If you’re anything like me (aka ‘a procrastination master’), this story will be familiar to you:
You’ve always dreamed about creating something unique. You can almost touch, smell, and taste what it means to be living the life of your dreams. It’s wonderful! You’ve come up with an idea you love, perhaps it’s a hobby, a business or a creative endeavour. Although you know it’ll be hard – you’re committed to putting this thing out into the world.
So you plan it out, and you can see it all so clearly! You tell your family and friends about your idea and you get busy. But then, after a couple weeks or months of getting the basics in place (usually spending money to get yourself set up), you hit a brick wall. You tell yourself its your lack of time, a problem that needs to be resolved, or a lack of routine. You course correct but within no time you’re back in your stagnant position.
And then something in your life reminds you why you were wanting to create this new thing in the first place, and you feel reinvigorated and you recommit. But when you do, it doesn’t quite resonate with you anymore.
Believing there must be something flawed in your original plans, you go back to the drawing board. You tweak, redesign and then start all over – often with a new slant, offering or strategy. A few weeks later … nothing. You’ve lost momentum. Lost energy. Lost the passion.
It slips into that part of yourself reserved for your future plans – a time when you’ll have more energy and more space in your life.
And so the cycle repeats itself.
Until fairly recently, this story was the bane of my existence! No matter how hard I tried I couldn’t break through the brick wall of procrastination. And I tried hard: I meditated on it, saw a therapist, and learnt as much as I could about productivity (please don’t talk to me about the pomodoro method!).
But nothing I tried worked and the resultant guilt was strangling me from creating at all. It was sheer frustration!
Eventually I got to a point of letting go of all effort. I decided I’d simply be happy with the status quo and give myself a break from striving. And voila! Somehow, something about this attitude allowed me to slip into a new way of being in the world. It was like breaking the invisible barrier of striving into this new non-linear, gravity free world. It was bliss! From my new vantage point, I recognised procrastination for what it is, and took active steps to move past it. This articles shares what this is, and how to work past it.
Understanding what procrastination is:
I believe there are two core reasons we procrastinate:
- “It’s a warning sign”: We aren’t engaged or fully invested in what we’re doing
I’ve always loved writing, particular fiction, and it’s been a hobby of mine for many years. For so long I held this goal of writing a novel and I was great at coming up with the stories and planning it all out. But I could simply never sit and write to the end. I’d frequently beat myself up about this – especially when I had the time to do so. I bought into the idea that it may be ‘writer’s block’ and tried all the tactics to clear it. But deep down my procrastination was a sign post that what I was trying to do wasn’t right for me at that time. I wasn’t in love with the idea of writing a book any more: it was merely something I thought I’d wanted for so long. I needed a reality check, and a reset.
If you are procrastinating about something right now, ask yourself whether its because you are simply not fully passionate or engaged with what it is that you are creating. Although you may have always done this thing, and be really good at it, is it something you need to push yourself to continue?
Just as with the seasons, we too go through times when things are meant to fall away. If your endeavour isn’t flowing it may be time to have a honest discussion with yourself and park it for a while. This will relieve the pressure and allow guilt free time to check in as to whether it’s something you really want to do.
- “It’s your perfectionism”: We’re so passionate about it and it means so much to us, that our perfectionism holds us back.
Oh yes! Sweet perfectionism, my old friend. That thing we all say is our fault in a job interview when deep down we actually feel that it’s our saving grace… but it really isn’t.
Perfectionism is the main reason we procrastinate. We are so damn fearful of doing it wrong, or not right enough, that we prefer not to start. If we don’t make much progress, we can’t really fail and, after all, who wants to fail?
Perfectionism can harm us in many areas of our lives: in creativity, at work, in our relationships. It’s an exhausting way of living, because we hold ourselves to almost an impossible standard.
Now just as procrastination may be the symptom of your perfectionism, perfectionism itself is the symptom of linear thinking. Huh? Linear thinking means that we take action and steps that are designed to lead us to a result. It’s pretty much the way the world of today operates. It’s how we’re educated and expected to operate at work. Because we’re told that happiness and success comes from achieving results, we’re terrified of not achieving them. And so we try to achieve them, perfectly.
It’s our ego at his or her finest: keeping us safe but keeping us stagnant.
Although it’s hard to break free from linear thinking, it can be done. It’s the first step in loosening the grip perfectionism (and consequently, procrastination) has over you.
Here it is: not everything you do in your life needs to be for a result.
Is there a way you can create without attaching to the outcome?
If you’re able to commit to that idea (it’s a start), then here’s what you do:
You keep taking small actions towards your goal (a goal can be personal, and different from an external result) and you enjoy the process. The joy comes from being the painter, the writer or the cook. The joy doesn’t come merely from the finished product. Take the pressure off!
Ask yourself whether the reason you are procrastinating is because what you are trying to do is really important to you. If it is, ask yourself why (and be honest!). Is it because you want to achieve a certain result such as make lots of money or gain popularity or respect, or is it because it’s something you love doing or are passionate about? Can you shift your perspective to allow the possibility that perhaps you don’t need to focus on the result but rather the passion that underlies it?
If so, keep taking small steps of action because that’s what gives you joy. Every detail you are creating, every action, is part of a great tapestry of your life’s creation. Celebrate that!
I feel that this needs to be said: If the sole reason you are trying to start a business is to ‘escape’ your job or career path, then you’re going to come up against a problem. By doing this, you’re putting so much pressure on yourself to create but not because of the joy of creating but rather to “fix” a bad situation and make money.
Albert Einstein famously said: “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.”
Whilst you are in the stressful job, whilst you are burnt out and exhausted, you’re unlikely to truly connect with your authentic reason for wanting to put something new out into the world. You need to be honest with yourself about your motivations.
I’ve seen so many people start businesses from this place of lack, and never get anywhere. I did this myself: when I first left my career in corporate I decided to start a business in interior design and was really committed to figuring it all out. But after only a few weeks of being at home, I simply ran out of steam and realised I didn’t truly want to do that business at all. This cost money, time and energy.
If you are in this space right now, I feel you. I created a separate video post on this topic called “What to do before you start a new business” by clicking here.
If that’s not you, and if you’re procrastinating for other reasons remember to ask yourself:
- is it because it’s time for this thing you are striving for to fall away (for a season or longer)?
- Is it because you are expecting results, and if so can you shift your focus to how you can create value and not take value?
I’d love to hear from you in the comments.
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