Do a Google search on how to stop procrastinating and you’ll find lots of tips and tricks. But for many, those tricks aren’t much help. Why is that? I think it’s because most articles overlook the mental game of breaking the habit.
If you’re really serious about overcoming procrastination, you need to identify the real source of the problem. In my mind, we procrastinate for three reasons:
- We can’t connect what we’re supposed to do right now with the awesome goal we’re really excited about, so it doesn’t seem important.
- We aren’t excited about the short-term goal—partially because of point 1 and partially because it’s hard to get excited about small goals.
- We don’t get good feedback from our environment on short-term goals. If other people don’t seem to care, we have a hard time caring.
These all relate to one idea:
If we want to stop procrastinating, we have to convince ourselves that each small step is important and exciting. Here are three ways to tackle the mental game of making progress and boost your enthusiasm for the all-important short-term goals that lead to the things you really want.
1. Write down why your next step, the small thing in front of you, is important.
Writing something down makes it seem more important. You don’t have to write a novel, just make some notes for yourself. Remind yourself why, even though it’s a small step, it’s so important to get it done right away. So you can move on to the next, bigger step.
Our brains process the idea in a different way through the act of writing it down. But don’t just write it down, post it. Put it somewhere where you can read it until it gets done—sort of like a to-do list.
But there’s an extra step you can take that will create more motivation to get it done. Don’t just write down what needs to be done, add a comment about the payoff for doing it. Try this exercise:
Don’t write this:
- Talk to Joe about problem with client
- Work on proposal for new business
- Exercise for 40 minutes
- Do a load of laundry
Instead, write this:
- Talk to Joe about problem with client: If I coach him now, he’ll be able to solve the next problem on his own.
- Work on proposal for new business: If we get this client, it will increase revenue by 20% and I can finally hire an operations person to take some work off my plate.
- Exercise for 40 minutes: 33 days before the trip to Hawaii!
- Do a load of laundry: If you don’t you’ll miss out on good family time this weekend!
You don’t have to do this all the time, but use it when you find yourself putting things off. Because if you don’t take an important step right now, the opportunity might just disappear.
2. Give yourself permission to be excited about the baby steps!
If you want to achieve a goal, you can’t only be excited about the end result. You have to be excited about most of the small steps along the way. It can be hard to do. How do you stay excited about the small, sometimes tedious parts of goal achievement?
Give yourself permission to get excited about them.
What do we do when we’re excited about something? We talk about it. We tell everybody about the new things our babies do. We tell people about promotions. We tell people about the five pounds we lost. We tell people about the trips we’re planning. We tell them because we’re excited, but we also get more excited when we talk about it.
Don’t be afraid to talk your smaller accomplishments. Don’t be a bore, but don’t be so afraid of being boring that you don’t talk about small wins you’ve achieved.
Give yourself permission, turn yourself loose, and try to get the people around you excited about whatever baby step you’re tackling right now. It might give you the boost you need.
3. Build or find an environment that gives you positive feedback.
If you don’t have people who can get excited about what you’re learning and accomplishing, week by week, as you push toward a goal, you’re probably not going to stick with it. There aren’t many of us who can sit alone in a room and by sheer force of will and internal drive accomplish great things.
We are social creatures. We need community. We need people we can rely on to share in our excitement about big and small wins. If you’re in a dry, negative environment, and you’re trying to do a positive thing that nobody seems to care about, you’re not going to do it.
Think about this: at the heart of every revolution, there is a small core of people who are emotionally invested.
Build or find your community. It could be just one or two people or it could be an entire organization. It could be a couple of coworkers, your spouse and kids, a local group for writers, a national organization for speakers. Find the encouragement you need from people who will understand the importance of small moments of progress. It will boost your enthusiasm for the next small step.
Take a moment and think about what you’re actively not doing that you should be doing. To stop procrastinating, let yourself get excited about knocking out the small steps in front of you, because that’s the fastest way to get where you want to go.