Overcoming Procrastination

How to Overcome Procrastination Using Self Talk

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We’re talking to ourselves all the time inside our minds. Even when you’re not paying attention, these relentless mental debates deeply influence our feelings and, ultimately, our behavior.
The good news is that each time that you become aware of such mental dialogues and notice patterns and turn them into productive statements is an opportunity to overcome many unwelcome feelings and behaviors.
Let’s see how this can help us when it comes to procrastination.

Steps

  1. Recognize the procrastinator’s motto. Consider the following thought, which for sure has crossed our minds many times in the past, in one form or another:“I have to finish this long, important project. It should already be done by now and I need to plow through it.”This small, seemingly innocent thought contains almost every mental block that encourages procrastination. We all use the Procrastinator’s Motto (or variations of it) every once in a while. If you’re a chronic procrastinator, chances are you repeat it to yourself very frequently — daily, perhaps.But what’s so wrong about the Procrastinator’s Motto? In what ways do these words encourage procrastination so much — and what can we do about it? Now let’s consider each part of this statement in turn, replacing each of them with an empowering alternative. In doing that, we’ll turn the original motto on its head and create a productive call to action: a “Producer’s Motto”, if you like.
  2. Remember that you don’t ‘have to’ do anything. ‘I have to’ is every procrastinator’s favorite expression. It’s also the most disempowering. Every time you say to yourself that you have to do something, you imply that you don’t have any choice, that you feel forced or coerced to do the task — that you don’t really want to do it. That perception, of course, elicits a strong feeling of victimhood and resistance towards doing the task. The solution to this problem is to replace ‘I have to’ with the immensely more empowering alternative ‘I choose to’ or ‘I will’. Everything you do is ultimately a choice (yes, even completing tax forms). Using language that expresses choice reminds you of that and brings the feeling of power back.
  3. Focus on starting, rather than finishing. When you focus on finishing something, you direct your attention to a vague, highly idealized future. Visualizing a finished project is motivating for many people, but from the point of view of someone who’s having a hard time starting a task, visualizing a hard-to-grasp future can be overwhelming — even depressing at times. The solution in this case, then, is not to focus on finishing, but on starting. Forget for a minute about the finish line, just concentrate on giving your first step. Bring your focus from the future to what can be done right now. We all know that if you start something a large enough number of times, you’ll eventually finish any task. Starting — all by itself — is usually sufficient to build enough momentum to keep the ball rolling from then on.[1]
  4. Break a long project down into short tasks. Constantly reminding yourself how long and challenging the upcoming undertaking is only adds to the feeling of being overwhelmed, and thus of procrastination. Any undertaking, no matter how daunting, can be broken down into smaller steps. The trick is to, on each step along the way, focus solely on the very next smaller, doable chunk of work. Ignore the big picture for a while and just tackle that next short task. Make it in a way you can easily visualize the outcome coming about very soon. Don’t write a book; write a page. If it still looks intimidating, you may try committing to a time box instead. Of course, keep the big picture in mind, but use it for motivation and direction as needed, and not to frighten yourself before action.
  5. Don’t place too much pressure on yourself. “This project has to impress everyone; I really can’t blow this opportunity.” Placing such high hopes on a project only adds to anxiety and fear of failure. Perfectionism arises and only fuels procrastination even more. The way to overcome this mental block is to simply give yourself permission to be human. Allow yourself to be imperfect just in this next small task. Focus on taking an imperfect step remembering that you can always refine your work later. If you’re a serial perfectionist, go one step further and commit yourself to doing a sloppy job on purpose, at least at first. This can be thought of as a step in working toward perfection, but not trying to be perfect in each step, i.e. write a page or two now, but proofread and correct it some other time.
  6. Stop thinking about the way things ‘should’ be. The expression ‘should’ is usually associated with blame and guilt. When you say you should be doing something (instead of what you’re actually doing), you focus on comparing an ideal reality with your current, “bad” reality. You focus not on what is, but on what could have been. Misused ‘shoulds’ can elicit feelings of failure, depression and regret. The solution is to focus not on how you feel now, but on how good you’ll feel after you begin to take action.
  7. Make some directed action — even the tiniest progress is success — moving towards a goal is the best motivator. The trick is to bring that expected feeling of accomplishment into the present — and know that the real joy of progress is only a small task away. That small step is success. Success is not the end of the process, but it is the actions that cause progress and lead you to your next step.
  8. Make it fun! “I’ve got to work all weekend”. “I am trapped in this laborious project”. Long periods of isolation can bring an enormous feeling of resentment. This feeling generates a strong sense of deprivation and resistance towards the task. The way to overcome this mental block is to not allow long stretches of work to creep into your activities. Schedule frequent breaks that will not take long or take you too far. Plan small rewards along the way. One idea is to work near a break area. Have something to look forward to — not far away and not at the end of a long stretch — but in the very near future. When rewards are small, frequent — and deserved — they work wonders. Truly commit to brief bursts of relaxation and leisure time. In fact, go ahead and make it mandatory. This “reverse-psychology” can by itself bring you to a whole different mindset, both more productive and enjoyable.
  9. Rephrase your internal dialog. Time to check what we’ve accomplished with all the word substitutions. We started with:“I have to finish this long, important project. It should already be done by now and I need to plow through it.”And ended up with:“I choose to start this task with a small, imperfect step. I’ll feel terrific and have plenty of time for fun!” Quite a change, eh? Every time you catch yourself repeating the Procrastinator’s Motto or any of its parts to yourself, stop and rephrase it. Then check how you feel. While it may seem just a matter of word choices at first, when you try this simple way of reframing your thoughts, you’ll see how instantly it changes your attitude towards working on your tasks. Moreover, if you turn it into a habit, you’ll be slowly reprogramming your thoughts, leading to a positive, permanent change in your mindset.

Tips

  • Some other “procrastinator phrases” include:[2]
    • “I just don’t really feel like doing this right now. I will do it later.”
    • Say instead: “Even if I can’t get the whole thing done right now, I can start on this part.”
    • “It’s no big deal if it doesn’t get done.”
    • Say instead: “This is important to ME, so I choose to start now.”
    • “It won’t take me that long.”
    • Say instead: “This may take a long time, but I choose to start now and get part of this done right away.”
    • “It’s not fair.”
    • Say instead: “I choose to do this”
  • Taking on a second-person view can also help. Tell yourself: “You know you’re just putting this off. Take the time right now and get started on this part. You’ll feel better and then you can take a break, or start on another small part.”[3]

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Sources and Citations

  1. This is what Mark Forster calls the “I’ll just get the file out” technique.
  2. http://livingwelltools.com/procrastination.htm
  3. http://www.catalystorganizing.com/articles/Later_Never_Comes.pdf

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