Procrastination

Let’s all be honest here, we all do it. Some more than others, some a lot more than others and that’s the issue. I am most certainly prone to procrastination, apparently those like me who live messy lives are more prone to. Not that it is an excuse for you or me, but it’s nice to know it’s not a personal flaw, strength in numbers and such. So why do we procrastinate? There are many reasons, particularly the daily stresses in life we are all bombarded by. Stress makes the brain crave happiness, so you settle to be happy now thinking it will recharge your desire to do the work you’re putting off tomorrow.

Except tomorrow is just a day like today or any other, threatening to be a repeat of the day of procrastination gone past. The only difference in tomorrow is the difference you make. So let’s make a difference. Aside from relief from stress, the other big cause of procrastination is fear. Particularly the fear of the unknown and the fear caused by perfectionism. “I’m not 100% today, if I do it now it won’t be my best”. It won’t be your best at the last minute either, but there’s no time so you settle. This is acceptable to you, it shouldn’t be. So face up to this fear.

Maybe it won’t be your best work, maybe it will. I’d bet that an early draft with corrections is closer to your best than project you’ve completed in a rush the night before. Overcoming this particular fear can be done by reinforcing yourself. You were assigned this project for a reason right? You weren’t told to correct a problem in the Mars rover (Hi Curiosity) by your boss at Company X (X stands for all except NASA) were you? You were asked to do something you are capable of doing, or you’ve set your own task on something you know you can do. So remind yourself that. You’re capable, you can do it. That is the ‘trick’ to overcoming this perfectionism fear, trust yourself to be able to do this. If you can do it at midnight the day before the deadline you can start it now.

For procrastinating unenforced deadlines the same system applies. You can put if off tomorrow, the day after or maybe next week. But if you want to do it now do not fall for your fear-induced brain’s voice telling you that you can’t do this. Get started. Tell yourself over and over that you can do it and then do it. Talking to yourself is the best thing here. Discipline comes from this, regardless of whether it’s raining outside or you don’t quite have the energy you’d like to have when breaking through the door to start is a fallacy. You can do it now just as well as you can when you are hit with the wave of motivation you wait for days for. Use self-affirmations and self-starters such as “I can do it” and “do it now” to just get your foot in the door, we all know once you start things become easier, so make the first step.

Just as it is important to shout over the voices in your head that tells you tomorrow is better it’s also vital to note that not all delay is procrastination. If you’re actually busy it is not procrastination. Procrastination is the act of doing something unproductive that gives satisfaction when other issues are pressing. It is a common practice when trying to overcome procrastination to plan when you will relax and when you will work. “I will watch TV until 3pm and then work until 6pm” etc. This can lead you astray, the possibility is that the hours you budget for work may not be enough but you will not find out until later when you are in a rush. This allows for more peace when relaxing of course, but that’s not the objective of planning your day.

Planning does have use though, as mentioned we all feel better about our projects once we get started. This is because when we think of something that needs to be done it is hard to plan in your heard the necessary steps to get everything done. Our mind wanders, fixing problems here and there, creating a confusing web with connections all over the place and causes a fog in the brain which leads to the other fear: the fear of the unknown. You’ve thought of so many possibilities (without taking notes) of where your project can go and now you don’t know where to start. Start with baby steps, plan out what needs to be done to get part A completed, then part B, C etc. Then go do it. Essentially plans of action work but plans of inaction do not work. Baby steps planning is important because it quantifies what needs to be done. It is not very useful to say “I will spend 2 hours doing X today and 3 hours doing Y tomorrow”. It’s too vague, it’s too open to the excuses your brain can make. “Well I’ve done 1 hour now I can do another hour later and it still works out”, what is an hour of work anyway?

Instead quantify what needs to be done, how much you plan to do and why. If you’re reading a book, you could say “I will read 20 pages when I get home so that I can finish my book by Friday and buy a new one Saturday”. If you know what you need to do and what you’re going to get out of it then you will be more likely to act. Fear of the unknown drives procrastination, which is why so many people stop learning to play the guitar or learning another language. It’s hard to quantify progress, so we don’t know if we’re improving well enough and we don’t know when we will get to sufficient quality. So make it known. Prepare yourself, know what you are doing and know what you want to achieve with this, once you’ve done that use your self-starter “do it now!” and get to it, tomorrow’s you will be glad you did.

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Fake it ’til you make it

You don’t have “it”? It being happiness, confidence, the love of being out with friends and anything else. Pretend you do, pretend you are. This isn’t an attempt to hoodwink your peers or desired friends or other, faking it until you make it isn’t meant to be a sub par performer tricking others into thinking they’re great. The trick is played on yourself. I believe that people are mostly equal. Your brain is no different to the bright kid in school that was revered. I lived my life for many years learning nothing. Before that time I believed I was smart, not overly dedicated but definitely smart. As the years went by with my achievements still limited to those boosting my gamerscore I began to feel stupid, more and more stupid.

Which I was, most definitely. I wasn’t in a good place back then but of course we all know people who even through rough times continue to learn and to grow, some even thrive on these bad times and gain motivation to improve and win even more. So what do you do when time has already passed? You can’t go back in time with a new determination to make sure you continue to show results and continue to improve yourself. However, lack of growth doesn’t mean you’re not smart. You can learn anything, if you could go back in time and had the determination to do so, I believe 100% you could work yourself to whatever career you wish regardless of what you feel of yourself right now.

This is because our brains are all mostly the same. I recall reading about a child prodigy who was asked why he was able to understand the complicated things he could understand beyond his years. His answer was that his brain implemented less ‘blocks’ when trying to learn something or work something out. Simple as that. His brain was not larger, denser nor filled with magical intelligence power. His brain works better because when he encounters a problem it simply doesn’t fog up as much as ours.

This is where faking it until you make it comes in. So many times in our lives we get that elusive motivation to do something, something bigger than we’re used to. It seems so simple at the beginning, step one, step two, step three and we’re nearly there. You sleep on it. Problems arise, “it’s not natural to me”, “can I fix the problem that would come with doing this” ‘roadblock 3’, ‘roadblock 4’ – you get the idea. Do it. Just do it. Tell yourself you are the person who would do this. So what if you’re not, you can be and the way to make sure that you will be is to do the thing as if you were someone who would do that.

You can’t study 5 hours straight like the top achievers in your class? Act as if you are one of the top achievers and study as long as you can. You can’t lead people? Act as if you were a leader and go with it. You can’t make a lot of friends and go out every day? Act as if you are one of those people you look up to who do that (although you don’t actually have to go out all that much to make friends of course). If backing off because “I wouldn’t be able to do it anyway” gives you a 0% chance of success, why not wing it and see? Author Dorothea Brande wrote a book on the subject called “Wake up and live!” where she explains that to get the best chance of success in any venture you should act as if you have already achieved what you are looking to do and now you’re just doing what you did to achieve it.

What does this achieve? It gives you the confidence to do what you can do. You can do it. Unless your goal is to operate on somebody’s brain without medical knowledge or similarly long-term skilled professions, you can do it just as anyone else can. Thinking this way relieves stress also, which negatively impacts results of any venture. If you saw into the future and saw that you had successfully completed the project you are stressing over, you’d feel a lot more relaxed about doing it right now surely? So fake it until you make it and be happy doing it.