How To Push Past The Fear That Procrastination Creates And Act

Some procrastinating can be useful. This useful form of procrastination is called selective or proactive procrastination and is usually harmless. It can be as meaningless as choosing to mow the lawn tomorrow rather than today. We all engage in it, and it helps make our lives more manageable, less stressful and not so compulsive. However, there’s another form of procrastination that can be much more serious and have disastrous consequences. It’s the form that makes it more difficult to take charge of your life, achieve your goals and have a well-ordered existence filled with happiness and satisfaction. This is the form that involves putting off important tasks and failing to accomplish those things that are often foundational to higher attainments, the kind where dread of some uncompleted task can jeopardize all that you aspire to. 

But even if your procrastination has not risen to this dramatic level, surely, you’ll agree that ditching your temporizing proclivities would be beneficial on several levels. When you act in a timely manner you can avoid having to act in haste or with the extra pressure procrastinating creates. Few of us make our best decisions when up against a deadline. Give yourself time to reflect and even to consult with others. With more time to ruminate and reflect, the successful resolution of ramifications you had not previously considered can be the reward.

In case you need further convincing, try to envision the peace of mind you will enjoy once the task is completed. Picture yourself with the task behind you while you relax and do an activity that brings you pleasure. Maybe think about something specific like a walk in the park or listening to a good book. Or, if you respond better to sticks, rather than carrots, think of all the grief procrastination causes you. Completing tasks under a looming deadline often leads to stress, poor performance and missed opportunities. It’s no wonder that procrastination also leads to fear.

How To Push Past The Fear And Take Action

Consider why you are procrastinating. Attempting to identify your reason will improve your self-awareness and help you overcome the obstacle, perceived or otherwise. It will help you to see the bigger picture so that you can more clearly see what you are losing by not acting and the benefits to be obtained by performing. 

Practice mindfulness. By observing your breath, thoughts and feelings, you become more aware of what’s going on inside you. You may learn what is holding you back. Observe and acknowledge your thoughts and feelings without reacting. Let them go without getting caught up in them. Then you can more easily move on with the task at hand.

Visualize success. If considering what doing the task entails leads to thoughts of work and drudgery, try looking beyond the task to how the world will be for you when it’s done. 

Associate with doers. People who get things done will inspire you to do the same. You may be able to approach one of these people to become an accountability partner or productivity mentor, sharing your goals, obstacles and timetable for regular advice and encouragement. You may feel it's acceptable to fail but the thought of failing in the eyes of others can be a powerful motivator.

Announce your plans. Adding to the previous point, make your plans public. This can help you feel accountable and stay on track because you know others may be expecting results.

Focus not only on the goal but also on your reason for having the goal. Losing some extra pounds may be your goal, but thinking about your specific reason for trimming down—such as your health, appearance or to once again fit into last year’s clothes—can help you to stay on track with the goal.

Commit to starting. When suffering from procrastination, don’t commit to completing the project. Rather, commit to simply getting the ball rolling. It doesn’t matter where you start. Do something. Start at the end, if that’s possible. Or take some intermediary step. The important thing is to take some action, even if it is only a tiny one. Make your first goal small enough to remove the resistance that’s causing procrastination. If you need to write a report, your first goal might be to collate the data required, write an outline or even write one sentence.

Promise yourself a reward—or several. If you find that a reward on completion is too distant to get you going, make progress payments to yourself. However, you choose to break it down or how generous you are with yourself, the important thing is to take at least some small steps and then to follow through on your promise to yourself. I once recommended that a client reward herself with a trip to Starbucks after she had written the first sentence of a long-delayed report. She later told me it worked like a charm. She not only wrote the first sentence but went on to complete several more pages before finally enjoying her latte.

Set your own due dates. Even with deadlines that are imposed on you, you can improve on them. If you set your own (sooner than the drop-dead date, of course) they take on greater immediacy and connection to you. They become more personal and less remote. If it’s yours, you can much more easily own it. Just make sure your personal deadlines are realistic and doable.

When faced with procrastination, try one or more of the mental processes I’ve outlined above and then take whatever small step will get you going. Having done that one tiny thing will pave the way for a lot more to come

This article was originally published in Forbes.

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