This is one of my favorite topics, because I procrastinate like crazy, my wife procrastinates like crazy, my kids procrastinate like crazy and everyone I know procrastinates like crazy. Take today for example, I wanted so badly to tackle my long list of things I want to do that I have been avoiding for around 2 weeks. Some of the thoughts I'm thinking are, "I've been doing so much and I need a break", "I don't know how to do that", "what do I need to do for the kids school?", "I don't want to do it".
Why is it so easy to put off things? Why do we do it? I've basically discovered that the basic reasons we procrastinate are as follows:
We just don't want to do it. (ex: laundry, taxes, booking a physical)
We don't know how to do it yet. (ex: marketing, new skills)
We haven't done it yet. (ex: lose 20lbs, quit drinking, learned guitar)
When we don't want to do something, our inner toddler is pissed off and will let you know about it. For example, it's Saturday morning, I've promised myself that I was going to wake up early and go for a run. My alarm goes off at 7:20am and it's a beautiful day, I turn off the alarm and choose to sleep in. Fast forward to the next week and my alarm goes off at 7:20am but this time I have a tennis match planned and I spring out of bed. Why in scenario 1 did I sleep in, and in scenario 2 I showed up in a totally different way? Because I want to play tennis, I don't want to go for a run. Why don't I want to go for a run, my reason for running isn't as "fun" or satisfying as playing tennis for me so therefore I can justify procrastinating it. But what am I losing out on if I don't go for a run?
We don't know how to do it yet. This one is awesome, I can't count how many times I've given up on something because I didn't know how to do it. Seriously, that's the dumbest way to think about anything. When have we ever started out knowing how to do something? We don't automatically learn how to eat, walk, poop in a toilet, speak, write, do calculus, change a tire, etc. So why do I let something I don't know stop me from doing it? Because learning something new is hard, period. Our default setting is laziness, and man, I'm a pro at that. Our brains are telling us to stop trying so f'ing hard, just chill out and turn on the Netflix. Then once we're sitting there, watching Netflix, scanning our phones, picking lint out of our belly buttons for around 1-3hrs the thoughts start creeping in. "You totally forgot to do X, Y is never going to happen, it's so hard to find out how to do Z".
How do we procrastinate? I find it interesting to see the various ways, me and my friends and family put off doing things. Here are some of the examples I've observed:
Replace it with other "priorities"
Choose fun or instant gratification
Study more / Consume information
Now the biggest question I ask myself is how does it feel to put something off that I know is something that I need to do for my benefit.
Usually, the first thing that comes up for me is a feeling of guilt and shame. I still hear my mother's voice in my head admonishing me for not getting something done. My stomach tightens up and I then start to beat myself up. This is usually where the fun begins, I have found that no one is meaner or cuts deeper with their words than I am. So after a good amount of time beating myself up, I negotiate a new deadline and reinforced resolve.
The one thing that I rarely address is the why, why don't I want to do the thing that I promised myself to do. It revolves mostly around planning and reinforcing my thoughts not reinforcing the acts or deadlines. What is my motivation to do the thing that needs to change and what governs motivation? How do we feel about something? And how can we create feelings on demand? We think about it.
So in the case of not knowing what to do, how can I overcome my resistance to learning something new. First let's reframe the question, what if I did know what to do, what would that look like? How would I find out how to do that thing? Let's say I'm in a Covid lockdown and I want to learn to play guitar:
Step 1: get a guitar.
Step 2: learn guitar
You see how that can be intimidating and overwhelming. But what if I changed how I approached the topic.
Step 1: get a guitar,
Step 2: find an online program to learn the basics,
Step 3: practice for 20min every day for 30days,
Step 4: find songs that I like to play or that brings me joy,
Step 5: evaluate my progress at the end of 30days,
Step 6: Create a new plan
And if everyday I thought to myself, today I will learn a new fun song to play, and it's ok that I suck, I'm supposed to suck. This takes the pressure off, increases the likelihood that I'll enjoy the process and if I can enjoy the process I will keep at it.
OK great what about the tasks in our life that we don't want to do. You're probably thinking, Pete, if you can get me to do the things I don't want to you're a genius. Well it's pretty simple really, if there is something you don't want to do, don't do it. If you are an adult, no one can force you to do your laundry, do your taxes or learn something new. There has to be a good reason that you want to do each of those things. It's expensive to only wear underwear once and throw it out for a new one every day (or two) but if laundry really is that big a deal go for it. If you don't file your taxes the government may or may not come after you for tax evasion and send you to prison, big deal, maybe you've always wanted to live somewhere different and meet new and interesting people. Learn something new, no one is forcing you to do that, there is probably a really good reason you want to learn something new. Maybe it's a skill you can apply to your business, maybe it's learning to ski so you can join your family on the slopes, maybe it's reaching out on Facebook so you can get a message you believe in out there. There has to be an underlying motivation for you to want to do this thing you are avoiding, the reason you are avoiding this thing is fear. Fear of failure, fear of looking like an idiot, fear of reinforcing beliefs about yourself, or just good old fear of trying.
So let me offer you some of my tips for overcoming your desire to procrastinate. First off, determine if the thing you're avoiding is something you really have to or want to do. If not take it off your list and don't think about it again, you have permission to do this, no one is forcing you, you are an adult. If you need permission, I will give it to you, you're welcome.
Now let's say you're scared of a new thing, ask yourself this one question. What do I stand to lose if I choose not to do this? Make a list and write it down. Next question, what do I stand to gain from doing this thing? Write it down. Now compare the two lists, are these reasons good enough for you to continue doing it? If not, throw out the task and move on with your life, seriously, stop spending so much time thinking about it. The thinking is killing you, do or do not, as my guru Yoda once said.
Now get to work!