Learning how to live life better

Beating procrastination

laundrybasket

It’s just laundry, it’s not that heavy.

 

How folding laundry helps you live better

Procrastination is perhaps the most widespread and debilitating negative habit in life. Life is about living – flourishing, growing, being. That means taking action, it means doing the things we have decided are important to us in life – no matter how trivial or tedious – when it’s the appropriate time to do them.

Let’s say we have ‘fold laundry’ on our list of things to do, but when it comes time to do it, we put it off. We just don’t feel like doing it right then. So, it sits for a while, a few hours or a few days, finally getting done when we force ourselves to do it (or someone complains enough to motivate us). So what’s the big deal if the laundry sits for a little while? The small task of folding laundry, even as small and individually unimportant as it is, is still a part of the whole system that makes up your life. It’s a piece that makes it possible for you to live the life you’ve currently chosen. The big deal with procrastination is the negative habit it reinforces, and the mindset it perpetuates.

After all, if we can’t take action when it’s time to do something as simple as fold laundry, how can we possibly take action when it’s time to do much bigger things?

Our standard answer is “when it comes time to do the big things I’ll have the motivation”. The reality is we won’t. And even if do find the motivation, we’ll only be doing it to avoid negative consequences. There are some serious problems with this do-it-later approach:

  1. It may be too late. Little things eventually become big things. The time to take care of them is when they’re small and unimportant. So, putting off health, finances, personal development, and relationships until there are serious consequences is a losing strategy.
  2. It makes us do the least. It sets up a life in which we only do the uncomfortable things in order to avoid potential negative consequences (e.g. a missed tax deadline, serious surgery, a disappointed loved one) instead of taking on difficult challenges to produce positive results. In life, there’s a huge difference between playing to win, and playing not to lose.
  3. It imposes limits. It erodes our self confidence. We don’t trust that we can get things done. We avoid taking on big or complex tasks, and we never shorten timetables – always opting for easier tasks and longer deadlines when given the choice.

If you want to be able to lift heavier weights in life, practice. Build your strength by lifting small things every day.

Why it’s hard to overcome

Procrastination is learned, like any habit. It is also very deeply rooted in the brain, and in our daily behaviors. What makes it worse is that it’s reinforced and accepted in society. It’s joked about, spoken of casually, and considered to be just part of human nature.

The debilitating effects of procrastination are often hard to detect, rationalized, and made light of. But I’ve learned that procrastination is a chronic disease in life, quietly destroying confidence, opportunities, success, and happiness. And yet rather than deciding to fight and eliminate it, we spend our lives feeding and reinforcing it. That’s a powerful negative habit indeed.

The reason it forms into such a strong habit is because it’s a manifestation of fear, and fear is by far our most powerful emotion.

Specifically, it’s about the fear of failure, loss of control, and discomfort. We are programmed to fear those things, as our brain interprets those things as having a strong association with serious mental and physical pain. However, it’s completely inappropriate to have the same fear about walking into a dark cave as it does when faced with folding laundry. But, that’s how the brain works.

However, since we are human beings, we have the power to react differently, in any way we choose.

carrying

It’s harder to move forward with a heavy burden.

What must be done

Successful people have learned how to minimize or eliminate procrastination, because they understand that it’s extremely detrimental to where they want to go in life.

We can find lots of tips for overcoming procrastination out there, and most say a version of the same things: eliminate distractions, force yourself to do it, break it up into smaller tasks, and reward yourself for minor progress. Those are perfectly good techniques, but they are useless without a shift in mindset.

I’ve learned that in order to overcome powerful negative habits, there first has to be a shift in our mindset. And for procrastination, the following is what needs to be re-programmed:

The emotion must be extracted from the task.

The fear must be removed first, then we can move forward unencumbered and get things done. We have to lighten that heaviness each and every time we approach the task, or even think about the task. Without removing that heaviness, that resistance, we’ll struggle. We must lighten the load.

How it begins

The very thought of the task will trigger your typical (habitual) response. It will sound like this:

  • I have to do this
  • I don’t want to do this
  • This is the last thing I want to be doing
  • I don’t even know where to begin
  • I have no idea how to do this
  • I’d rather be doing something else

This is procrastination. It’s a triggered emotional reaction. The imagined dread of doing the task comes almost instantly, seemingly naturally, and feels totally associated with the task itself. So, the task becomes the source of totally inappropriate emotion.

The habit we’ve formed has tied various ‘uncomfortable’ tasks with an avalanche of unrelated emotion. In reality, the task itself often has the potential to be a learning experience, to be very satisfying, and to be a great use of our time. At the very least, it’s something we’ve decided is a necessary and useful task to get us where we want to be in life. That’s a positive!

So, why such strong misplaced negative emotion when we think about a simple task? The answer is simple: We’ve mistakenly formed poor thinking habits, and we’re projecting unrelated and unwarranted fears and anxieties on tasks that inherently have no emotion in them.

How we start

The first step is to recognize that we don’t have to do anything – we want to do it.

It’s worth doing, and doing well. That’s reality. You’ve decided in one way or another that it’s important to complete the task, either as a standalone action or as a part of a bigger goal. You’re the one who added it to your list and/or agreed to do it. It’s never not your choice. It’s never a must or a should. You always want to do it, and if you really truly don’t…then absolutely don’t do it! But the worst thing you can do is choose to add it to your own list and give it some importance to complete, and then delay and create stress over it. It makes no sense, and it’s thinking that must be countered and corrected.

How we really change

The next step, after realizing it’s always our choice to do a task on our list, is to let go of the outcome.

Worrying about how it will turn out serves no purpose, and only hurts our creativity and productivity. We need to let go of the outcome before we begin. Be okay with it being late, not getting done, being a total failure, or any of the ‘very scary’ outcomes that are causing you fear. Be okay with thinking you’re not sure it’s the best use of your time.

boatbuilder

Anything that’s worth doing is worth doing well.

Worrying about outcomes is a complete waste of energy, energy that is much better used focusing on doing your best at the task at hand.

The bad habit of procrastination injects hesitation, resistance, and dread in a completely inappropriate way. It has convinced us that there’s something to fear or avoid in performing routine tasks, not to mention complex tasks and difficult tasks. And just when we need focus, positivity, and perspective, there isn’t any. Procrastination shuts the door on those qualities, and we suffer through our daily tasks – if we even get around to doing them.

The real lightness

You’re never better off waiting, delaying, or avoiding something that is part of living the life you’ve chosen. Understand that fact, and release the inappropriate heaviness of emotion tied to the outcome, and you’ll feel a new lightness about everything you do.

As you get better at it, you’ll find that not only are you moving through life easier, but your results are better. You’ll be doing things with a certain ‘craftsmanship’ and care to everything you’ve chosen to spend your precious time on.

When you truly begin to overcome it, fear will no longer be part of your planning process, and you’ll find yourself going after challenges that you once thought impossible.

And since all of your chores will be done, you’ll have time to do it all.