This is part 5 of a 6-part series on How to Overcome Procrastination.
- Part 1: Why Overcome Procrastination?
- Part 2: Procrastination – Symptom of An Issue
- Part 3: 1st Root Cause – Lack of Desire
- Part 4: 2nd Root Cause – Fear
- Part 5: How To Overcome Procrastination
- Part 6: 11 Practical Steps To Overcome Procrastination (exclusive article in Personal Excellence Book, Volume 1)
If you have read this far, I assume procrastination is a problem you face and want to address. In this part, you’ll learn how to overcome your procrastination through an introspective exercise. Time to stop procrastinating and get the problem nipped in the bud!
Exercise To Uncover Why You Procrastinate
As with all our exercises, grab a notebook and pen or open up your processing document. Set aside about 20 minutes or so for this. We will be doing a fair bit of writing for this exercise.
Think of your mind as containing thousands of layers of information. At the bottom of this lies your subconsciousness. Every day, more layers get piled on as you face new contexts. In order to get down to your subconsciousness, we need to clear off the layers (done through steps 2-4) and get down to the depths of the mind.
Ready? Here we go
1) Start off by identifying something you are procrastinating on, even though you want to work on it.
This should be an area where you have displayed a continuous pattern of putting off in. For illustration purpose, I’ll take the example of exercising to keep fit.
2) Ask yourself: “Why am I putting this off?”
Write everything that comes up. You may have 1 answer, 2 answers, or even 5 different answers – it doesn’t matter. Even if your mind responds with “I don’t know”, write that in anyway, then ask the same question again. Chances are, you’re going to get a different answer this time. Just keep on writing until nothing else comes up. For a reference, this process might take anywhere from 5 minutes to even over 30 minutes if there’s a lot of stuff you have to write. Everything you write in step 2 are your first level answers.
Possible first level answers for procrastinating on exercise may be:
- I don’t want to exercise
- I’m too lazy
- I have no discipline
- Exercising is boring
- The gym is too far away
- I don’t know
- I hate exercising
- I don’t have enough time
3) Pick out hotspot answers for probing.
If you remember in part-2, I shared laziness and lack of discipline are rarely ever the real issues. Approaches involving discipline and time management are the ointments and creams to mosquito bites. They usually patch up the symptoms without dealing with the root of the issue. Thus, ignore answers like “I’m too lazy”, “I have no discipline”, “I don’t have enough time”. Chances are, probing in those areas will get you nowhere.
From the remaining answers, pick out the hot spots answers for probing. Hot spot answers are answers that are more than meets the eye. When probed, they explode to reveal the other layers underneath. Hot spot answers are usually tied to:
- Feelings (desire, fear, feeling of discomfort, etc) . Examples are “I don’t feel like doing it”, “I’m scared”, “I feel tired” or “I hate doing this”.
- One’s ability. Examples are “I don’t know how to”, “It takes so much time and effort”, “There’s so much to do”.
In the exercise example, some hot spot answers are “I don’t want to exercise” and “I hate exercising”.
4) Probe into the hotspot answers from #3.
Dig into the answers to uncover what lies beneath. There are many ways to do this depending on the original answer. The simplest way is to question why that’s the case or why it matters. Below are some examples of how to dig into hotspot answers:
- “I don’t want to [exercise]” -> “Why don’t I want to exercise?”
- “I hate [exercising]” -> “Why do I hate exercising?”
- “I don’t know how to do this” -> “So what if I don’t know how to do this?”, “What does it mean to me if I don’t know how to do this?”, “Why is this stopping me from doing the task?”
5) Keep repeating #4 until you reach an “aha” moment that cracks the whole issue wide open.
Keep probing and probing until you get the “aha” moment. Some people will ask “How do I know if I’ve reached an aha moment or not?” The short answer is this – you’ll know when it comes. There will be an inner sense of resonance when you arrive at the answer, because then everything suddenly clicks and makes complete sense. You finally realize why you’ve been trying to avoid the activity all this while – not because of laziness, but because of something else.
The more connected you are with your higher self, the more effective this exercise. If you often take time to self-reflect and have a high level of self-awareness, this exercise will be relatively easy. Chances are, the answers will affirm what you already know about yourself.
On the other hand, if you frequently repress your thoughts/feelings and have a low level of self-awareness, this exercise might take a longer time. More often than not, you’ll end up in a block during your questioning where the same answers keep surfacing. This may also happen for highly self-aware people when probing into a new territory. Some of my clients experience this when we dig into a deeply set pattern in their life, where the only answer that comes up is “I don’t know” or “I’m really not sure”.
When that happens, don’t give up. Just because you don’t reach an ‘aha!’ the first round doesn’t mean you’re not going to get the answer! Every time you try to communicate with your subconsciousness, you are building a stronger connection. As long as you keep pressing on (whether it’s by trying the exercise at a different time), the answer will eventually surface. Other things you can try are:
- Ask the questions with stronger intention to find the answer
- Use different angles to ask your questions. For example, if you reached a dead end, backtrack to the previous answer. Then, ask a different question or ask the same question in a different way. A question like “Why am I not doing this task?” can also be phrased as “What is making me avoid this task?” or “What is it about this task that’s making me avoid it?” or “Why am I not working?”.
Using this exercise, many unintuitive, unexpected revelations can be uncovered. For example (procrastinated activity -> real reason):
- Someone who procrastinates losing weight (to become more attractive) -> Because he/she hates himself/herself and wants to remain unattractive so no one will like him/her
- Someone who procrastinates getting close to his/her parents -> Because he/she is afraid of being alone when they pass away one day
- Someone who procrastinates finding a partner -> Because he/she has low self-worth and is afraid of putting himself/herself out there
- Someone who procrastinates rehearsing for a performance -> Because he/she is afraid that he/she is incapable and wants to use the excuse of ‘last minute work’ to explain away deficiencies in performance
- Someone who procrastinates going to work -> Because he/she has lost the passion for the job
While some of these underlying beliefs may seem crazy to your conscious mind, they are very real and common underpinnings to why people procrastinate. If you’re wondering why they are so counter-intuitive, it’s because they are usually based on misconceived beliefs formed when we are younger. Since your discerning ability is lower at a younger age, you form many beliefs based just from what you hear or observe around you. Over the years, these beliefs become embedded into your subconsciousness and subsequently guides your actions.
6. Create an action plan to resolve the root issue.
Now that you have uncovered the root issue, it’s now time to create your action plan to address that. For this, you can refer to the ESPER framework, a 7-part goal achievement series I have written.
Realization of the issue is usually enough to trigger one into action. That’s because it becomes immediately apparent how procrastination is the wrong solution to move forward. For example, if you have lost the passion for your job, your immediate move should be to identify a work you’re passionate in and start pursuing that. Procrastinating your current work only prolongs the issue – it’s not going to help you in any way. Another example is procrastinating on finding a partner because of low self-worth. The logical step forward should be build up your self-worth, not avoid relationships your whole life.
I hope the first five parts of the series has given you a deep level understanding of what exactly causes procrastination and how you can overcome it.
To round off the foundation principles of overcoming procrastination, I have written an exclusive article 11 Practical Steps To Overcome Procrastination which is an exclusive article that can be found in Personal Excellence Book (Volume 1). Get the book if you’re interested to read the article plus 100 of my all-time best articles on PE from 2008-2009. Read more: Personal Excellence Book
This is part 5 of a 6-part series on How to Overcome Procrastination.
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