Thinking about problems that are difficult to solve may make you anxious, but not thinking about them (and hence not dealing with them) should make you more anxious still — Ray Dalio (See Principles)
Often in time, we are reluctant to do a task because it’s too troublesome, too many steps to take, and with too many obstacles ahead. It could be a little task from work; it could be an important life goal.
We feel pressured by simply thinking of it. The vague stress pushes you away from doing the things you ought to get done. So when people google pictures of “a procrastinator”, your photos will pop up!
Why Do We Procrastinate?
No matter what are the causes of your procrastination, may it be the fear of failure, lack of interests, or insufficient skills (there are just too many), they all end up imposing stress on you.
By not doing the work, it gives you a little dose of “fake relief” from the stress. You fall into the loop of addicting, and fake relief is your reward (the third step of how an addiction is formed).
While earning the fake relief, what comes along is anxiety building up in your mind. The more you resist to do the work, the more anxious you will be. Even if you try to fool yourself, it will be a matter of time for that stress to come at you, hitting your head like a hard red brick.
To deal with a procrastinator (maybe it’s you), we need to “trick” their minds (or yours). These are the 4 methods that I have used. You can ask procrastinators to do the following tricks.
I’ve listed them in the order of their effectiveness (to me), so you can try the next one if the previous one doesn’t work for you.
Level 1: The 15-Minute Rule
“The start is always the hardest part of everything.” Sometimes you only need a start to get into the “flow”, or to get yourself into the working mode. But you are too lazy to give it a start.
By means of solving this, you should apply the 15-minute rule:
I’ll pay full attention to work for 15 minutes straight. After the next 15 minutes, if I still don’t feel like doing it, I’ll just stop and take a day off.
To my experience, you often will keep on working, since all you need is just the start. It is just a little convincing to trick your mind into working.
This can even be applied to other impulses that make you lose self-control, such as eating another piece of cheesecake, drinking beers, or oversleeping.
When you want to drink beers, tell yourself: “I will drink water first and after 15 minutes, if I still have the thoughts of drinking a bottle of beer, I’ll just do it.”
The impulse, often, will fade away.
Level 2: Fear Naming
What is stopping you from getting things done? Where’s that stress from. Ask yourself these questions to name your fears out and know what they are. Often, when you do it, they won’t seem as scary as they are in your mind. Just as Seneca, a Roman philosopher of Stoicism, said:
We suffer more in our imagination than in reality.
You want to start your own business, but you are afraid of changing your life path from a steady one to uncertainty and unknown. You are scared of the unsteady income, others’ judgment, the possibility of failure, the thoughts of giving up what you already have now, and etc.
Once you name them out, start asking yourself how to deal with it. As Tony Robbins says:
Ask and you shall receive!
Our brains are magical in a way that whatever you ask, it will provide an answer to you — no matter what. Even if it doesn’t know the exact answer, your brain will come up with one. (See Awaken The Giant Within by Tony Robbins)
Level 3: Motivational Interviewing
I first heard about this trick in a podcast. It’s for digging into where your reluctance is at and what your positive motivation could be. But I find it more useful when experimenting it on other procrastinators rather than yourself.
Let’s say your friend has a project that is required to hand in next week, but he is so reluctant to start. All he wants to do is enjoying his Netflix addiction on a cozy bean bag chair.
(In case you don’t know what a bean bag chair looks like. I call it a chair trap because it’s hard to get out once you’re sitting on it)
- Ask him: From the scale of 1-10, 10 being the most motivated, how much do you want to do this now?
Since he doesn’t want to work, he will probably answer: 4.
- Now ask him this following question: Why is it a 4? Why didn’t you say 1 or 2?
He will start reflecting and say: well, I still want to finish the project at some point. Also, others are waiting for me to finish it, so they can do the following planning. I don’t want to let my team down. If this project is done well, it can be a huge success…
This is similar to the “fear naming” method. It not only helps you identify your own fear but also positive results as well. This, also, decreases the level of scariness concerning the task.
Level 4: Fear setting
It’s common to say something encouraging to yourself when you set up your mind to achieve a goal. And while time goes by, the motivation or momentum ceases. What about you do it the other way around?
I picked up this method from Tim Ferriss, who got inspired by Seneca. And this is by far the most effective one for me.
Fear setting, or you can call it negative visualization, requires you to think of the worst-case scenario. It’s especially effective to deal with important goals that have been put off by your doubts. I simplify his process and make it into an equation like this:
If I don’t __________ now, I’ll be __________ , which means I’ll be totally screwed!
Instead of encouraging yourself with uplifting words like “Yes! I can do it!”, which I find it’s powerful in the beginning but its impact decreases in time, you use the fear setting to see what negative result will be waiting ahead with inaction.
You can fill the “I’ll be” column with a 6-month, a 12-month, and a 3-year negative result. The longer the time frame, the scarier the result will be. But don’t set it too far away from the present, or it will seem too intangible.
Imagine you are graduating in a year and somewhere in your mind, there’s a sound telling you “You should start looking for jobs now.”
You know it’s important. However, you have been postponed the action since it’s not urgent compared to your unfinished assignment that’s due next week.
With time passing by, graduation is getting closer and you have less time. The pressure keeps building up, which makes you even more reluctant to get it done.
Fix it by using the equation: If I don’t start finding jobs now, I’ll be jobless when I graduate. My friends will be working and I’ll just be frustrated. I won’t have any money to support my life, which means I’ll be totally screwed.
Procrastinating means there is something you should do, but you don’t take action. We can even procrastinate on trivial things that only take a few minutes to finish, like replying an email (which you can solve this by applying the 2-minute rule).
You know the fact that you will have to face the music at some point anyway, so why not make “now” as that “some point”?
I hope these methods help you and let me know if you have any other ways to stop procrastination!
TL;DR? Here Is The Takeaway4 ways to get yourself to start:
- 15-minute rule
- Fear naming
- Motivational interview
- Fear setting