Here’s a funny thing. It happened while I was down in my basement, absorbed in an endless succession of DIY tasks. All the while, at the back of my mind, I knew exactly what I was doing.
I knew I had tough choices to make. Like where I was going in life. Or whether to continue freelancing, or get into teaching. I also knew I needed more meaningful work (and income) in my life.
But I also knew I wasn’t doing anything about it.
There’s some interesting psychology at play here. So let’s take a look.
What ate away at me
I’m reticent to use the word procrastination. Because like most creative people, I need to be making or doing. You’ll never find me sitting around, moaning about how I can’t be bothered. We’re very driven people.
Procrastination is something other people do. Lazy people.
Yet that’s what it was. I was avoiding more pressing, more difficult challenges about my future.
So DIY became a diversion. It pressed my creativity button, kept me active – fixing problems and applying myself. DIY is easier too. There’s less friction and more reward in renovating my basement. Certainly more short-term reward than refocusing an entire career (and resolving mid-life crisis).
Ultimately, I wasn’t being honest (with myself). Or acting responsibly, in accordance with my values. That can chip away at your esteem, further compounding the problem.
So, what’s going on when we procrastinate?
For me it was fear of pain, in the form of change, risk, mistakes and failure. By modifying my career and picking a path… that’s commitment to a new unknown. I was afraid of making the wrong choice. And I was afraid that whichever choice I did make, I wouldn’t devote myself to it.
Moreover, what if I’m incapable of ever enjoying anything! I’ve been freelancing for a decade; if I don’t enjoy it now, will I ever, if I continue?
This is all about pain
And it turns out that avoiding pain is actually quite a sensible policy for survival. That’s why our brains find clever ways to distract us away from it. It’s also why we retreat to our comfort zones – the familiar, the predictable (like DIY).
“The process of overcoming procrastination can begin once you’re able to admit that when you avoid taking action, you’re really avoiding pain.’https://greatist.com/happiness/how-not-to-procrastinate-reason-procrastination#1
I knew I was avoiding things. I know there are ways to overcome it too. What I didn’t realise is that I’d lost my appetite for risk. Or, more accurately, my tolerance for pain.
Naturally, there are a million articles on how to tackle procrastination
I wanted to avoid yet another 5 ways to beat procrastination blog post. So rather than a list of techniques, let me reframe the problem (based on research).
Essentially, we have a finite amount of will power. Even those of us who think we’re pretty wilful. And modern life is all about choice, and that’s endlessly distracting. So relying on willpower alone, to do the things you ought to do, isn’t enough.
You need strategies that don’t require you to be strong.
In short, recognise (and accept) the behaviour holding you back. Then control its cues, add friction, and substitute new rewards for old ones.
One quick way to do that is to switch environment
For me, that’s been getting back into coworking. So I now have a dedicated space where I can allocate time to my business. I switch areas too – for client work versus business development.
While I’m there, there are other practical steps to help in the battle against procrastination.
Like building a system to manage your time in a more structured way. One that breaks overwhelming tasks down into smaller, digestible chunks. And forces you to tackle the most challenging ones first.
Meditation gives you an edge too, quietening the noise inside your mind. As does talking to other people. So you feel more accountable, and ideas and commitments find new life outside your head.
Even documenting this very process, in writing, helps. Because it organises my thoughts, and turns them into useful ideas for others.
You’re just a fallible, social animal
We don’t do very well on our own, for extended periods of time. We’re prone to obsession. And loss of focus. We end up ensnared in traps of our own making.
If you can accept that – that you’re an animal. And that you’re not superhuman. That you have shortcomings- like a finite amount of willpower. Then life begins to get a little easier.
You can build new habits, switch environments like I have, and recognise when old habits creep back in.
Undoubtedly, part of the solution involves getting out there amongst people. So you escape your own head. And discover new ways to tackle the same old problems we’ve had for millennia. Like avoiding necessary pain and facing up to it in manageable ways.