How to Overcome Procrastination: Complete Guide

This is the last part of my 5-part series on how to overcome procrastination. If you are new to this series, start with part 1 first.

If you have read this far, I assume procrastination is a problem you face and want to address. In my course Anti-Procrastination Program, I share my complete set of framework and tools to overcome procrastination for life. In this post, I share a simplified 6-step exercise to get you started on tackling procrastination.

Exercise To Uncover Why You Procrastinate

Grab a pen and paper or open your word processor. Set aside 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. Below these layers lies your subconsciousness. Every day, more layers get piled on as you face new situations. In order to get down to your subconsciousness, we need to clear off these layers (done through steps 2-4) and get down to the depths of your mind.

Ready? Here we go. 😀

1) Identify 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 procrastination. For illustration purposes, I’ll use the example of exercising to keep fit.

2) Ask yourself: “Why am I putting this off?”

Write down everything that comes up. You may have 1 answer, 2 answers, or even 5 answers – it doesn’t matter. Even if your mind responds with “I don’t know,” write that anyway, then ask the same question again. Chances are, you’re going to get a different answer each time. Just keep on writing until nothing else comes up. This process may take anywhere from 5 minutes to even over 30 minutes if there’s a lot of stuff to write. Everything you write in step 2 are your first level answers.

Possible first level answers for procrastinating on exercise are

  • 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 of the series, I shared that laziness and lack of discipline are rarely the real issues. Approaches involving discipline and time management are like ointments and creams for mosquito bites. They patch up the symptoms without dealing with the root of the problem. Thus, ignore answers like “I’m too lazy,” “I have no discipline,” and “I don’t have enough time.” Probing in those areas will usually get you nowhere.

Referring to the other answers, pick out the hot spots answers for probing. Hot spot answers refer to any answer that is more than meets the eye. When probed, they reveal other layers underneath. Hot spot answers are usually tied to:

  • Your feelings (such as desire, fear, and feelings of discomfort) . Examples are “I don’t feel like doing it,” “I’m scared,” “I feel tired,” or “I hate doing this,”
  • Your ability. Examples are “I don’t know how,” “It takes so much time,” or “There’s so much to do.”

In the exercising example above, some hot spot answers are “I don’t want to exercise”  and “I hate exercising.”

4) Probe into the hotspot answers from Step #3

Dig into the answers to uncover what lies underneath. One of the ways I share with my course participants is to question why this is the case or why this matters. Some examples to dig into hotspot answers:

  • “I don’t want to [exercise]” → Ask yourself: “Why don’t I want to exercise?”
  • “I hate [exercising]” → Ask yourself: “Why do I hate exercising?”
  • “I don’t know how to do this” → Ask yourself: “So what if I don’t know how to do this?”, “What does it mean if I don’t know how to do this?”, “Why is this stopping me from doing the task?”

5) Repeat Step #4 until you reach an “aha” moment that cracks the issue wide open

Keep probing until you get an “aha” moment. My course participants often ask is, “How do I know if I’ve reached an aha moment?”

The short answer is this – you’ll know when it comes. You will feel a surge of resonance when you arrive at the answer, because everything suddenly clicks and makes sense. You finally realize why you’ve been avoiding this activity the whole time — not because of laziness, but because of something else.

For example, here are some revelations my past participants received:

  • Someone who procrastinates losing weight (to be more attractive) → Because he/she hates himself/herself and wants to be 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 can use the excuse of lack of preparation if his/her performance is not the best
  • Someone who procrastinates going to work → Because he/she has lost the passion for the job

The more connected you are with your higher self, the easier the exercise. If you often take time to reflect, 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 low self-awareness, this exercise may take longer. You may find yourself blocked, where the same answers keep surfacing. This may also happen for self-aware people when they try to dig into a blind spot of their lives — this is where having a coach is really useful to help you uncover your blocks. Some of my course participants experience this when we dig into a deep-set pattern in their life, where the only answer that comes up is “I don’t know” or “I’m not sure.”

When that happens, don’t give up. Just because you don’t reach an “aha” the first time round doesn’t mean you’re not going to get the answer! Every time you communicate with your subconsciousness, you build a stronger connection with it. As long as you press on, the answer will eventually surface. Other things you can try are:

  • Ask the questions in different sittings. You don’t need to do the exercise at one go. You can do it in different sittings.
  • Use different angles. If you reach 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 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 on this?”

While some of the underlying beliefs for procrastination may seem crazy (e.g., procrastinating on losing weight because you want to repel people), they are very real reasons for procrastination. My clients and course participants are often shocked when we do the digging exercise together and they uncover all the hidden, nasty beliefs formed from young. These are usually misconceived beliefs formed due to negative experiences or incidents when young, what I call childhood stories. As we are less self-aware at a young age, we form many beliefs based on what we observe, without knowing what is right or wrong. Over the years, these beliefs get embedded into our subconsciousness and guide our external actions — such as procrastinating on X even though we consciously want to do X.

6. Create an action plan to solve the root issue

Having uncovered the root, create your action plan to address that. For this, you can use my ESPER goal achievement framework.

Realization of the root issue is often enough to trigger one into action. That’s because it becomes obvious that procrastination is the wrong solution to move forward. For example, if you have lost passion for your job, your immediate move should be to identify work you’re passionate about and pursue that. Procrastinating in your current job only prolongs the issue — it’s not going to help you in any way. Another example is procrastinating on finding your life partner because of low confidence. The logical step forward should be to work on your confidence, not to avoid relationships your whole life.

Once I had a client who was procrastinating on losing weight. After diving into the root cause, we found out that her procrastination was because of a lack of self-love. Deep down, she didn’t want to lose her excess weight because she didn’t want to get unwanted attention from men. Another reason was because she didn’t want to be beautiful (by her definition), because she didn’t associate herself with beauty. Since young, she had thought of herself as an “ugly duckling.” This was due to a lack of self-love — she didn’t see herself as beautiful.

The solution here is to work on self-love while working on weight loss, rather than losing weight to love herself (do you see the difference?). Tackling the root cause, because this is what’s stopping you from achieving your goal. Here, an action plan to improve self-love can include saying positive affirmations, addressing negative body image, removing critical and toxic relationships, and working on your personal goals.

This is the final part of my 5-part series on how to overcome procrastination.

My Anti-Procrastination Program

You have just read my article series to overcome procrastination, where I share the basic steps to tackle procrastination. I hope you have found it useful. If you’re serious about overcoming procrastination for life, I’ve created the Anti-Procrastination Program, my one-stop course to stop procrastination for life. This course is created after thousands of coaching sessions, and helping participants from all walks of life overcome procrastination in different life areas: from work to health to love to life. I share my complete toolkit to overcome procrastination, along with participant examples and case studies.

“For years, I’ve read books, tried hypnotherapy, and engaged a coach to overcome procrastination. I even went to see ‘expert Doctors and Professors.’ Each time, I would leave with more weight added to my shoulders. Your Anti-Procrastination Program has made all the difference for me. — Craig Scott, Consultant, London

“Dear Celes, I attended your Anti-Procrastination Program and have used the skills to focus my attention and passion. This week, I finished the manuscript for a children’s picture book that had been sitting ‘on mothballs’ for over 15 years. At the time I attended your course, I was working on a movie screenplay as well. I finished that, too! I added a credit to you and your course at the end of my blog post about this important benchmark in my project. I wanted to share it with you. Thanks, Celes!” — Diana Diehl, Author, United States

More details at the PE courses section: Personal Excellence Courses