A simple internet search will return a huge amount of advice about overcoming procrastination. And many of the articles have the same list format such as:
- Get enough sleep.
- Set a deadline.
- Schedule the task in your calendar.
- Break down big tasks into micro-steps.
- Use the 10-minute rule.
- Do 80% of the task.
- List reasons why instead or why not.
- Just do it!
All these strategies and tactics can be effective, and for some, they may be enough to kick start progress. But procrastination is a returning problem for many of us and even using some of the tactics above becomes a way to procrastinate.
For example, some of my clients constantly plan and schedule tasks in their calendar only never to carry out the task, before spending more time replanning and rescheduling. Staying locked in a cycle of unhelpful behaviour.
Procrastination is a form of avoidance
I’m equally guilty of procrastinating, take for example writing regular blog posts and producing content. Every digital marketing guru will tell you that content production is one of the best ways to grow your business online. Content generation equals leads which equal customers.
You’d think then, I’d be writing every day given the fact that I might be able to gain a client that will fund some of my more entertaining forms of procrastination, like playing video games.
Despite this, I continue to procrastinate and avoid writing. You may have more direct examples of not carrying out tasks that get you paid right away. Even the incentive of immediate cold hard cash isn’t enough to sway you off Facebook.
From an Acceptance and Commitment Training (ACT) point of view, one of the main reasons I’m avoiding this task is because of cognitive fusion.
Fusion is when you get wrapped up in your thoughts and essentially buy into them and believe what they have to say. You focus solely on the thoughts that you are having (memories, assumptions, beliefs, images etc).
Rather than being in the present moment and noticing what is going on around you through your senses. You will then take decisions based on your internal experience to avoid the unpleasant future your mind is serving up to you.
The fusion is strong in this one
For me, whenever I sit down or contemplate writing a blog post the overwhelming thoughts and feelings centre around not being good enough, impostor syndrome and not being liked by others.
My thoughts will be;
‘I don’t know enough’, ‘I’m not a professional’, ‘no one will want to read it anyway what’s the point?’, ‘It doesn’t work so there is no point in trying’, ‘people will unfollow me’, ‘people will unsubscribe if they don’t like it’, along with this I’ll get my ‘not feeling good enough’ emotions.
These are a heaviness in the pit of my stomach, my heart beating faster, a feeling of anxiety and a restlessness requiring me to get up and do something else (normally cleaning or tidying up).
In fact, during the last few paragraphs, I’ve probably opened Facebook twice, checked registrations on Crowdcast and opened up WhatsApp to post in a group chat.
All ways to make myself feel better right now, by seeing how many likes I’ve got, find out how many new followers I’ve got and by sharing a joke with friends.
And now I’ve bought into my thoughts and in my mind, you are reading this and clicking unsubscribe or a host of other unpleasant outcomes. Much better not to write the blog post to avoid this unpleasant future that I’ve created.
Except none of this has actually happened, this blog has not been written so I don’t know how it’s going to go.
But I’m convinced that I do know.
How come is it that you are reading this now? How did I overcome these thoughts and feelings that seemed very real to me?
Defusing from my thoughts and feelings
Cognitive defusion is the process of putting some space between yourself and your thoughts. Rather than directly saying to myself
‘I’m not good enough’,
I might say;
‘I’m noticing that I’m having thoughts and feelings about not feeling good enough’.
I might also look at the workability of those thoughts, are they helpful or unhelpful?
They might well be true, someone might criticise, find fault, unfollow me or unsubscribe from my newsletter because of this article. But are these thoughts really helping me get my work done?
If restlessness and anxiety come up as I write, I might take some time to connect with the present moment.
There is my body, my breathing, this computer that I am typing on, the sounds around me.
All of these things are happening now and are in no way supporting the fantasy I’ve created. Bringing my attention to the here and now takes it away from analysing the past or creating the future.
I might also look at my values, how does writing this article fit with my values of helping others grow and perform better? Does taking this action take me towards a valued direction?
Finally, I might tap into something bigger than myself to look at my willingness to experience unpleasant thoughts and feelings so I can achieve my goals.
The takeaway point
Only once you have addressed the internal conflict that is going on are you ready to implement other strategies and tactics to get your work done.
In reality, unpleasant thoughts and feelings come up all the time. It is your mind’s way of trying to keep you safe from harm.
It is easier now for me to write because I have more confidence in my writing. It doesn’t mean that the thoughts and core beliefs go away, they will always be part of my experience just as yours are part of your experience.
But by putting space between them and yourself, connecting with the present moment, and your values you can make more conscious choices about your actions. Stopping yourself reacting to avoid the future that you’ve convinced yourself is going to happen.