrastination is the pressure we generate by the words we use to ourselves. Here are some examples:
- ‘I have to tidy the house’
- ‘I must get a new job’
- ‘I really should write that business proposal’
When we use words like ‘must’ and ‘have to’ and ‘should’ we are subconsciously putting pressure on ourselves and creating rules that don’t exist. Nobody likes to be told what to do – not even by ourselves. Is there a law that says you MUST tidy the house, or get a new job, or write a proposal? Of course not. They are actually tasks that we would LIKE to achieve because completing them will make us HAPPY.
So, from now on, describe your tasks in a different, more positive way:
- ‘I would love to get the house tidied up’
- ‘I’d really like to get a new and better-paid job’
- ‘I’m really looking forward to completing that business proposal’
Accept that everything may not always go smoothly, but it doesn’t matter, because the end result will make it worthwhile. Focussing on the benefits of the end result will motivate you to start the task and will keep you motivated while you complete it.
The third factor behind procrastination is how we perceive the scale of the task. Imagine you wanted to learn a new language. If you think about what’s involved, for example; vocabulary, grammar, verb conjugation etc. etc. it can seem overwhelming. Before you know it, you find lots of reasons not to do it:
- It’ll take years
- I’ll never master the accent
- What’s the point?
So, let’s once again reframe the task and look at what we can achieve:
- Within a week I’ll be able to say basic phrases
- Within a month I’ll have a 200 word vocabulary
- Within a year I’ll be having detailed conversations with native speakers.
How exciting! From now on, break any task into its component parts and work your way through them, step by step, at your own pace.
Breaking free from procrastination is not difficult, it’s about changing the way we look at the world and focussing on opportunities and benefits as opposed to problems. It’s about understanding that the benefits of the end result will motivate us to start the task and keep us motivated to overcome the setbacks and challenges we encounter along the way.
Remember, even the longest journey begins with a single step, so take that step now.
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