Feeling stuck? How to overcome procrastination

Sep 18, 2019

Feeling stuck or struggling to take action? Is procrastination and a lack of motivation sabotaging your success?

If so, you’re not alone.

Procrastination is a challenge my coaching clients continuously contend with. They’re ambitious, high-performers, yet find themselves stuck in analysis paralysis. They know exactly what they need to do but lack the motivation to start.

Their dreams are put on hold because they’re scared of failing. And they have no idea what to do about.

A quick survey of my business owner friends revealed procrastination is a battle they regularly face too. And these are some of the smartest, driven and most successful women I know.

I can relate. As someone who’s extremely motivated, I understand how frustrating it can be. If you’re familiar with the StrengthsFinder assessment, focus and activation (quickly turning ideas into action) are my two greatest strengths.

But lately, I’ve been easily distracted, feeling resistance and struggling to take action. Procrastination impacts us all from time to time. However, there are some simple ways to work through it.

Read on to discover the main reason why we procrastinate. Learn 4 practical strategies I’ve personally used to overcome it and move into action.

WHAT IS PROCRASTINATION?

When you procrastinate, you needlessly keep putting off tasks that are important to you and that you want to do.

The distinction here is choice. We’re not talking about the ‘should’s’ or ‘have to do’s’, which are the things you don’t want to do or that someone else expects you to do.

When you procrastinate, you delay doing work that you desire or the tasks you know are important to reach your bigger, dream goals.

WHY DO WE PROCRASTINATE?

Despite what you may think, you don’t procrastinate because you’re lazy, disorganised or poor at managing your time. Procrastination comes from a deeper fear – fear of failure, worrying about what others think, not feeling good enough, trying to do things perfectly or ‘be’ perfect.

Our primal brains are responsible for survival and designed to keep us safe. When we feel fear or discomfort about putting ourselves out there or possibly failing, it tries to protect us by making us procrastinate.

We use procrastination to avoid uncomfortable feelings by delaying tasks. Then, we justify our behaviour by convincing ourselves we’ll do it later – when we feel better, are more disciplined or energised…

Unintentionally, we trick ourselves into believing we’ll be more adequate at accomplishing the task in future – tomorrow, on Monday, next month. The time comes, only for us to delay it again. And as we keep pushing the task aside, it becomes more and more unattainable.

Then, we beat ourselves up and feel guilty for not doing it. Which only adds to the negative feelings. Or, we try to get unstuck by continually pushing on through the resistance – only to burn ourselves out in the process.

HOW DO WE GET UNSTUCK?

Ultimately, the key to overcoming procrastination is to face the fear and resistance and take action anyway. But this isn’t always easy. So, here are 4 practical tips that have helped me.

#1 – MANAGE YOUR MIND

To become motivated and get unstuck, you must become aware of the fear holding you back and learn to manage or overcome it.

The first step is awareness – getting clear on exactly what’s holding you back. Start by asking yourself: What’s the fear holding me back from taking on this task? Whatever it is, write it down.

The second step is learning how to manage or reframe it. First off, you can manage your mind by simply allowing yourself to be with the fear. This is about finding the balance between not ignoring the fear and discomfort. But also, not getting caught up in it or held back by it.

Another way is to reframe the fear or belief by replacing it with a healthier, more positive thought. Focus on the positive aspects by connecting to your values, purpose and what’s driving you. How does overcoming this fear or completing the task honour your passions or ‘why’?

If you took action – what would you be saying YES to? And what would you be saying NO to? Think about the greater impact on your bigger vision, goals and entire life.

#2 – SIMPLIFY

Starting every day with 30 items on your to-do list or trying to do ‘all the things’ in your business results in overwhelm. Especially when you look at your big vision or ‘end goal’ and everything you have to do to get there.

Reduce overwhelm by simplifying things. Focus on taking small steps. What’s the one immediate goal you can focus on to reach your big vision? And what’s one small step you can take right now to get closer to that goal?

Set simple action steps, plan ahead and schedule important tasks. Make it easy for yourself to stay motivated and in action.

Finally, instead of waiting until you complete a goal before celebrating and acknowledging your success, learn to enjoy the process. By finding the positive in each task and having fun doing it, you’re going to be much more motivated to take action.

Even the most dull or challenging task has a positive. Consider – what are you learning? How is this task getting you closer your dream or the person you want to be?

#3 – BE KIND TO YOURSELF

If you’re stuck in procrastination, one of the most important things you can do is to practice self-compassion, be understanding and kind to yourself. As Dr Kristin Neff, a leading expert in the field of self-compassion says:

“With self-compassion, we give ourselves the same kindness and care we’d give a good friend.”

Neff’s research reveals three key aspects of self-compassion. Firstly, self-compassion is about being kind to yourself when you fail, don’t feel good enough or procrastinate, rather than being critical or judgemental. Beating yourself up about it only makes you feel guilty and demotivated. Which in turn keeps you stuck in the cycle of inaction.

Second, self-compassion requires you to recognise you’re not alone. Everyone struggles with motivation and procrastination at some stage – it’s part of being human!

Third, self-compassion is about taking a balanced approach to the challenges you’re experiencing. This means neither suppressing negative emotions or becoming attached to them. It’s important to be aware of your fears and acknowledge negative feelings without becoming consumed by them.

So, if you’re stuck in procrastination, remember to practice self-compassion. Be kind to yourself. And remember you’re not alone in experiencing resistance or lack of motivation.

#4 – DO YOUR BEST

Motivation is the energy behind our actions. Energy naturally fluctuates depending upon your physical, mental and emotional state.

Most people can push through tedious or challenging tasks because they’re motivated by a desire to reach their bigger goals. However, motivation levels change on a daily basis. And getting motivated can be a challenge if you’re stuck deep in procrastination.

To manage this, a philosophy I’ve adopted is to simply focus on always doing your best. This is one of The Four Agreements outlined in Don Miguel Ruiz’s book of the same name. The idea is to realise your ‘best’ might not always be 100% – it could be 70% one day, 50% the next.

By doing ‘your best’ you avoid feeling guilty or beating yourself up about procrastination.

One tip that’s helped me is to do a check-in at the start of each day. Ask yourself: What do I have to give today? Is it 50%, 70% or 90%. This allows you to set realistic, achievable goals that you’re more likely to accomplish. And therefore encourages motivation and action.

Final thoughts…

Procrastination is a struggle we all face at some stage. Luckily, there are some simple strategies you can use to get past it.

These are the exact methods I use to get unstuck and into action. And they’ve helped many of my clients to overcome procrastination and become more motivated. I hope they support you too.

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Stacey Back is a professional coach to existing and aspiring consultants and the Founder of Profile Careers. She helps high-achieving professionals go from feeling trapped in their corporate careers to developing the confidence and strategy to transition into their own consulting businesses.

Stacey also supports existing consultants who are stuck in a business model they hate, working longer hours than ever or struggling to find clients or make money. She helps them set the foundations for their business to find more time, attract the right clients and grow the consulting businesses they desire. Stacey works virtually with individuals based across Australia and internationally.