How to Stop Procrastination Dead in it’s Tracks – Once And For All! A 3 step Guide

June 2nd, 2013 By: Ash

Frustrating isn’t it?

You’re really stressed out because you know you’ve got to get stuff done but you just can’t get started.

So you just sit there, do a lot of handwringing but not much else.

I’ve been there.

In fact, over the last few months I’ve spent several precious moments agonising over resuming my gym routine which had fallen by the wayside during a particularly busy period at work. Days of absence grew into weeks and weeks into months.

Hours of detailed planning and analysis (paralysis) led to nothing but apathy and guilt around the idea of wasted monthly gym membership fees.

This afternoon when I found myself in the same predicament I decided upon a simple thought experiment – applying mindfulness to the process. This led to 3 very interesting and actionable insights which are at the end of this post.

Watching the procrastinating mind

 

As I watched my mind I realised there was something more than “planning and analysis” around the gym or not to gym question. Procrastination was lurking beneath. As I watched the procrastination I noticed the beneath it was …

Fear!

Fear of what?

Fear of going to the gym after a long hiatus?

Fear of failure? (Whatever that means! How do you “succeed” or “fail” at the gym. I couldn’t work it out. There was this irrational fear.)

Eventually it occurred to me that this fear that presents itself just about every single day in my life – fear of the unfamiliar.

Interestingly I feel this fear of the unfamiliar even when it comes to “familiar” stuff. Why? Because everytime I do something it’s in a different context regardless of whether or not I’ve done it before. The events leading up to it are different.

Paradoxically I have spent more energy in my life avoiding the unfamiliar (and going to great extents to do this) rather than just acknowledge the fear and take action.

Eventually it boiled down to “just doing it”

I went to the gym – something I could have and should have done months ago. It was such a no brainer in retrospect. There was no need for the protracted thinking and pontification and guilt. But I did learn something very important in the process which I will apply to all my fear based limitations:

3 simple (but profound) steps to overcome procrastination using mindfulness:

  1. Step back and become mindful of what’s happening
    around the thought processes. Watch your mind carefully
  2. ‘Peel back the layers of the onion’ and see what
    is really happening – in this instance it was procrastination masquerading as
    analysis and ‘deep thinking’ which in turn was driven by fear of the unfamiliar
  3. Acknowledge the underlying fear – feel it in your
    body (I find a large proportion of fear is felt physically and can be released by acknowledging it as bodily sensations) and make a
    firm decision to act despite the fear – in this case go to the gym

Ultimately awareness is the answer to a lot of questions. It doesn’t always give me a direct or immediate answer but it is critical to the sustainable  long term change.

Combined with the 3 step approach to creating targeted to do lists the above approach can be extremely powerful in creating effective and sustainably productive routines.

How do you deal with procrastination? When was the last time you were found yourself paralysed with the fear that procrastination seems to bring with it? What did you do? Share your thoughts in the comments section. I’d love to hear from you.

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Leave a Comment

6 comments

I work with students on their workflow, which means on their procrastination issues. Mindfulness is super helpful, but it is difficult to get young adults engaged in it. Our strategy is to go at it as “awareness,” then apply into that mindfulness and emotional intelligence.

A key part of mindfulness as related to procrastination is being able to forgive yourself, which makes one less likely to repeat past mistakes. Nice to see your post!

Comment by Michael on March 21, 2014 at 9:58 pm

Great post Ash!
I will definitely spend some time mindfully observing my procrastination. Although I find that hard to do with a house full of boys on their summer break. 🙂

I procrastinate most on making decisions. It’s the fear of the finite.

Comment by Tajci on June 22, 2014 at 10:18 pm

I am 75 with lung problems, wear oxygen 24/7. I am single, get really excited about doing a project and suddenly ‘why bother’ – that includes cooking, cleaning, projects and I get really ‘pissed off’ don’t know how to get that energy back.

Comment by Carla Dawson on September 11, 2014 at 3:41 am

Hi Carla,

Sounds you have a lot to deal with without the projects. I commend your enthusiasm.

You might find a mindfulness practice helpful. I’ve written a few posts on mindfulness and how it can help overcome self defeating patterns.

Comment by Ash on September 18, 2014 at 3:21 am

Great post Ash!

Totally agree that awareness is the key for the “sustainable long term change”!!!

As far as procrastinating… Those “voices” (of fear, indecisiveness, self-doubt, etc) are real. We all have them inside and over the years we have learned to rely on them. For me it’s always been the voice of judgment. It says: “if you go to the gym now you won’t have time to do this next brilliant thing.” It’s always judging my decisions and my steps.

This voice is not all bad – it tries to look after us. Keep us safe. And comfortable. And small.

So we involve the heart. She’s got a voice too. One that we don’t like to trust because, well… How many times in your life were you told not to follow your heart because it will trick you into pain. And how many times did you listen to your heart and ended up hurting?

But “heart pain” is a “growing” pain. Heart is often more in tune with the soul – where the Voice, the connection to the source of Life is. The heart often echoes this Voice and is more real than the voices of fear, judgment, etc. It says: “have courage. Open up. Don’t be afraid. You are meant for more.”

Comment by Tajci on January 7, 2015 at 2:14 pm

Great points Ash. The awareness or recognizing the behavior is so key. We all run on auto pilot at times and this seems to be when those behaviors are just “accepted” and repeated. Once aware, the lists can help get us to move toward change.

Comment by Dave on January 7, 2015 at 4:11 pm

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