Those of you who follow my bolg may have noticed that I’ve slowed down a bit on my posts lately.  I don’t know about you, but it is my experience that motivation fluctuates.  Priorities fluctuate and shift and vie for first place, and there is always something that ends up going undone… at least for the time being. But I’m glad to have found my way back to posting an article today.  And what better topic to post about than procrastination!

Motivation Fluctuates

To some extent, fluctuations in motivation and priorities are just a normal and expected part of life.  It is important to have flexibility in your goals, tasks and timing.  Being overly rigid and perfectionistic is unrealistic and creates unnecessary stress.  Priorities and motivation have to shift as circumstances change, as you grow and learn, and as deadlines come and go.

There are even times when your lack of motivation can be a useful signal that what you are doing is not right for you, or that you need to find a new approach to what you are doing.  This can help precipitate necessary changes in activities, strategies or even career.

What is Procrastination?

However, there are times when these normal fluctuations cross the line into procrastination.  I know I’m procrastinating when my delay in doing a task causes me to fall short of my own standards or expectations, or when it leads to negative consequences.  Unfortunately, this can be difficult to recognize when the consequences are long term… like with health related behaviors.

In my work, I often hear about procrastination on chores, paperwork, bills, communication, medical appointments, job hunting, exercise, etc.  The key dynamic going on here is people trying to enjoy (or survive) life in the short run, at the expense of their quality of life in the long run.

People actually get quite creative in weaving avoidance out of many mundane day to day activities, as this video shows.

“…Procrastination is watching this video about procrastination.”  Unfortunately, people usually don’t enjoy the procrastination process itself, and can be quite miserable in their endless cycles of avoidance behaviors.  The misery and despair of feeling stuck in procrastination can further undermine their motivation!  For some people, procrastination can become a way of life.

Overcoming Procrastination

The question is not whether you ever procrastinate (I believe all of us do), but rather how you handle it when you do.  Some people, when they catch themselves procrastinating, respond by making the avoided task a priority, and by making a plan to get back on track. But how? I’d like to share a few strategies that work best for me, and then give you links to more ideas.

1) Picture Positive Outcomes

Research shows that thinking of the advantages of doing something is much more motivating than focusing on the disadvantages of not doing it.  So go ahead and imagine the positive outcomes of your dreaded task.  What will you get out of it?  How will you feel once it is done?  How will this help you in the long run?  What will you be able to enjoy because of accomplishing your task?  Picture these things in detail, and tap into the positive emotions that this triggers.

2) Be Organized

A calendar, to-do list and reminders can do a lot to keep you on task.  It is helpful to rate the importance/urgency of your to-do tasks, and to be specific in your scheduling of tasks.  Updating your to-do list daily is key.  Being organized also helps you to develop a plan to move towards a long term goal, to be realistic about how much time you have, and to be mindful of your balance between chores and fun.

3) Mindfulness

When practicing mindfulness meditation, the initial task is to catch yourself getting distracted (over and over again), and to bring your attention back to your anchor (over and over again).  This is to be done gently, through patient observation, without judgment or guilt about getting distracted.  This process, when practiced regularly, improves your ability to focus.  The same principle applies to activities.  When you catch yourself being distracted, you gently bring yourself back to task, without berating yourself for your distraction.  You do this over and over again.

4) Radical Acceptance

The DBT principles of radical acceptance also apply here:  a) connect with the willingness within yourself, b) turn your mind toward acceptance, and c) choose to radically accept the situation or task you are faced with.  At first, you may have to do this many times in one minute, but with practice it becomes easier.  Remember that non-acceptance of painful reality creates an unnecessary layer of suffering on top of the natural pain.  Chronic non-acceptance is the same as perpetually fighting with the reality of what is; and makes dealing with that reality much harder.

5) Make It Enjoyable!

Try to make your dreaded task fun!  Use your sense of humor, be exaggerated, be creative, make a game of it, picture yourself enjoying it and accomplishing it, think positive and play some good energizing music while you’re at it.  Pantomime kicking that procrastination gremlin out of your house.  Picture yourself as a superhero who can do anything!  Put on a goofy “doing hat,” and tell yourself you have to be productive while wearing it.  Set a timer and race against it.  Pretend that you are in an opera about yourself, or a dance performance.  And don’t forget reward yourself for your efforts.

Or, if you prefer a more relaxed approach, then do your task in slow motion (but do it).  Mindfully observe yourself as you get out the things you need, orient yourself to where you left off, and start on the next task.  Play soothing music in the background.  Breathe slowly and deeply, and know that with each breath you are closer to accomplishing your task for the day.  Relax into the process and just take things one small step at a time, knowing that you are doing exactly what you need to be doing.

Additional Tips from Cyberspace

Here’s a video to get you started.  Think of this song as being about breaking free of the procrastination gremlin.  (Can you think of other songs that motivate you?)

Check out these links for more tips on overcoming procrastination:

10 Techniques to Successfully Overcome Procrastination

Structured Procrastination

How To Stop Procrastinating

Tips to Beat Procrastination (look in the left-hand margin first)

Categories : Depression, Wellness

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