We all engage in procrastination. The question is how (or even whether) we overcome the tendency to procrastinate, and if we can find focus.
This matters — our lives are brief and limited, and while we don’t need to be productivity robots, running in fear of difficult tasks to distractions and comfort is not the best way to spend our lives.
We can face these fears. We can learn to deal with them mindfully. And in doing so, we can develop an ability to return with courage to the work that matters the most to us, to create something important, something that helps the world at least in a small way.
Distraction and running aren’t useful habits. Let’s learn to overcome them and find the focus to create.
The Procrastination Fears
Why do we run from hard tasks? Because of fears:
- That we don’t know what we’re doing
- That we’re gonna mess up and look bad
- That we’ll succeed and then have to face a scarier situation
- That the task will be difficult and uncomfortable
Basically, we fear discomfort and uncertainty. We want comfort and certainty, and distractions like email and social media and reading news and blogs are easy and we know how to do them. Very well. Distractions are always much more tempting than difficult work, much more comforting than facing fears.
We all have fears, but our habit is to run from them. Avoid even thinking about them. Our minds are very good at this.
We get distracted and then forget completely about what we were supposed to be doing. Our minds are good at forgetting and getting lost.
We try to focus, but then immediately we have an urge to switch to something else because staying is uncomfortable. Our minds love comfort, hate discomfort, and will run to comfort every time if we let them.
So that’s why we unknowingly get into procrastination; but how do we overcome it?
Our minds are very good at running from discomfort, and most of the time we don’t even realize it’s happening. We just have an urge to switch and follow the urge immediately.
The trick then is to catch ourselves when we’re about to switch. When the urge comes up to switch, we have to notice.
Then we have to pause and deal mindfully instead of mindlessly with the urge.
1) Create a practice space. Do an Un-procrastination Session once a day to practice. Pick an important task (any will do — one you’ve been procrastinating on is a good choice). Set a timer for 5 minutes, or 10 if you feel ambitious. Commit to doing nothing but your important task for that 5 minutes.
2) Don’t let yourself switch. Clear distractions and have nothing that you can do except this one task. You’re single-tasking. When you get the urge to switch (when, not if), notice this! And don’t act on the urge. We can feel an urge and not act on it. How liberating!
3) Stay with the urge. Instead of acting on the urge, instead of ignoring the urge … just stay with it. Sit still and feel how it feels. Notice the fear of this task that you’re facing. Notice discomfort. Boredom, dread, feeling intimidated or overwhelmed or confused or incompetent. Just stay with it and be curious about the physical feeling. What does the energy in your body feel like?
4) Return to the task. After sitting for a minute with the urge and the discomfort, they’ll probably die down. Simply return your focus to your task. You didn’t scratch the itch, and the itch wasn’t that big of a deal.
By working on this once a day, you can begin to develop trust that you’ll be OK if you don’t scratch the itch, that you’ll be able to handle the urge without acting on it, that you’ll be fine if you deal with the discomfort of a difficult task. This is quite an accomplishment!