It’s a right royal pain in the arse when you know you WANT to do one thing but you just can’t seem to get started and what you ACTUALLY do is anything but the important thing. So why does it happen? Well the reasons are many and varied. It can be as simple as a lack of motivation; a boring task that isn’t exciting. But more often than not, it is those pesky Mind Monkeys who (in their infinite lack of wisdom) are trying to keep you safe. The thing is, they don’t know the difference between safe and stuck. Which is a bit of a bummer
So what can you do? Well here are a few techniques I share with clients when a faffing attack rears its ugly head. They can act as a starter for 10 to get under the skin of what’s really going on
If you’re not generally a convert to the cult of journalling, bear with me here. I totally get that – it can be easy to wonder what the hell to journal about (or how it can help). But with the addition of some prompts, the magic can start to happen
And if it doesn’t, try a voice notes app instead. Talking your thoughts through can feel more natural and leave you less prone to self-editing so you get to the juicy stuff that’s lurking in your subconscious more quickly.
Try these prompts for size and see how you go. For each prompt, set a timer for 10 minutes, and rather than thinking about what the answer should be, try to just let it flow. And feel free to tweak the wording slightly to match whatever thing you’re not doing
- ‘It really matters that I make a start on doing ‘the thing’ because….’
- ‘What I believe about myself and my ability to ‘do the thing’ is…’
- ‘The thoughts that occur to me when I think about ‘doing the thing’ are…’
The first prompt is about connecting you to the future, helping you find why it is important to you. If you find that something isn’t important then why the hell would you bother with it at all? On the other hand, if you find reasons why something really matters, it can make it easier to tip the balance because staying in the here and now where it isn’t happening becomes less acceptable. Even your mind monkeys start to accept that logic
The latter two often unearth some unfiltered subconscious nonsense. There’s a good chance you will look back at what you’ve written and think ‘well that’s plain ridiculous’. A totally normal part of this exercise, pinkie promise. The point is, this subconscious nonsense is what your mind monkeys are using to keep you stuck and only by uncovering how crazy it is you can start to challenge it
The Cognitive Triangle
If you’ve ever worked with a cognitive behaviour trained therapist or coach, there’s a good chance you’ve come across this before. If not, allow me to introduce you to a deceptively simple framework that packs a punch when it comes to understanding the links between how you think, feel and behave
I find this one REALLY helpful for getting under the skin of my own procrastination and finding ways to combat it. In this model, thoughts are your interpretations of (or judgements about) a situation.
So for example, when you’re procrastinating (the situation you’re in), you might be thinking you should have made a start by now. Or that if you’re going to do this thing, you need to do others first. Or that you need a plan
Feelings can be emotions or physical feelings. Happy, sad, stressed, overwhelmed, sick to your stomach… the list goes on
Behaviours are the things you do. Or, if you’re reading this blog in search of inspiration, they may more accurately be things you don’t do
Using the Triangle
The beauty of the framework is ‘tracking back’ from the behaviour to the feelings that prompt it. And from there, to the thoughts that prompt the feelings.
What that means in practise is it helps shift your focus from the symptom (fannying around) to the root cause (most often unhelpful, if not downright untrue thoughts)
Start by identifying the behaviour. Be specific here – are you avoiding making a start? Getting stuck at a certain point? Filling your diary with things that other people are asking for rather than stuff that’s important to you?
Now ask yourself ‘what’s the feeling that I have when I behave that way?’ You’ll likely find answers like overwhelmed, stressed, frustrated
For the feeling(s) you’ve identified, ask yourself ‘what specific emotion or feeling do I have?’ and ‘what specific thought triggers that feeling?’ That will help you drill down from the more general (I feel stressed and overwhelmed) to something actionable (like, ‘I think this whole thing is going to feel like wading through treacle because it is all new to me and will feel like hard work).
It’s much easier then to identify helpful strategies (This example is one of mine, and it came up when I was planning a new course. I changed the approach to reduce the tech load and voila! I was back on board with the excitement of creating the course)
You can also look at when you’ve previously done the behaviour you want, and use that to find ways to approach the situation you’re currently facing. Did you find it easier to be consistent when you did something at a certain time of day? When you had accountability? Do that again and Bob’s your uncle.
Focus on your progress
Many of my business owner clients are thoroughly in a rut of beating themselves up for the progress they are not making whilst simultaneously ignoring the progress they are making. They look to where they want to be and tell themselves they could be closer if only they had the willpower to stay consistent / didn’t go round in circles and change their mind / were self disciplined enough to get their arse out of bed for a 5am start (delete as appropriate)
When you measure yourself up against that, is it any wonder you start feeling crap and don’t feel motivated? What’s the point in trying? And frankly, do you actually want to be someone with iron willpower, no flexibility to reassess and learn, and a 5am wakeup call? Where’s the fun in that life?!
Instead of looking forwards and finding yourself falling short against where you want to be, start to train yourself to focus on looking back at the progress you’ve made and the wins you’ve had. However small, however hard fought. In fact especially the hard fought ones. Those wins count double
The more you focus on what you haven’t done and how you are falling short, the more ammunition you are giving the mind monkeys for their next attack. And frankly, they already have enough
One way to get into this habit is to take 10 minutes at the start of each week to capture wins from the previous week. This provides an excellent opportunity for purchasing new stationery because keeping them in one place means you can look back over all the wins easily whenever the mind monkeys start getting chatty. You can thank me later
So there we have it. Three ways to get started with getting started. I’m not promising you’ll never procrastinate again but if you know you’re prone, maybe bookmark this blog for future reference. For now, stop reading blogs and crack on with some work