We’ve all been there: That nagging feeling at the back of your mind, the sense of unease you get when there’s something you know you should be doing, but aren’t.
It could be as trivial as undone household chores, or it could be as life-changing as undergoing a mid-career switch. Whatever it is, procrastination is a problem that plagues all of us, and it will continue to do so until we figure out how to deal with it.
To figure out how to deal with it, we have to understand why we are procrastinating in the first place. While there is no all-encompassing reason for procrastination, the usual suspect is that there are things we would much rather be doing in the short-term. Here’s a classic example:
After a long hard day at work where you get unfairly chewed out by your boss for not being able to meet an unreasonable deadline, is plunging straight into the household chores really the first thing that crosses your mind when you get home? No, it isn’t. An hour on the couch watching your favourite TV drama sounds much nicer. After all, you deserve it, right?
For small things like household chores, it’s actually okay to cut yourself some slack. That’s because they can be easily done in a short amount of time, so you could squeeze it in after the drama binge session and before you take a shower. This excuse only becomes a real problem when you use it to avoid starting on big projects, such as the mid-career switch I mentioned. Big projects create a lot of mental inertia, and it’s often easier to just put it off because you have no idea how to even get started.
To resolve this, you have to turn your thinking around. Remember how you felt you deserved to watch TV? That’s being kind to yourself in the short term. But making that mid-career switch would make your life much more fulfilling in the long term. So wouldn’t that be considered being kind to yourself in the long term? Therefore, try to see it this way: Doing the things you were procrastinating on is being kind to yourself in a bigger way than any comfort a short-term solution might provide. You deserve a more fulfilling life. You deserve a richer, happier life. You just need to get started.
A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. – Lao Tzu
Why is it so hard to get started then?
Your brain allocates perceived difficulties to different tasks. For example, you might think that going for a run daily is harder than let’s say, doing the dishes. Note that these difficulties are just perceptions – they aren’t the actual difficulty you’ll face if you did undertake the task – it’s just how hard your brain estimates doing the task will be. As with any other perception – it can be way off. Remember the time you assumed the worst and it went better than expected? That’s a classical example of our estimation being wrong.
The same applies to tasks you procrastinate on, and it occurs more commonly with large scale and long-term ones. Losing 10kg of weight. Changing your job. Learning a new important life skill like personal finance. Commencing a personal project like writing a book. Because you may not know where to start, the brain associates this task with a “I’m so lost and I don’t know how to even start” vibe. With such a vibe, it becomes much easier to fall back upon short-term comforts that are readily available.
So how should you get started?
First, go over the reason why you even thought about undertaking this task in the first place. Maybe you want to change your career because you’re bored/burnt out in your current job. Maybe you want to learn a new skill because you think it’ll be a good experience. Maybe you feel you need to lose weight because you want a better figure and to improve your health. Whatever the reason is, you have to visualize the endpoint in your mind. If you find it difficult to visualize it, then frankly you have to ask yourself if you really want to do this. If you want to get somewhere in life, you have to know where you’re going. So go over that core reason for doing the task. Visualize yourself in your new job, enjoying the benefits of mastering the new skill, being healthier and happier.
The next thing you have to do is the opposite of what you just did: Instead of visualizing the future, take a look at your present. Critically evaluate what’s missing in your life right now that made you want to undertake the task. Ask yourself whether this feeling of something missing can be solved with any of the short-term pleasures you commonly engage in. After all the comforting and enjoying is said and done, will you be right back where you started? (In case you can’t tell, the answer is Yes) Recognize the gap between the current You and the future You that you just visualized. This should create the desire in you to take action. (If you still don’t feel the desire, then maybe you don’t really want the benefits of doing the task that badly after all.) It doesn’t matter what action you take. What matters is that you took an action towards undertaking the task. No matter how small and no matter how ineffective it was, that is a single step in the right direction. And after that, each subsequent step gets easier, because you’re building up momentum.
It’s entirely possible that you accept on a logical level that you need to get this done, but on an emotional level you don’t believe you can do it. Perhaps you lack the confidence, or you fear something bad will happen if you take the plunge. In this case, I invite you to read one of my older articles (old is gold I hope) on overcoming your inner fears, so you can do what you need to do, in order to be the best You you can be.
At the end of the day, your mind is the most powerful tool you have at your disposal. If you control it, it can help you achieve literally anything. But if you let your mind control you, then you will be a prisoner in your own life, forever constrained by excuses and so-called external factors.
Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other. – Abraham Lincoln
So you’ve come to the end of this article. Do you feel that burning desire to change your life for the better? Get to it then! But first, don’t let your friends and family live lives unworthy of their potential. Share this article with them too! Then go change your life and the world. Thank you for reading!