The Causes of Procrastination – and the Cures

December 16, 2010
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Most writers I know are, or have at some point been, Olympic-level procrastinators.  Many years ago, after University, I decided to take a year off to dedicate myself to writing. I spent many a long hour watering the plants, staring out of the windows, cleaning the windows, cutting my fringe, staring out of the windows again (clearer vision now, after the cleaning and fringe cutting) and finding it very, very difficult to write anything.  Why?  Well, the pressure. (Admittedly pressure I’d put on  myself.  No-one was waiting for a 21-year-old’s words of wisdom, that was for sure).   The fear that once I really focused on writing, and attempt to live my dream, I might find out I was actually a bit crap at it.  Better to write nothing, after all, then discover you’re not as talented as you thought you were.

More recently, when approaching the completion of my latest book, I hit another wall of procrastination.   Identified as:  fear of finishing something that had become part of my identity.  Fear of finishing it and therefore being obliged to send it out to the world for scrutiny.  Fear that I might have been living in a self-deluded bubble and written something pointless that no-one would want to read.  I overcame these fears (with my favourite subconscious reprogramming tool), but continue to procrastinate on other issues.   My friend Catherine Smith speaks of tying up the procrastination witch and manacling her to the radiator.     But procrastination is such a regular presence in my life that I’ve decided we’d better become friends and get to know each other properly.

Here’s what I’ve learnt, if any of this is of use to you.   Procrastination simply means you are not in alignment with the task.  There are good reasons why you don’t want to do this right now.

  • Maybe it’s not the right time (you might need to mull it over.  You might want to wait until inspiration strikes).
  • Maybe it will never be the right time (can you ditch it?).
  • Maybe you’re scared of what will happen if you do it (they are legion; write them down).
  • Maybe you’re scared of what will happen if you don’t (is there a deadline?; again, write them down).
  • Maybe you just really hate the task (If it really has to be done, can you delegate it?)

If procrastination is affecting your ability to get on with your writing, you need to find out the causes and neutralise them.  Here’s some simple tricks that can help you past the worst of it:

  1. Tell yourself, “I’m not going to do it right now, I’m just going to open the file and look at what needs doing.  I absolutely forbid myself from doing anything on it right now.” (A small Jedi mind trick. Watch yourself disobey!)
  2. Break it down into tiny “next logical step” morsels, especially if the size of it is overwhelming.  You don’t have to know how to get to the end of it.  Remember you can drive hundreds of miles from one city to another in the dark, only  ever seeing the tarmac just in front of you. The whole way doesn’t have to be illuminated, just the next few yards.
  3. Identify the source of your resistance. Then neutralise that resistance or find a way to let it go.  There are many ways of doing it.   Meditation is great if you can quiet the mind enough to do it (takes practice).  Learn the simple tools of EFT.  Or listen to the “percussive suggestion” hypnotherapy tracks you can download for free from Tim Phizackerley’s PSTEC site.  Find something that works for you, and do it.  Make sure it’s done. Read aloud each identified fear behind the resistance and check that you’ve got it down to a zero.
  4. Visualise the task complete. Focus on its completion.  Imagine how brilliant you’ll feel when it’s done.  Imagine it’s done already and really bask in the feeling. Imagine what people will say to you, what you’ll say to yourself. Plan how you’ll reward yourself and celebrate.  Then, when you are fully glowing with that wonderful feeling of accomplishment, open that file.

Awareness is key.  Become aware that you’re procrastinating, identify the causes, and take action.  It is only lack of action that will keep you from the success you deserve.

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