Let’s be real. There’s a good chance that you’re procrastinating right now by reading this article. I mean, let’s face it, you know you should be getting work done, cleaning, working out, and checking off your to-do list, but instead, you’re stuck waist deep in this abyss we call the internet reading a random article about procrastination.
Does this seem like a common theme in your life? I know it was for me. In fact, I used to spend weeks at a time watching T.V. and pointless Youtube videos. My to-do list would grow until I felt like I had so many responsibilities that I didn’t even know how or where to begin. This pattern of constantly feeling overwhelmed and procrastinating took a major toll on my life, affecting not only the results I was getting but also my emotional well-being. In this post, I’ll explain how I have overcome procrastination by understanding its essence and applying a few tips that have helped spring me into action.
What is Procrastination and Why do we do it?
Procrastination is avoiding something that we don’t want to do, even though it’s in our best interest. But why would we do this? That doesn’t make logical sense. That’s because the decisions we make are not driven by logic and reason (although these do matter), but rather by emotion. More specifically, at the root of all emotions are pain and pleasure. These are the two forces that determine every decision we make.
Every person has a constant subconscious goal to seek out pleasure and avoid pain. This is due to a basic survival mechanism in the brain. We avoid uncomfortable situations and gravitate toward enjoyable ones.
The reason these forces don’t align with your conscious goals is because pain and pleasure in the future don’t seem nearly as real as pain and pleasure in the present. This is the core reason that we still eat cookies and potato chips even though we know they will make us fat, for example. If you’re someone who often gives into junk food cravings, what feels more real: the pain of being overweight at some point in the future, or the ultimate pleasure of the delicious, wonderful Krispy Kreme doughnut staring you in the face? I’m confident that if you’re honest with yourself, the pleasure feels more real to you. And if you never give into cravings, I would bet that the opposite is true.
I know how it feels to be stuck in this conundrum. The shame, discouragement, and disappointment from giving into your impulses are depressing, and nobody wants to live that way. Luckily there’s a silver lining.
Tip #1: Get Leverage
So many people make the mistake of thinking that following through on their intentions just requires more willpower. Although willpower can be useful, it’s just not sustainable. Think about it. When’s the last time you willed yourself to do something you didn’t want to do every day for a year? Probably never. It turns out that the best way to make a meaningful change in your life is to actually change what you link pain and pleasure to.
This might sound too good to be true. Can we really start to enjoy things like working and exercising and stop enjoying our guilty pleasures? Amazingly, yes! It’s a process known as Neuro-Associative Conditioning, or NAC for short.
Here’s how it works:
First, write down the action you want to take more consistently. Then, make a list of all the things you have to gain by taking this action. Go deep on this list. Rather than only writing the direct results of this action, write how it will affect other areas of your life, and most importantly, how you will feel. Here’s a few guiding question to help you make this list:
- How will this make me feel?
- How will this affect my self-esteem?
- How will this affect my relationships?
- How will this affect my motivation?
- How will this affect my business?
The list goes on, but the important thing is that you make this list as meaningful as possible to you. Associate as much pleasure to taking this action as humanly possible. The longer and more detailed your list, the better.
Next, make a list of what it is costing you to not take this action (or procrastinate). This time, your goal is to associate as much pain to not taking this action as you can. This list should be just as meaningful and deep as your first one (bonus points if your feel disgusted while writing it).
When you’re done with this list, read it over. If you’ve done this right, you should already have a ton of leverage, and you’ll be itching to make a change.
Next, let’s take it to the next level. Close your eyes, get comfortable, and center yourself, cause you’re about to do a visualization. Start off with the costs of not taking the action. Don’t just think about the costs, but feel them, and picture the details vividly. Use the list you made in the previous step as fuel (just use what you remember so you can keep your eyes closed). After a few minutes, move on to how this will affect you in 1 year, 5 years, and 10 years (one at a time). This must feel as real as possible. You’ll know the process is working if this visualization becomes extremely painful. You may even notice you body language change. This is a good sign. After five to ten minutes, open your eyes. Take a few deep breaths and come back to the present. Will this be fun? Probably not. If you do this right, this visualization will be extremely painful, but don’t worry, the fun part comes next.
As you’ve probably guessed, the next step is to visualize the benefits of taking your new action. Follow the same process as the negative visualization, and really get lost in the joy of your fantasy.
After this, the hard part is over, and you’ll probably already be extremely motivated to make a change.
Step #2: Break Your Pattern
Dozens of time each day, we feel the instinct to act on something that we know would benefit us. You know, that feeling you get when the alarm clock goes off and you know you should get up, or that voice buried deep inside of you that says “You should go to the gym today.” Regardless of whether or not you act on these instincts, you probably know what I’m talking about. These little reminders come up all the time, however, you can quickly start to fall into a pattern of self-doubt by making excuses for why you shouldn’t act on that instinct. You know, when you say to yourself, “I’ll hit the snooze button just one time and then I’ll wake up” or, “I’m tired today. I’ll start going to the gym tomorrow.”
When you fall into these patterns of thinking, you become a victim of your own psychology. As I mentioned before, your brain is wired to seek out pleasure and to avoid pain, and you create excuses to avoid doing something uncomfortable because it will lead to pain. That’s what happens when you overthink and end up procrastinating. Fortunately, there’s an incredible hack to break this pattern of procrastination and self-doubt and start a new pattern of taking action and building self-confidence.
Invented by bestselling author and speaker, Mel Robbins, I bring you the Five-Second Rule. Here’s how it works:
- You get an instinct to act on something that aligns with your goals and values.
- You notice that you are hesitating on the action.
- You count- 5, 4, 3, 2, 1… and immediately move your body into action.
That’s it! It’s really that simple. Counting down from 5 and moving your body into action is enough to break your pattern of overthinking and get you into action. It’s important to be pulled by your “why” but even when you have every reason in the world to do something, sometimes, you still won’t feel like it. In that case, you just have to push through. Using the five-second rule takes courage. Ignoring your own doubts and fears is extremely challenging which is why you have to interrupt your pattern with the five-second rule before those doubts, fears, and desires for instant gratification paralyze you.
Tip #3: Forgive Yourself and Commit to Your Goal
Committing to a goal can be terrifying. After all, how many times have you committed to a goal in your past, just to end up disappointing yourself? If you’re anything like me, that number far too many to remember. Luckily, the past does not equal the future. To move forward, you must forgive yourself of all of the times you’ve procrastinated and failed to follow through. If you don’t, you’ll carry that doubt and disappointment into the future, and it will hold you back for the rest of your life. So find it in your heart to forgive yourself. You’re worth it.
To commit means to cut off all possibilities other than the goal you have decided on. If you come up with an excuse, however valid it may seem, you are not committed. Commitment means that you will do whatever it takes to achieve your goal, no matter what.
Committing to a goal by writing it down not only increases your chances of following through but also makes the entire process a whole lot easier. Usually, when you make a decision, you subconsciously (or consciously) weigh the emotional pros and cons based on how you feel. I hate to break it to you, but 99% of the time, you’re not going to feel like taking action. If you are committed, however, you don’t even have to think about it. If what you’re about to do is already set in stone, you just act, no thinking involved. You see, thinking is what allows doubt and fear to creep in and grab ahold of us. When you act on a goal before you think, you become unstoppable.
Another point is to commit to reviewing your “why” list daily in order to keep your subconscious mind moving toward your goal constantly.
If you combine these three tips along with some determination and persistence, you will become extremely productive and achieve goals that used to seem like distant, insurmountable dreams. I hope you have the courage to act on these three simple tips, rather than just moving on with your life, like we do so often. Let me know what you thought of this article in the comments below. This is my first article I’ve ever written and I would really appreciate some feedback. Also, what tips have helped you overcome procrastination?
If you’re wondering who I am, my name is David Miller and I help entrepreneurs, who struggle with procrastination, take action to create the business and lifestyle of their dreams. I am a Certified Professional Coach and I’ve been coaching since 2015. For a limited time, I’m offering a FREE, over the phone session, to anyone who contacts me. Just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks for reading!