Have you ever watched someone on TV who was so good at what they did - an athlete or artist perhaps - that you find yourself wanting to follow in their footsteps? Their journey moves you so much that it gives you a strong burst of inspiration, fueling an elaborate plan to take shape in your head. The entire time, as your big and bright balloon of excitement grows bigger, you think: if nothing could stop these successful people, then what could possibly stop you? Using the same pattern of practice and dedication, surely, you can be the next winner of America's Got Talent or Olympic gold medalist too!
But after your inspiration boost dies down, when that balloon of excitement eventually deflates, here's the important question: did you actually end up doing what you said you would?
If your answer is no, then you're not alone - and that's because the truth is, it's easier to daydream about what we could become instead of working towards it. Thinking about our (imagined) success requires no action, not to mention it makes us feel good without having to do anything at all. Setting a goal to become successful for real, on the other hand… that requires a lot of mind power and physical effort - which is just too difficult, and time consuming.
Does this thought process sound familiar? It does because most of us go through it when making decisions!
According to motivational speaker Mel Robbins: "There is a window that exists between the moment you have an instinct to change and your mind killing it." She calls it the 5-second rule. It’s worth noting that what she means by “instinct” is not an irreversible, destructive, or harmful decision. Instead, it's an "urge, impulse, pull, or knowing that you should or should not do something". The rule then goes like this: once you have the instinct to act, count backwards - 5-4-3-2-1 - and do what needs to be done right away. Otherwise, if you don't take action, you'll stay where you are. You'll never move, never change, and instead of following through and executing the amazing plan in your head?
You end up procrastinating instead.
WHAT IS PROCRASTINATION?
In an article published by the Association for Psychological Science, experts define procrastination as "the voluntary delay of some important task that we intend to do, despite knowing that we’ll suffer as a result." So despite how vital a project or task is, procrastinators choose to distract themselves with activities that serve no purpose and do nothing to bring them closer to their goals. But there's a scientific explanation behind why they do that. And the good thing about having that why is the what that comes after: by knowing why procrastinators put off things for later, tomorrow, next week, next month, or next year means we can also answer the question, what do we need to do to stop procrastinating?
Alexander Rozental, a procrastination researcher and a clinical psychologist at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, discovered that there are triggers to procrastination, all of which fall into four "camps": expectancy, value, time or impulsivity. He tells Time:
“People procrastinate because of a lack of value [associated with the task]; because they expect that they’re not going to achieve the value they’re trying to achieve; because the value is too far from you in terms of time; or because you’re very impulsive as a person.”
So the key thing when trying to overcome your habit of procrastination is to figure out what your triggers are - and then create a work around from there.
ENEMY #1: STRESS
Stress is the root of all (procrastination) evil. And since stress is your reaction to change, it has a great effect on what you do and don't do. According to Psychology Today, "When distracted by stresses, you are likely to put more things off and suffer from a procrastination accumulation effect." This is the vicious cycle of stressing out, putting things off for later because of said stress, and stressing out some more due to the things you didn't do. The result: "you leave more things undone and feel overwhelmed." This gets you stuck in a stress loop. Unfortunately, stress isn't something we can get rid of - it's simply part of living. But we can lessen it enough to help ourselves with execution. In this way, stress won't hold us back from getting started and executing our plans.
Here are a few ways to destress:
Pause and breathe. The world is fast-paced and becoming even more so each day. This doesn't mean we can't slow down or stop when we need to. If you have a big project ahead, no matter if it's personal or work-related, don't forget to pause and breathe. You've got this.
Start small. Have a major exam coming up and want to ace it? Depending on the timeframe and material, don't study everything the night before the test. Instead, divide the topic/s into workable chunks and study one part of it each day. Switching to a more active lifestyle for better health? Don't join a marathon just yet! You can try ten minutes of jogging every morning, slowly working your way towards a longer duration.
Progress vs Result. It's easy to see the end goal, but we have to focus on the journey to get there too. Oftentimes, what's stressful about a plan we have yet to execute is looking at what we haven't achieved. In line with starting small, it's important to recognize the little wins that bring you closer to your goal. Mindset is important: "I'm on my way” is better than “I'm not there yet.”
Take a break. Taking the time to rest is ok. Repeat this as many times as you have to. Making your plan come to life doesn't mean working yourself to death. Have a break when things feel overwhelming, when you're tired, or just because. Leave your desk. Take a walk. Enjoy the nice view from your work window. Remember that you've been working hard. You deserve a break.
Journaling is a great way to relieve some of your stress. By writing your thoughts and feelings down on paper, you can free up mental space to focus on what you need to do. Our Pocket Journal is especially useful due to its size and portability - take it anywhere with you and, if you need to breathe or just want a break, write everything down and feel more focused and refreshed after.
Pocket Journal Refill
ENEMY #2: FEAR OF FAILURE
It’s not uncommon for people to look too far ahead when they’re trying to reach the end of a goal. Before even getting started on the day's tasks, they already imagine the glorious outcome once they finish. In the process, they set the bar too high and end up feeling anxious about how to achieve the result they've come up with in their heads! While this is helpful in terms of visualization - because then you have an idea of what exactly you're working towards - focusing on the end goal too much and assigning an unrealistic value to it can become overwhelming. Doubt will start creeping in: what if I don't do well? What if I fail? Before you know it, you're stressed out and not getting anything done at all.
But there's a way to conquer the fear of failure so it doesn't stop you from finishing what you've started. Whether it's a major project with a deadline or a daily task that you simply need to power through for the day, the solution to keep yourself from holding back is to break down your projects into smaller, more workable tasks.
Here are the benefits of going bite-sized:
Overwhelmed? Not anymore! Since your one great task has turned into many little tasks, it will now be easier to complete them. Think of it as placing these little stones to step on as you make your way across a pond - that is, to achieving your goal. Just as you wouldn't try to take a big leap to get from one side of the pond to the other, the same concept holds true for major tasks: it's more effective when you take things one small step at a time.
Now you can work on quality. At this point, with your day planned out in actionable portions that will allow you to pave a definite way to reach your goal, you won't be inclined to set impossible heights to strive for. After all, you already know exactly how to get to the very result you want: you've made sure to lay it all out for you to follow step by detailed step.
It's not as difficult as you thought. As you go along, smaller chunks of to-do's will make you realize that what you're trying to complete has always been doable. It's just a matter of looking at it from a different perspective - in this case, as little pieces that, when put together, form a greater and larger picture.
One of our go-to's when it comes to listing down and keeping track of our little tasks is the Field Journal just because it gives us enough storage to sort and organize what we need in one place, all without the clutter and bulk of ordinary journals.
ENEMY #3: DISTRACTIONS
If there's a worst time for distractions, it's the day and age we live in. Practically everything we own is designed to keep us away from being more productive: our computers and smartphones with their endless notifications, and a variety of modern gaming consoles meant to take us away from the real world. Technological advancement is all well and good of course, but more often than not and sometimes without our knowing, it lures us into inaction so that we don't get to move on to the execution stage of our plans. In the end, our plans remain just that: plans.
It doesn't stop with technology alone. We also have social media - Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, and Pinterest, just to name a few - all of which are designed to keep our eyes and fingers glued on a screen all day. Then there's YouTube, Netflix, and everything in between... with these platforms in existence, you've got to wonder: how do any of us get anything done?
As in all things, the key is moderation. These sources of distractions are here to stay, and the most we can do is help ourselves by working around them. The saying goes: if you can't beat them, join them - but there's no reason not to be productive while enjoying the modern pleasures of our time. Here are some suggestions:
Turn off notifications. This is probably obvious, but a lot of people just don't do it. And one of the most common excuses? I might miss something important. If something was dire (oh yes, we really used that word) enough to need your immediate attention, there are other ways you can be reached. A good old phone call or text message will give you a clue when it comes to urgency: the fact that it bypassed Facebook, Instagram and Twitter will tell you if it's important or nothing more but a distraction. After all, if there was an emergency, posting about it on social media would probably happen much later.
Schedule screen time. The challenge that a lot of us encounter from screen-based apps, programs, and activities is that not all of them tell you how long you've been staring at your device, scrolling through infinity.
Sure, YouTube reminds you after a set amount of time (but only if you set it up on purpose) to take a break, but by then, you'll be so deep in the rabbit hole, there's no stopping you from falling further. So what to do? Time yourself. Schedule social media, gaming, and even answering emails during particular times so that it forms a reasonable part of your day - not your entire day.
We know that distractions are monsters of their own, so we've put together a separate post that shows you five helpful ways to eliminate distractions.
Field Journal Refill
ENEMY #4: "I'M NOT READY."
We are in no way affiliated with Nike, but we agree with their slogan: Just Do It. If you're the more poetic type, then Carpe Diem will probably spark more inspiration in you. No matter which of these you relate to, they both promote the same thing: taking action now.
But I'm not ready, you might say. I don't have all the tools, knowledge, or skills that I need. I don't know if I can learn this on my own. But let's really think about all that. If you're not ready now, when will you be? If you don't have the tools, knowledge, and skills that you need, when are you planning to obtain, search for, and learn them? If you won't get started by yourself, then who's going to get things started for you?
Most of us think that in order to reach our goals - whether that's losing weight or, say, becoming a figure skater - we have to feel ready. And that's a problem because you'll never be ready. Without execution, ready just means being prepared, and if you haven't done anything at all, then you've skipped the preparation stage altogether. All you'll be is stuck.
Want to lose weight? You don't have to start jogging around the block in full gear right this instant, but you can look up the closest gym in your area, make some inquiries, and Google the best place to buy a nice pair of sports shoes. Dreaming of becoming a figure skater? Look for places that offer lessons and sign up! You don't have to have ice skates right now. Instead of thinking I'm not ready or whatever excuse we all use, take the first step to becoming ready. Then follow it up with a second step, and a third, and so on. All you really need to do is get the ball rolling.
Procrastination can limit us in many ways, but we don't have to let it do so. With the right mindset, focus, and dedication to execute our plans and see them through - may it be a small task, a big project, or a long-term goal - we can break the barriers that prevent us from moving forward and turning into the best version of ourselves.
What has inspired you to make a change in your life recently, and what steps did you take to make it happen? Did you encounter any of these "enemies"? How did you overcome them? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below, we'd love to hear from you! With all that said, continue moving forward and we hope you keep creating!