Waging War on Procrastination

A Friend passed this blog post on to me today, I was so impressed by it I felt that I had to share it…in fact, the whole blog is great. Lots of useful posts to encourage you to do what you love.

Here is a link to the site this was taken from – 30sleeps

Dream Chasers Unite: Waging War on Procrastination

You wake up and reach over to your mobile phone to check the time. 9:48 AM. You overslept a bit, but whatever, it’s Saturday. You’ve got the whole day to work on your website. By 10:30 AM, you’re up and in the shower. You come out, dry off, butter up some toast, and at 11:13 AM you’re already catching up on the day’s news. Human ear grown on mouse’s back? Whoa. Saturn may have another moon? Cool. Oh, and look here: “Scientists discover how to regrow teeth”. According to the article, they could start experimenting with this stuff on real human beings within 5-10 years!

All this information feeding is making you hungry, so by 1:15 PM, you head out to grab a bite to eat before really diving in. An hour later, you’re back and feeling ready for some hardcore hacking. Your website idea is going to rock. You start to clearly picture what your life will be like when you’ve automated your income stream. Time, mobility, and income will all be yours in ample quantity. You’re feeling so pumped up that you jump into your favourite tech and business blogs to add some fuel to your entrepreneurial fire…

[Cue introspective piano music.]

Do you often put off important tasks until the last possible minute? Are you constantly making excuses for why now is not the right time? Do you harbour feelings of stress, guilt, shame, and resentment knowing that you’re not living up to your full potential?

Procrastination is like the gravitational forcefield at the center of our comfort zone. It’s constantly trying to reel you in, weigh you down, and protect you from venturing into the unknown. Procrastination is Public Enemy #1.

But by understanding how procrastination works, we can learn to fight back against the feelings of stress and anxiety that keep us standing still. The fear we feel is like a doorway marked “Do Not Disturb”. But the door is not locked, and walking through it is the shortest path to adventure.

Dream chasers unite: This is war.

Why We Procrastinate

According to Dr. Neil Fiore, author of The Now Habit, there are three reasons why we procrastinate:

  1. Regaining control. When we feel like we’ve been given a task that we don’t want to do, or feel like we’ve been put in a situation of powerlessness, we can use procrastination as a form of silent protest.
  2. Fear of failure. The easiest way to avoid failure is to avoid risking it in the first place. Procrastination gives us permission to write off our underperformance because hey, we weren’t even trying anyway, right?
  3. Fear of success. Success comes with its own strings attached. Landing your dream job might involve relocating to a new city. Your promotion might alienate some of your co-workers. And dedicating yourself to the pursuit of happiness might require letting go of the people in your life that drag you down.

We procrastinate because of the benefits offered by inaction. Procrastination helps us protect our ego by avoiding failure and rejection, and keeps us from venturing too far outside our comfort zone, where things could get a little risky and unpredictable.

But safety and security are deadly. Comfort leads to boredom. The benefits of idleness are fleeting. The relief we feel from avoiding risk eventually turns into stress and guilt. We start questioning and doubting: Why am I so lazy? Why can’t I just take action to get what I want? Will I ever break out of this vicious cycle?

Overcoming procrastination requires acceptance. It means giving yourself permission to be human and make mistakes, and accepting that the present moment is always full of reasons why you shouldn’t chase your dreams.

Now Is Not the Right Time

In fact, now is never the right time. The “right time” implies security, certainty, and a predictable result. How can you start your business if you haven’t even fleshed out all the details of your business plan? How can you move to another city right now if your son is still in college? He’ll never make it without you! And you obviously don’t want to sell your house yet. Wait until the housing market picks up steam.

But guarantees are for kitchen appliances. Human beings are creatures of growth, and growth is inherently organic and unpredictable. Setting goals means charting a path into the unknown. Uncertainty is where the action is. Living happily means living dangerously.

Instead of seeing all the unknowns as excuses to not take action, consider them a part of the adventure. Focus on how your circumstances can be made to fit your ideal world, rather than on how they’re preventing you from getting what you want. By thinking this way, now becomes always right time.

For example, a few years ago, I wanted to live in Europe. Lacking experience, not being a UK citizen, and not having a university degree, I had a hard time selling myself to companies in London, where I wanted to live. I could have easily written myself off and “waited for a better time” until I had more experience.

Instead, I forced myself to think creatively about the situation. The easiest way in would be to get citizenship, but what could I do to get it? After some research into my family tree, I discovered that I met the legal requirements to become a German citizen. And since Germany and the UK are both part of the EU, my entry problem would be solved. So I applied for my citizenship, and got it.

Unfortunately, it took a full two years to process my application, and by then my interests had shifted and I instead chose to move to Montreal. But I have been back to Europe several times, and used my German passport to enter on work-related travel. And, of course, I can now live there whenever I want.

So, even combining creative thinking with taking action won’t guarantee that everything works out, but I still ended up much better off for my efforts.

Do Anything

Another common pattern of inaction is the person who wants to “get into business” but is currently “sorting their shit out”, waiting for a surge of motivation, or a flash of divine inspiration. And they know that when this happens, somewhere over the rainbow, it’s going to be spectacular.

It’s easy to spend years keeping your dreams on a low simmer, waiting for the perfect moment to crank up the heat. In fact, there was at least a three or four year gap between me seriously acknowledging my desire to become an entrepreneur and actually doing it. The key to stepping off this treadmill is:

  1. Take action.
  2. Figure out what you want.

If your idea for a website isn’t completely fleshed out–even if it’s hardly more than a one sentence description of what it will do–start coding something anyway. Do anything. Crappy output is infinitely more useful than a brilliant idea stuck in thoughtspace. Making mistakes gives you a starting point for improvement, and your experiences will help you clarify your objectives.

Make Failure a Requirement

One of the biggest reasons for procrastination is fear of failure. But fear only works when we resist it. In my experience, the key to overcoming fear is to chase after it.

Instead of worrying that you might fail, aim deliberately low. Rather than trying to write an epic novel, start with a cheesy poem. Trade painting a masterpiece for producing a sloppy abstraction. Set the bottom end of a world record.

Pursuing failure removes the straightjacket of perfectionism. When you stop depending on the outcome, you lose the fear that was preventing you from taking action in the first place and start focussing on the task at hand. Giving yourself a chance to fail means giving yourself a chance to succeed.

For example, when I go out with the intention of meeting people, I often do my first approach telling myself “Okay, I’m just going to do this one and get blown out.” Sometimes I actually do get blown out, but other times it turns into engaging conversation.

Put Your Money Where Your Intentions Are

Finally, if you’re still finding it really hard to enter the action phase, this last technique has worked for me literally every time I’ve used it.

The idea is simple: Give your friend some money–an amount you would be uncomfortable losing–and make yourself earn it back by completing a certain task. For example, to force myself to break out of my social bubble, I would give a buddy $100 and earn it back, $20 for every person I talked to. You can apply this technique to just about anything. If your goal is to create a website, for example, give a friend $100 and tell him you get it back only when you’ve registered the domain and pointed it at your web host.

Make sure the output of your challenge is measurable, so that your friend can easily verify that you’ve completed it. It might be hard to tell if you’re “getting in better shape”, but “run three times this week, for 30 minutes” is clear cut.

Most people spend the better part of their day getting paid to achieve other people’s goals, so why not get paid to meet your own objectives?

Procrastination is the Governor of the State of Boredom. It wants to rule you, hold you down, and keep you from reaching your potential. It feeds on your fears and encourages you to keep talking in tomorrows. But by accepting that now is never the right time, you’ll start leveraging your present circumstances for future gains.  By acknowledging that you might make mistakes, even making failure a requirement, you’ll experience the benefits of imperfection. And by using action to clarify your goals, rather than ready-aim-aim-aiming, you’ll have taken the most crucial step towards living your ideal life.

About Mark Cooper

My name is Mark Cooper, I am an ultra runner, motivational speaker, expedition consultant and public relations rookie. I help people achieve greatness in their lives. For bookings or more information you can email mark@runwithmark.com
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