If you’ve ever had a dream, a goal, a calling, or any sort of vision of who you want to be, and how you want to live, then you have surely faced the psychic stumbling block called procrastination.
No matter what it is that you wish to accomplish in your life, presonally or professionally, the number one obstacle is your own inner resistance. That sneaky, self-defeating, “enemy within,” always whispering its endless list of excuses and justifications.
What is it that keeps us putting off the very things that are most precious to us? Why do we sabotage ourselves? And most importantly, what can we do about it?
Why Do We Wait?
Psychologist and researcher Joseph Ferrari has been studying procrastination for more than a decade. He has identified three different types of procrastinators:
Arousal Type, who wait until the last minute for the thrill, or rush, of working under pressure.
Avoidance Type, who put things off because of an underlying fear, be it fear of failure, or change, or even success.
Decision Type, who wait because they are paralyzed by indecision, and cannot make the choices necessary to move forward.
Timothy Pychyl, another psychologist who studies procrastination, says it all boils down to the same thing: we avoid certain tasks in order to cope with the negative emotions they trigger.
But no matter what the underlying reason for this behavior, procrastination always comes at a cost. Procrastinators tend to have higher stress levels, worse professional and academic performance, and even higher incidents of illness and health problems.
Worst of all, we never get around to doing what we really long to do. Those long term life goals, the deepest calling of our soul, keep getting put off until tomorrow. . . and tomorrow never comes.
5 Tips to Stop Procrastinating
We determine our future by what we decide to do right now. So if you ever want to accomplish those goals, make a difference in the world, and live the life you dream of, you have to overcome procrastination and get your ass in gear.
These 5 life hacks can help you do just that:
1) Practice Mindfulness
Expert Timothy Pychyl recommends mindfulness as a way to overcome procrastination.
Think about it: the first step to changing any habit or behavior is becoming aware of it. And you can’t be aware of it when you’re drifting through the day on autopilot, only semi-conscious of what you’re doing and what’s going on around you.
Mindfulness means being conscious, being present, being aware without judgement. You practice by keeping your attention in the moment, here and now, and not wandering off in your own mind. Feel your breath, your heartbeat, the air on your skin. Take in the sights and sounds and textures of your environment. Notice the thoughts that drift through your awareness without getting hooked and roped into them.
You can make a formal, sitting meditation out of it, or you can practice anytime, anywhere, as you go about your life. The more you practice, the easier it gets. You become more present and aware of life, more conscious of your own decisions and motivations.
And you’re a thousand times more likely to notice procrastination when it happens.
2) Surround Yourself With “Doers”
Expert Joseph Ferrari recommends people surround themselves with doers.
The truth is, the people we spend time with tend to rub off on us — for better or worse. As author and behavioral scientist Steve Maraboli puts it, “If you hang out with chickens, you’re going to cluck; if you hang out with eagles, you’re going to fly.”
So it makes sense to hang out with the people we want to be like. Don’t spend all your time with lazy people, procrastinators who are all talk and no action. Surround yourself with successful, action-oriented people; people with the drive to get things done.
Hang out with the eagles. Watch and learn.
3) Disable Distractions
Both Pychyl and Ferrari agree on one thing: turn off the internet!
Modern technology can be a wonderful thing. It can also be a source of constant temptation — the procrastinator’s worst nightmare. Between emails, texts, social media and web surfing, there are endless ways to waste your time, and avoid the work you should be doing.
So when you sit down to work, disable the internet. Turn off your smart phone. Let’s face it: staying focused is hard enough already. Don’t make it any harder!
Remove every potential distraction you possibly can.
4) Break Down the Big Tasks
It’s easy to lose heart when facing a truly monumental task. The first day of a new diet or exercise program, for instance. Or the first page of a 500 page novel.
But according to research, the key to staying motivated and accomplishing those big goals is breaking them down into smaller, “micro goals.” Your goal may to be to lose 50 pounds, but your micro goal should be to just get through one session at the gym. Your big goal may be to write that huge, long novel, but your micro goal should be to just write 1000 words. You get the idea.
Instead of staring hopelessly at an insurmountable mountain of a task, try breaking up the big jobs into manageable, bite-size chunks. That way you get the feeling of accomplishment (that little endorphin rush in your brain) over and over again, helping you to stay motivated and see it through.
5) Shift Your Thinking
A subtle, yet powerful trick to stop procrastinating is to shift your perspective on what needs to be done.
An experiment conducted by Ferrari and fellow researcher Dianne Tice found that chronic procrastinators would put off practicing and preparing for a math puzzle when it was described to them as a “cognitive test.” When they were told it was a game, a puzzle, “just for fun,” then even chronic procrastinators didn’t put off their practice.
They didn’t feel any resistance, because it was supposed to be fun!
You can conduct the same experiment on yourself, at home. Identify the goals and projects that you keep putting off, the ones that trigger your inner resistance. Then shift your mindset: instead of thinking of it like work, like an obligation or responsibility, think of it as a game.
Find a way to make it fun, and watch your resistance disappear…
Of course, no matter how many tips, tricks and life hacks you employ, at some point you’ve got to actually get started. Pick something, anything, no matter how small and easy, and just do it. Get moving. Make some progress, and see how good it feels!
You don’t need enough motivation to finish your project, whatever it is. You only need just enough to get you started, and then momentum will carry you through.
Besides, it’s so much better to be actively engaged, than to be distracted and bored. We tell ourselves that our little diversions make us happy, but that’s a lie. What really makes us happy is working hard at work worth doing, using our time constructively, making ourselves and our world a little bit better.
But don’t take my word for it. Give it a try, and see for yourself.