Are you sick of procrastinating?
I am. I have procrastinated a lot in my life, and I don’t want to procrastinate a moment further. But, somehow, procrastination always seem to creep up on me when I least expect it.
Recently, I got stuck with a serious bout of procrastination that paralyzed me for two full days. I couldn’t get any work done. I felt incredibly stressed. This incident reminded me about how awful it was to feel useless and powerless.
Having gotten past this serious bout of procrastination, I want to take this opportunity to tell you what goes through my mind when I procrastinate. I want this to serve as a reminder to myself, and also to hopefully jolt you into action.
Why People Procrastinate
We procrastinate for one reason: we are afraid. We are afraid that something bad will happen to us if we fail. We are afraid that something will go wrong even if we succeed.
So we get stressed. This stress is especially strong when we’re doing something that’s really important to us.
Unfortunately, our brains are not built to handle this stress. Most of the time, our primal instincts take over and tell us to run.
But where can we run? There’s no place to run physically because the stress we’re feeling isn’t physical.
“Most of the time, our primal instincts take over and tell us to run.”
The stress we’re feeling is mental. We want to run away from it, and it means running from the source that caused it. It means putting down the work we’re doing and do something that comfort us instead.
So, we eat, play games, watch movies, or do just about anything under the sun to run away from that stress. When we run away, the stress gets relieved, and we feel safe again.
That’s the procrastination cycle. We get stressed, we run, the stress gets relieved, albeit temporarily.
The cycle repeats itself when we’re faced with important work again.
“We get stressed, we run, the stress gets relieved, albeit temporarily.”
Then, on and on it goes…
Until you break it.
This cycle happened to me recently when I rehearsed for a 45 min talk for RWD Summit. When rehearsing, I could never get past the 5min mark. I’ll stop, get some water, get some fresh air, write my script, correct the slides, watch movies, play games…
“I’m a perfectionist! I need to get things right! It needs to feel right!”, I told myself. That’s bullshit, by the way.
We tend to cover up our fears within bullshit because the real fear hidden deep within is incredibly painful. It’s painful enough to warrant us to run away. We pad it with false lies that we tell ourselves to ease the pain, and that’s how “perfectionism” and other bullshit are born.
“We tend to cover up our fears within bullshit because the real fear hidden deep within is incredibly painful.”
The procrastination continued for two full days. On the third day, I finally found the courage to cut through my bullshit and get past the fears hidden deep within my procrastination.
I was afraid that I’ll screw up my talk. I was afraid of failure. I was afraid that people will comment on how lousy a job I did. I was afraid that they’ll abandon me.
I’ve always been a crybaby when I was young. When I fail, I’ll cry. There was one incident that my mum told me to stop crying or she’ll disown me. Since then, I’ve always been afraid of failing, because I associate failure with abandonment.
This fear was reinforced when I was ten. I remember scoring well for a test. My teacher complimented me and told me not to hang out with the bad kids (my group of friends).
But I flunked the next test. The teacher didn’t comfort me, but I lost the group of friends. They eventually welcomed me back, but I never wanted to go through the same loss again.
This fear was also the reason why I waited a few years before learning design and development. I joined a business school when I was 21. Nobody talks about programming in a business school. They kept saying that “you can outsource to the programmers” if you need to.
I wanted to identify myself with my peers, not the “coders”, or “geeks”, or even whatever they were called. And I kept myself away from designing and developing even though I knew I needed those skills. I wanted to learn those skills.
So I ran away from learning about design and development for years. I continued to feel useless and powerless, until an incident where a good friend of mine said the truth: “That I didn’t bring anything to the table”.
That was the turning point that jolted me into action. I’ve been designing and coding ever since then.
Even though I’ve gotten past the fear once, it rears it’s ugly head whenever it has the chance. It showed up when I was practicing my talk for RWD Summit. It showed up when I tried to sell my first book, Learning Susy. It showed up when I wrote about design for the first time in my life. Each time, I ran away from the fear for a few days, but I always manage to return and conquer them at the end.
Don’t beat yourself up if you have to face the fear again. It happens. When you conquered it once, you know you can do it again.
Anyway, that’s my fear. Different people experience different fears, so I’m not surprised if what’s holding you back is different from what’s holding me back.
Recently, a friend of mine, Karen, stopped herself from completing her website and launching her business even though she knows she’s an awesome teacher (for history lessons). She convinced herself that she’s just lazy and she needs a kick in the butt from an accountability parter.
As you might expect by now, the laziness is bullshit. It’s a farce that she kept up because she’s afraid that she’ll be forced to spend time away from her family.
And it crippled her, until we found the cause.
“Once you notice the cue, you have to change your routine.”
Procrastination is a habit. It reinforces itself whenever a cycle is completed. This is why it becomes harder and harder to break procrastination the longer you’ve been doing it.
To break the procrastination habit, you have to be aware of what makes you begin procrastinating. For me, it’s always a feeling. I’ll feel that I’m not doing it right, that it’s not good enough, that people won’t like this, that I’m not qualified to teach this etc.
Once you notice the cue, you have to change your routine. Instead of procrastinating, you can choose to stick with the task and finish it.
The truth is, beating procrastination is going to be difficult. You need immense courage to look at what’s really stopping you, and to push past it.
Ask yourself these questions:
- What are you really afraid of?
- What are you really doing this for?
“You need immense courage to look at what’s really stopping you, and to push past it.”
Dig deep. It takes a lot of courage to find the real fear hidden deep within. I never knew that I was so afraid of failing, and I never knew that I was so afraid of being abandoned.
It’s okay if you don’t find the real fear. I didn’t know what I was afraid of when I beat procrastination for the first time. I never knew what my fear was all these years. I only found out about it two days ago when I drafted this post.
If you don’t find the fear, you’ll need a reason to continue doing what you’re doing. Find it. Once you find it, hold on to it, because it’s the only thing that will keep you going.
The reason why I’m writing about designing, coding, or even this, is because learning these things changed my life forever. I benefited from how other people shared their knowledge, and I hope that what I do can inspire others to live a better life as well.
So, what’s your reason? Hold on to it, tightly.
Beating Procrastination is a habit
Once you beat procrastination for the first time, it gets easier to beat it again, and again, and again. It’s possible to turn it into a habit. It’s possible to accomplish what’s really important to you.
I never thought I would be able to write one blog post a week. It’s too much work. But I’ve been writing one blog post a week for almost 4 months now (I missed one :(). It gets easier as you do it.
So, stop procrastinating and get your arse moving. Procrastination gets stronger everyday. Start beating it today. Start beating it now.
This post was originally published on Zell’s blog.