Do you ever wonder why you keep procrastinating, and more importantly, what you can do in order to stop procrastinating and to actually start taking action? Then keep on reading!
A couple of weeks ago I ran a survey on Instagram and I asked you guys about your biggest struggles and challenges when it comes to working on your goals. Thanks to all of you who participated, I got lots of responses and I decided to record a few podcast episodes to talk about all these challenges – how we can address them and what we can do about them. I actually started recording an episode yesterday about it, and then I realized that there was one particular theme around your responses that I thought deserved its own dedicated episode.
So I pressed pause yesterday and I’m coming back to this today, and today I’m going to talk about this particular theme – procrastination.
To begin with…
What is procrastination?
You know I like to look up things in the dictionary.
According to the dictionary, procrastination is the action of delaying or postponing something. Pretty obvious, right?
So you made a decision, you set your goal, you know what you want to do, and you know that it’s important. Or at least you think you do.
Now it’s time to start taking action towards this goal, and for some reason you don’t take this action.
Have you been there? I definitely have.
Every day you keep telling yourself that you will start tomorrow. Or maybe you say to yourself, “I’m going to start on Monday” or “I’m going to start next month“, and you just don’t do it. You keep convincing yourself that right now you don’t have enough time and as soon as you do then you will definitely get to it. Of course, it never happens, and you never do it.
You keep making excuses, whether they are real or not. Because, let’s be honest with ourselves, sometimes we invent those excuses. Sometimes there are objectively some factors that are outside of that control, but whatever that is, there is always something that is standing in your way, something that is preventing you from going ahead and actually taking that action.
There is this voice inside you that bothers you, that keeps telling you, “Hey, you got to do it, go ahead and do it.” It really makes you feel uncomfortable and you wonder why it is happening – why do you keep delaying it if it’s so important to you?
So, why do we do that and what can we do about it?
Why do we procrastinate?
It is a good question to ask and I think there are several reasons why we procrastinate, and we’ll get to that.
But first, I would like to ask you another question.
Do you remember any situation in your past when you were so committed to taking action that nothing could stop you?
You would tell yourself, “I am going to do it no matter what it takes.” And no excuse would be strong enough to stop you. No obstacle would be strong enough to stop you. You want to do it, and you go ahead and do it. You feel like you are ready to break any walls, you are ready to overcome any barriers, but you will get this thing done.
Have you experienced something like that before?
I’m sure you have.
So, I think a more important question to ask is the following:
Why do we sometimes do things no matter what it takes to get them done, and sometimes we find and create those excuses that will prevent us from taking action?
A secret to taking action
The way I want us to look at it is to see it as a Pan Scale.
Imagine this pan scale, and on the left pan there are all these things that are stopping you from taking action. Some things that are standing in your way and the ones that are preventing you from actually going ahead and taking that step. This might include some self-doubts, some unknowns, some possible obstacles, some limiting beliefs, and your thoughts about your weaknesses. Everything that might stop you from doing this thing.
And on the right pan, there are things that will help you, that will push you towards that goal. Things that will help you take that first step, take that first action. This can be your motivation, your values, your desires, your commitment, and your strengths. Anything that will help you go ahead and take that action.
So, have you pictured that scale?
Now here is what it comes down to in order for you to take any action or make any decision. The right pan needs to outweigh the left pan. The things on the right, things that help you take that action, need to be more important. They need to be “bigger” and “heavier” than the things on the left, the things that are holding you back, the things that are just stopping you.
When we procrastinate, clearly the things on the left pan happen to be heavier or more important than the things on the right. If you think about it this way you begin to realize why it happens and most importantly, what you can do to fix it.
So basically what you need to do is analyze those pans. The one on the left versus the one on the right and see how you can change that balance.
What can you do in order to make the right pan bigger, heavier, and more important than the one on the left?
How can it be done?
You can decrease the weight of the left pan, right? Or you can add something to the right pan, or bot. I’m sure all your situations are unique, so you would need to look at your own pan scale.
But I will just give you a few examples and a few leading questions where you can start digging into that for your specific situation.
Types of motivation
I think the first very important question to ask yourself is why do you want to achieve this in the first place?
Do you have the right motivation behind this goal in the first place? Maybe the reason you procrastinate is you don’t really want it enough,and maybe you don’t even realize it. But maybe the reason why you want it is not really a good reason.
I had a whole episode last week about different types of motivation and why not all motivations are created equal.
We discussed why some of them are actually better than others and why the strongest motivation sometimes is not the best motivation. So if you’re curious to learn more about it, go ahead and check that episode out. But I just want to summarize it in short today as well.
So there are basically two types of motivation – Internal Motivation and External Motivation.
Internal motivation is when we want something because it is aligned with our values. It is when you truly believe that if you do this it’s going to help you create a better, more meaningful and fulfilled life.
This type of motivation is going to help you feel better about yourself. It’s going to help you build more self-confidence, more self-esteem, and master some skills.
But sometimes we are driven by the external motivation.
This is when some external factors or other people influence or force our decisions.
It is when we are afraid that if we don’t do this people will judge us, or if we don’t do this then we will not fit in some sort of club, or we will not be able to maintain some sort of self-image that we want to maintain for one reason or another. Or we’re just trying to fit in the box of people’s expectations or society’s norms, and unfortunately, it happens more often than we would want.
These are the types of motivations that we are driven by and this especially happens when we are not really clear about what we want because then it’s very easy to get influenced by other people’s advice or expectations. You will just follow their advice blindly and you will keep working on things that are not really yours, not really aligned with what you’re doing.
But you never really took a chance to think about it. So you just do it and whenever that happens, whenever you’re driven by this type of motivation, it might actually be pretty strong. It might feel pretty forceful, especially when there is some sort of external pressure or fear of external judgment or something like this. But it will not bring you to a good place. It is not a type of motivation that will really help you be sustainable or take your action and succeed.
Even if you do achieve this goal you will realize that it didn’t really make you happier.
What is your motivation?
So coming back to the topic of procrastination again.
The first question you need to ask yourself is what are you being driven by, what is your motivation, and where does it come from?
Does it come from inside of you, from your values? Or does it come from outside factors, pressure, or fear? If you answer this question, you might even realize that this is not a good goal for you to work on in the first place, and in this case, the fact that you’re procrastinating is actually a way for your mind to signal to you that you shouldn’t be working on this goal. It’s a way for your mind and body to protest, to say, “No I don’t want to do this”,and maybe the best thing you can do is really not do this.
So, that’s why it is really important to nail that down first before you go any deeper.
And once you know the answer to this question, once you know for sure that you really want to do this for a good reason, this is something that you truly value and you’re still procrastinating, then you can move to the next question because then there is another possible reason why you’re procrastinating.
Self doubt leads to procrastination
This is something that many of you specifically mentioned, and it is self-doubt that leads to procrastination.
So you look at this goal, you really want it, you know it’s going to help you live a better life. But you have all these doubts.
Maybe you have all these limiting beliefs about yourself. You’re just lacking confidence. You don’t believe that you can actually do it. The goal seems too big and too scary, there are too many unknowns. And yes, you want to do it, but you potentially don’t even know how to approach it or you don’t feel that you can do it.
Maybe you don’t feel like you’re worth it and here it is really important to remember that pan scale.
So again, if this is the situation that you are in and you realize that, yes, you have all these self-doubts, then think about how can you change that balance between the left pan and the right pan.
Ways to stop procrastinating
What can you do to increase the weight of the good things, of the things that will help you – or decrease the weight of the things that are holding you back?
One way to do it, one way to actually put more weight on the right pan, is to see if you can learn to enjoy the process more because you value the outcome of this goal but it is so far ahead of you that it just seems impossible to achieve.
1 – Reframe your goal
But if you reframe your goal and make it feel like you are really here for the journey, and if you begin to enjoy the journey itself and begin to value what you’re going to uncover in the process of the journey, then this might actually be enough for you to get unblocked and get unstuck and be ready to take that action. Because then it’s not about that big goal anymore. It’s about the journey itself. It’s about loving the journey, embracing the journey, and really finding the joy in the daily action that you’ll be taking. And that by itself might be enough for you.
But if it’s not, then there is another thing you can try to do.
Of course, working on your overall self-confidence level is very important. This is where the mindset work comes in, this is where working with your limiting beliefs comes in. Potentially breaking those beliefs and replacing them with the beliefs that will be supporting you is where the work to uncover your strengths and learning to embrace them and engage them will help you. But this is a topic of a completely different episode. Which I’m definitely going to cover in the future.
Something I can say today is one thing in particular that you can do for this specific goal that you have in mind – maybe try and see if there is any event in the past where you did something similar when you were afraid of doing it. You felt stuck. But then you did it anyway and it worked and you succeeded and you felt fairly good about yourself.
Try to bring those memories, try to remember how it felt and try to bring that feeling of, “yes I actually can do it,” and see if that helps.
2 – Work on skill / challenge balance
There is a concept called skill / challenge balance.
So, maybe this goal that you set for yourself is just objectively too ambitious for you and maybe there is just too much that you need to learn. Or, too many things that you need to master or to change in yourself, in your lifestyle, in order to achieve this goal. It just doesn’t seem feasible and maybe it really isn’t. It’s just too much to do at once, and this is where this skill challenge balance thing comes in.
So what you really want to do is to have a goal in mind that is challenging but you feel confident that you can achieve it, it feels realistic. You know that there is a gap between what you learn now and what you know now versus what you need to learn but you know that you can close this gap and you’re willing to do it. So yes, there is a challenge but it’s not too much of a challenge, right? There is some challenge involved but you feel fairly confident that you can do it.
3 – Break down your goal into sub-goals
Maybe what you can do is reframe your current goal to make it less ambitious. Maybe you can break down your big goal into smaller goals and, yes, it might take longer but actually, that might be the more realistic path that you can actually step on instead of trying to get something done in a year that is clearly impossible.
Maybe create a 5-year plan and break it down into pieces that seem more realistic to you.
Another way you can reframe your goal is just to try to see if there is a way to achieve the same or similar results with an alternative path.
Maybe you have thought of one path and that path itself carries you but maybe there is another path that will bring you to, if not the same, pretty similar results. Something that you feel more comfortable with and more confident about.
Maybe that involves some of the other skills that you have, where those skills are a bit more advanced. Play with it. Play with breaking down your goal into smaller pieces, play with different alternative paths, and try to remember things in the past where you did step into the unknown and you did challenge yourself and it actually worked, you succeeded and it felt good.
Once you’re clear about your motivation, your why, and once you have worked with your goal and you got to the point where you’re fairly confident, then you can actually achieve it. If you are still procrastinating then it’s time to become very intentional about your first step.
There is a technique that I like to use and I like to teach –
4 – Set implementation intention
Implementation intention is something that really helps you take that first step.
What do we usually do? How do we usually set our intentions?
Let’s say you decided to start running in your neighborhood and you made this decision today. You think to yourself, “Okay, tomorrow I’m going to go for my first run,” but it’s pretty abstract, and then tomorrow comes and you get distracted. You get busy with your usual daily routine, then, before you know it, it’s already evening and you’re already laying in bed and you never went for a run, right?
Doesn’t that sound familiar? I’m sure it does.
So instead of doing that, try to frame it a bit differently. Try to say it in the following format, “So tomorrow, once I brush my teeth, I will put on my workout clothes and sneakers and I will go for a run.”
Here is the difference: it’s not abstract anymore, there is a specific time.
A timestamp when this action is supposed to happen and it is connected to something that you already do. Something that is already part of your routine. You brush your teeth and you know that it happens in the morning, so the first thing this new framed intention does is that it gives you this specific timeframe but actually the reason why it works so well is it creates the connection in your brain that when tomorrow comes and when you do brush your teeth your brain will remind you.
Oh, now it’s the time to actually put on your sneakers, workout clothes, and go for a run!
It’s not abstract anymore.
There is no way to misinterpret it anymore.
It’s the exact time when you do it and I’m sure you might have even used the same technique without even knowing what it’s called.
Let’s say you’re going to go to the grocery store and you want to remember to buy something. Let’s say you want to remember to buy toilet paper and so before you even go to the store you think to yourself, “Okay, as soon as I enter the store I will go to the left to that aisle and I will grab the toilet paper,” right? When we enter the store and we use this technique it creates this wire in our brain. As soon as we enter the store our brain will remind us, “Oh okay, now it’s time to go. Turn left and go to that island and grab the toilet paper.” So the same thing applies here.
Try to make it as specific as possible and I’m sure it will help you.
By the way, try it and let me know in the reviews, or DM me on Instagram and let me know if it did. I would love to hear your feedback and your thoughts on how it worked for you. But hopefully, once you process at least these three things, once you work and understand your motivation, you reframe your goal to make it less scary, something that you’re more comfortable with, something that you’re more confident about.
And once you frame your first step as an implementation intention, that should be enough for you to take that first step.
How to stay consistent
But then comes another challenge.
I know I said that I would dedicate this whole episode to the topic of procrastination. But I think this other challenge is related to procrastination as well – struggling to stay consistent.
So let’s say you did take this first step right?
You did take this first action and you felt good but then when the time comes to take the same action, you might be feeling a bit less motivated. Then the third time comes, you sleep and you don’t do it. Then you’re just back to where you were before you even started.
So this is also a big problem and, to be honest, I think that if you do all this prep work upfront and if you get really clear about your motivation, your why, and if you align it with your values, you’ll really understand how this goal is going to help you create a better life for yourself.
Then you’ll frame this goal in the right way. You’ll know that this challenge is acceptable for you and if you frame your action items as implementation intentions then you probably won’t have many problems with staying consistent.
Do the work upfront
You just have to come back to these things that you already know and they will help you keep moving forward.
I think the reason why sometimes we do struggle to stay consistent is that we don’t do this work upfront.
Sometimes we rush into action too fast, especially let’s say when it comes to setting New Year’s resolutions. Let’s say your friend suggested that you start going to the gym together and you said, “yes, let’s do it, it’s going to be fun!” So you did go to the gym for the first time and it was fun.
Then when it was time to go to the gym for the second time you didn’t feel that excited about it but your friend texted you and she said, “Hey, where are you, I’m waiting for you,” so you dragged your feet and you came to the gym. You worked out even though you weren’t happy about it.
For the third time, something came up for your friends. You couldn’t make it so you didn’t go either, right?
But why does that happen?
It happens because you weren’t clear about your motivation or your why.
You were doing this because she asked. So if you’re struggling to stay consistent, then it is very likely that you didn’t do this work up front. If that is the case, then just do the same exact steps as already described for when you are just procrastinating and you’re not able to take your first step. It will help you.
So if you did it three times or five times, if you were able to stick to it for a month but somehow you can’t stick to it for another month…
Ask the right questions
Why am I doing this?
Is it really coming from the right type of motivation?
Do I value the process?
Do I value the outcome or am I being pressured by something?
Am I afraid of something?
Do I have too many doubts?
How can I make this goal less scary?
How can I break it down into smaller pieces?
How can I make it easier for myself?
What kind of specific implementation can I set so that I stick to it?
Actually, you can even expand your implementation intention to planning for some obstacles.
Rewire your brain
Coming back to the example with the sneakers and going for a run – let’s say you noticed that the reason you didn’t go for a run last week was because it was raining. You woke up in the morning, you brushed your teeth, and you were ready to go for a run but the weather was so miserable, so you decided to stay home even though it cleared up later in the day.
Your mind wasn’t there anymore, right?
You weren’t thinking about going running in the afternoon and so you never did. What you can do is you can add another line to your implementation intention. You can say, “Once I brush my teeth I’ll put on my workout clothes and sneakers and I’m going to go for a run. If it rains I’m going to do five pushups.”
You created another connection in your brain, another wire, and so tomorrow, once you brush your teeth, put on your sneakers and your workout clothes, look outside and it rains, your brain will remind you that you wanted to do pushups instead of going for a run. Another example is you can go for a run on a treadmill or whatever else.
But the point is, once you start creating those connections in your brain and you ask your brain to help remind you about those things, it’s going to become so much easier for you to stick to those.
I hope this is helpful. I hope this gave you specific things you can do to address the topic of procrastination.
Here’s the thing, as I mentioned earlier, it’s not really an enemy. Sometimes it can signal that this is the wrong goal for you to begin with. But really, you should be careful about understanding whether you procrastinate or not because here’s another thing, sometimes procrastination hides.
Perfectionism is a form of procrastination
It pretends to be something else and what I mean by that is what we often call it perfectionism.
Perfectionism is actually a form of procrastination.
Sometimes we sit and wait for the perfect conditions or we try to come up with the perfect plan. We keep telling ourselves, “I can’t start taking action until I have a full plan in mind, I have everything planned and detailed, and I know exactly what I’m going to be doing at any point in time.”
I have experienced this myself and actually, I can give you an example.
Last summer I wanted to start a blog. I had a website ready and I was thinking and debating on what I should write about.
I had two possible topics in mind.
I’m a woman in tech, right? I have a degree in technology and have created a mobile app. So one of the things that I could write about was being a female founder – being a woman in technology and a tech startup founder.
Another topic that is definitely my passion is personal growth, goal setting, personal development, and all other aspects of that. I kept thinking, “Okay, so what should my blog be about?”
I even raised this as a question in the mastermind group that I was part of and I asked the girls in the group, “What should I choose?” and they gave me advice.
They basically said, “try both.”
Try writing about both topics and see how it feels. And I was like, “hmm, okay.”
As I was thinking about it, I actually realized that me even raising this question was me trying to postpone the action of actually writing. The reason for that is that I was worried that I would not be able to write. I had never thought of myself as a good writer.
I had always doubted my writing skills so I was sitting and waiting and thinking.
I was trying to come up with this perfect plan.
The reason for that was just because I was afraid to go ahead and take action.
When I realized that, it changed everything for me. I decided to just go ahead and, as they suggested, write about both topics. Once I did that I actually discovered that writing about personal development brings me much more fun than writing about technology and I would have never ever discovered that had I not written that blog post.
So if you call yourself a perfectionist, if you try to come up with the perfect plan before you step on the path, then this is a very good sign that you are probably procrastinating and you can use the same advice that I gave earlier in this episode.
You need to get those same questions answered like – what are you trying to achieve?
What is blocking you from achieving it, from starting, from taking action?
Keep remembering that pan scale example because it always comes back to making sure that things that are helping you outweigh the things that are standing in your way.
Do whatever you can do to change that balance and once that balance changes this is when you will be able to take action. This is when you will be able to stay consistent and achieve the results that you want to achieve and even more so.
Thank you so much for tuning in for today’s episode. I hope it was helpful.
As always, please let me know – DM me on Instagram what your main takeaway is, or if you’re listening on Apple Podcasts leave a review and let me know what you learned from today’s episode. If you have ideas for future episodes, I always welcome your feedback and your thoughts!
I really want this podcast to be a useful resource for you so if there is anything I can talk about here that will be helpful for you, let me know.
Thank you so much, and I’ll see you next week for the next episode!