Check Your Vibes: 9 Tips To Shatter The Motivation Myth And Stop Procrastinating
Raise your hand if you’ve experienced this scenario once or twice: you wake up one morning eager to take on the day, to make positive choices, and to spend your evening after work at the gym or going to a social event you might otherwise ditch out on. But when five o’clock rolls around, your body feels heavy with exhaustion. You’re hangry and inconsolable, and as if against your will, you feel your feet walking you right back home to your couch, where you’ll sit for the rest of the evening in front of the TV or your laptop. Every commercial break provides another opportunity to ponder whether you’ll start on that project or activity you’ve been avoiding, which means you beat yourself up for continuing to not do it, only to start the cycle of guilt all over again a few minutes later. The whole process starts over the next morning, when you realize you’re still behind on your goals.
A major myth about motivation is that it works like some sort of magical fairy that appears out of nowhere and suddenly gives you the energy to pursue whatever you’ve been putting off. Not so. In reality, like the ever-vague concept of inspiration, motivation is often something you create for yourself or do without altogether, because waiting for it to show up doesn’t get any work done. Another myth is that procrastination is for lazy, irresponsible people. More often than not, procrastination is a symptom of extreme perfectionism, so in fact, chronic procrastinators are often even more conscientious than others, which is exactly what paralyzes them.
Many people who procrastinate heavily equate the quality of the work they do with their value as a person. Obviously, this isn’t healthy (or true). With this line of thinking, tackling any task means facing the reality of your perceived worth or going into perfectionist mode and making that work three times more difficult than it needs to be by nitpicking every step. Naturally, this makes motivation plummet. In fact, putting something off can become an addictive habit, because for a moment, you get the sweet relief that comes with ignoring that self-imposed pressure.
As most of us have learned, though, that relief is short-lived. Procrastinating is always more time-consuming than just doing the work (which is usually a lot less painful than we build it up to be in our heads). If you’re lacking in motivation to do something new or simply can’t bring yourself to get started on a task or goal you’ve put off, it does not make you somehow morally inferior, no matter what those platitudes about “seizing the day” may imply. Procrastinating or lacking motivation simply means your brain is wired in a certain way. It’s human nature. If you’re looking to find ways to break the procrastination cycle or build up your motivation, try a few of these tactics.
1. Get real about your fears. You’re probably procrastinating because you’re afraid of being imperfect (spoiler alert: we are all imperfect) or of some undesirable mental state the project may inspire. Try to reach deep down and consider what your big fears about the work might be, and when you do get started, take note of what triggers bad feelings. Is it when you get halfway through and wish you were just finished already? Is it near the end when you start second-guessing everything you’ve done and consider starting over? If you know when to expect these fears and accept that they just stress you out rather than point to any useful truths, you’ll have an easier time deflecting them. When you’re doing this reflection, also think about what is stressing you out most in your life. When we’re under a lot of pressure, it’s easy to start associating the pressure with every aspect of our lives until all we see is a big stressful blur and, since we’re no longer sure where it’s coming from, decide it’d be easier to just opt out of all responsibilities at once by procrastinating.
2. Stop beating yourself up about it. Seriously, stop! I know that’s one of the hardest things in the world to do, but try. You have my permission (not that you were asking for it or anything). You are not a uniquely terrible human being for not feeling motivated. Everyone feels this way sometimes, if not most of the time. I promise it’s not something to be ashamed of. That emotional weight that we put into procrastinating is exactly what gives it so much power. Once you start viewing it as a reflection of your character, the act of resisting procrastination becomes far more emotionally fraught than the act of simply starting your project. It creates a shame cycle, and becomes something you need to steel yourself for and overcome, because now it’s this whole emotional “flaw” you feel that you have. It’s no surprise that this makes things even harder to tackle.
3. Break things down into small steps. When a task is so massive that the mere idea of it makes you want to just go back to bed, it’s time to break it up. Divide big projects into tiny chunks with deadlines of their own, and think only of the mini project in front of you when you sit down to do it. All the other tasks that come after don’t exist right now, because they are their own tasks, and in your mind, for the moment, they are not all connected to the same project. Isolating work this way makes it much easier to plow through. Another way to practice this is through making tiny, 2-3 item to-do lists each day and following through. It’s a way to practice building your motivation muscle in small, manageable chunks.
4. Check in with yourself. Feeling overwhelmed leads to procrastination, and a great way to avoid overwhelm is to take about five minutes each night to mentally review what you accomplished that day and loosely consider what you’d like to accomplish in the morning. Waking up feeling like you know what’s ahead of you and having already done the mental prep work prepares you to dive right in without that foggy, frazzled feeling that kills our motivation.
5. Remember that you always have a way to stop feeling stressed. Feeling better about procrastinating is as easy as getting started on your work. It sounds painfully obvious, but it’s something we often forget. Relief is as easy as starting the task at hand, because suddenly all that mental effort that comes along with worrying about the procrastinating and rationalizing it melts away.
6. Hold yourself accountable for a short time. I tend to hate this advice because I am just not one to declare my grandest personal plans to everyone and their cousin — but who’s to say I’m right in being uncomfortable with that? More likely, I’ve got some hang-ups of my own. People have proven to themselves time and again that one of the most surefire ways to accomplish something is to publicly make themselves accountable on places like Facebook or even at an in-person gathering. If this inexplicably freaks you out like it does me, try it for a short-term goal that will take just a week or two to get yourself off the ground and to practice proving to yourself that you can get things done.
7. Make your work fun. Some things in life just suck. Doing taxes will never be fun. Waiting on hold with the insurance company for 45 minutes will never be fun. Hanging out in a slow-moving line at the post office on your lunch break? Not fun. But even things that are objectively miserable can become a little more interesting if we frame them in a certain way. If anything else, make it into your own little secret game — you can make bets with yourself on how long you think you can work on your project before taking a break, or, if you’re working on something alone at home, sing along to yourself as obnoxiously as possible while you work to make yourself laugh. It’s silly, but sometimes it helps.
8. Learn when you work best. Sometimes, life is about picking our battles. Maybe you know that it’s going to be a long time before you’re able to put the procrastination habit to bed, but still want to improve your quality of life. Consider just embracing the fact that you put things off until they’re in ultimate crunch time and actively planning to work on them at that time. If you actively allow things to be put off until the day before instead of spending what would have been several perfectly lovely days stressing and agonizing over your work and then still putting it off until the last minute anyway, you might find yourself feeling more productive than ever. Even better, you won’t feel like beating yourself up for putting things off that late, because you’ll have anticipated it. Wouldn’t it be nice to not be a walking mess of grating strife for a while?
Intentionally putting things off like this is risky, could mean missed deadlines, and is probably not sustainable in the longterm. The reality, though, is that we need to meet ourselves where we’re at, and working with our own mind’s patterns is the best way to get things done sometimes. One positive about waiting until the last minute is that there’s far less time for that pesky perfectionism to sneak in and slow us down, because we’re down to the wire and simply have no choice but to do our best and meet our deadline without going back and agonizing over tiny details. I can almost guarantee that the work won’t suffer too greatly for it, because this particularly breed of perfectionism doesn’t improve much of anything anyway.
9. When in doubt, make a Pinterest board. What can I say? I watched a lot of “Oprah” as a kid, and those vision boards were really pretty! Make yourself a secret Pinterest board of the goals you’re procrastinating on working toward. Nothing motivates quite like seeing your goals splayed out right in front of you. If nothing else, it’s another fantastic activity to distract you when you’re putting off your work.