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Transition – Part 2: Procrastination

In part 1 of this 4 part series we looked at how important it is to identify and follow your own values and beliefs through transitions in life. If you don’t then you can find yourself following someone else’s agenda which will ultimately lead to frustration.

In this post we look at procrastination, the causes of it and some suggestions on how to get moving. Skilled procrastinators have a real gift for finding reasons for not getting things done but essentially there are three major causes of procrastination and they are:

Cause 1: Moving past a threshold

Change often doesn’t happen until we reach a certain threshold, i.e., the pain, discomfort or unpleasantness that exists simple isn’t yet bad enough to make us take action. Of course this is understandable as it feels like it can take effort to change and the effort has to be worth it. There has to be enough of a gain to overcome the inertia. Unfortunately people can spend a lot of their lives waiting for that ‘last straw’ to be put on their back and in the meantime carrying a lot of straw around. Eventually a threshold is crossed and a change is made and frequently people can be heard saying, “I wish I had done that earlier!”

Solution: Do you have a nagging doubt in your mind that some aspect of your life needs to change? Perhaps you wish it had changed and you just wish you could get started. The suggestion is that you need to put the situation in to context so you can make yourself more aware of the costs of procrastination.

Here are a few questions to help:

  • For an area of your life that you want to change, how much time a day, on average, do you spend avoiding the issue, worrying about or planning to do something but never getting started? Now multiply this answer by 3650. This is the time you are likely to spend on this area of your life in the next 10 years. 10 minutes has now become 600 hours or 25 days. Do you really want to spend that much time like this in the next ten years?
  • How bad does it need to get before you make a change? Literally how bad would it be before you compelled to do something? Now imagine it’s a little bit worse than that. Really use your imagination and see, hear and feel what it would be like. What action would you take? What would be the first step you would take to doing something to turn the situation around? How does the effort to do something compare to the time you might spend on this area of your life in the next 10 years if you do nothing?

Cause 2: Not enough information or needing to have the complete and right plan

Of course it’s often desirable to wait until you have all the necessary information before jumping in to something. However the reality is that we can’t have 100% of all the information we would like. And of course bear in mind that making a start will immediately influence and change the most perfect plan.

“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” – John Lennon

Solution: One solution is to chunk the project down so that you don’t have the psychological burden of committing to a huge undertaking that you can’t get your head round. A project like ‘Create a new business’ now becomes a manageable research project called ‘Talk to people who run their own business and find out how they got started’. You can now ask whether you have the information to make a start and actually make a start.

For a project or change that feels too overwhelming ask yourself, “What would be the first thing I would need to do?” Now treat that ‘first thing’ as a project in itself and ask do I have all the information I need to make a start? You know the next step. Still too big? Well break it down further until you have a manageable project that feels workable.

Another secret here is to ask yourself’ “What is it that I want to learn from this activity?” Setting a learning goal alongside your other goals can focus your mind, guide your progress and sometimes let you know the job is done. For example you may have already chunked-down the goal of ‘Start my own business’ to ‘Talk to people who run their own business and find out how they got started’. Now what might the learning goals be? Perhaps:

  • What common traits do people running their own business have?
  • When is the right time to start your own business?
  • How is running your own business different from working for someone else?
  • What business would suit me best?

Setting clear learning goals is often overlooked but is invaluable in all sorts of ways.

Cause 3: Focusing on the past rather than the future

Too often people focus on what they don’t want rather than what they want to happen. Of course if you focus on something, that’s usually what you get. If you focus on ‘not smoking’ then you will focus on the act of smoking. It’s far more helpful to focus on what life will be like when you have more cash in your pocket, can breath more easily and live a healthier and longer life.

In NLP terms do you focus on what you don’t want or what you do want? Are you an ‘Away from’ or ‘Towards’ person? An ‘away from’ attitude can be a major cause of procrastination and overall lack of progress. Being more focused on what you want isn’t the only answer but it is a much more useful start.

Solution: Focus on the future, not the past. When setting out to achieve or change something consider how you would like life to become. When you achieved your goal how will life be different? What will you see, what will you hear and how will you feel different?

What we’re beginning to describe here is what NLP calls a ‘Well-Formed Outcome’. For much more about this concept see the following posts:

In summary the solution to much procrastination is to:

  • Face the reality of the bigger picture
  • Chunk what you want to do down to a manageable size
  • Set clear learning goals to aid your progress
  • Take action and learn as you go
  • Focus on the future, not the past

In part 3 of this series we’ll be looking at the false perception of limited choice and how this gets in the way.

If you liked this post you might like:

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