How The Stories You Tell Yourself Affect What You Get Done
by J.P. Cortes
In a field one summer's day a Grasshopper was hopping about, chirping and singing to its heart's content. An Ant passed by, bearing along with great toil an ear of corn he was taking to the nest.
“Why not come and chat with me," said the Grasshopper, "instead of toiling and moiling in that way?"
“I am helping to lay up food for the winter," said the Ant, "and recommend you to do the same."
"Why bother about winter?" said the Grasshopper; we have got plenty of food at present." But the Ant went on its way and continued its toil. When the winter came the Grasshopper had no food and found itself dying of hunger, while it saw the ants distributing every day corn and grain from the stores they had collected in the summer. Then the Grasshopper knew:
It is best to prepare for the days of necessity.”
From Aesop's Fables
We all know how it goes, you sit down at your computer, turn it on, take a look at your desk and fumble through some papers while you're waiting, you open up your email, check your schedule, check your to-do list, sharpen your pencil, write some sticky notes...you know what I'm talking about don't you?
For some reason, it feels like a desperate attempt to buy some time and not start doing something you know you need to get to. If you were to put a record player to your brain, the song coming out would sounds like: “I can't deal with this right now, I don't feel like it, it's better if I do it tomorrow,” over and over again...
Yeah, it's hard. We've all put off something we know we should do, we all struggle at some point.
How do we go about overcoming procrastination?
Procrastination is counterproductive, needless, and delaying. The effects are clear, your stress level increases and you end up feeling guilty, losing valuable time and productivity which may eventually result in a crisis when it affects other people.
Close your eyes for a moment...
...now take a deep breath.
You may not realize it, but you probably just stepped into... “The Procrastination Zone” (cue spaced out weird music).
Don't knock yourself, if you're like most people there's probably a few reasons that you don't know of that are constantly pushing you towards procrastinating.
It's a vicious cycle, one that you're unconsciously reinforcing as you get more and more into this dreaded state.
And yes, it happens to the all of us. It's normal to some extent for all of us to procrastinate to a certain degree.
People that are successful at overcoming procrastination however don't don't wallow in this state for too long, they don't allow the behavior to turn into a habit.
They usually get down to business trying to find the root causes of why they may be putting things off and then they go about actively finding solutions.
What's hidden behind the curtains
Lets try an experiment, as soon as you open your eyes tomorrow, pay close attention to the first thought in your mind, easy enough right?
Not quite, what you'll probably notice is that there's not just one thought, they usually come in an endless set of wave after wave.
And these are just the thoughts that you're conscious of. There's a lot more behind curtains, in your subconscious mind.
Patterns of thought influence our behavior and what we end up doing, or not doing, over time becomes a habit that reinforces the pattern of thought.
We simply can't tell the difference.
We create mental maps that allow us to function in our complex environment without consciously having to think about everything we do.
But what happens when what and how we think ends up as a negative behavior such as procrastination?
Start by looking at what you are putting off.
This is where procrastination is manifesting, it could be studying or completing something before a deadline or whatever task that you may have to do.
Look for the mental map behind it. These include the "unconscious" emotions you have about the task or other perhaps more "pleasant" tasks.
Look at your expectations - the “if...then” cause and effect response you've created.
Look at the consequences and then decide what you're going to do.
You could take one of two routes, you can say to yourself “...well this sucks, but if I don't do it now I'm going to pay for it in the long run.
Or, you can tell yourself “...well this sucks, and even though I need to do it, I'll put it off until some later time.
The truth is, what you need to do has no negative or positive connotation, it is neutral.
If you scratch beneath the surface and take a look at your mental map and try to understand why you dislike the task, you can then change your reaction to it.
If you choose to procrastinate, what you're doing is reinforcing the behavior - every time you delay, you tell your subconscious mind that the response toward that task is to put it off, that it can't be that important.
It doesn't take long for it to turn into a habit fueled by a negative pattern.
When you put things off you:
1.Strengthen a negative habit
2.Are being reactive instead of pro-active
3.Lose valuable learning opportunities and knowledge
4.Create a pattern of fear
Inactivity helps breed unfavorable attitudes. Responding in a pro-active way in anything tends to motivate a positive effects.
...the reason you hate going to the doctor is because you think it's undesirable and you're worried to hear that something is wrong with you, so it's not worth it.
You start making conclusions that in reality aren't grounded on reason. The truth is, the sooner you get going, the better you will feel.
The stories we tell ourselves
There's a host of unconscious forces at work within us.
There are many stories that we tell ourselves every single day. Some of them open the door to procrastination.
To understand how these stories affect us, lets first look at two important factors that act on our behavior.
Remember, these are inner thought patterns you need to pay close attention to what you tell yourself when you're doing something or in this case, not doing something as in procrastinating.
It's a hard exercise that requires mindfulness or minding your thoughts.
What you would probably discover within those stories, are reasons usually revolving around your inherent motivations towards doing something or another.
You may also find that you don't have the abilities to do what's required.
To understand this, lets take a look at four common stories we often tell ourselves and how to combat them:
I'm Not Good Enough – This story lowers our self-confidence and self-esteem, we often feel incapable of achieving at a certain level because we may not have the needed skills. By being open to learning and knowing how and when to ask for help and coaching we break the negative pattern of thought.
I'm Too Busy - “Obviously I cannot do this because I'm always so busy and my work-schedule is so demanding that I don't have the time to do what you're asking.” You may in fact be legitimately busy, or it may be that while you're wasting time coming up with excuses, you've already lost half of your day and nothing gets done. Do you need to learn how to delegate? How to prioritize your tasks?
Perfectionism – Everything has to be picture perfect, there's no room for mistakes. The problem is nothing is ever perfect, and something may go wrong. The old saying that “If you can't do it right, don't do it at all,” only ends up in a lot of undone things.
Feeling Overwhelmed - Procrastination is often used as a way to cope with the day-to-day pressures and experiences. Putting things off however will not solve the problem, quite the contrary it probably will add that much more stress in your life simply because you will feel much more pressure in the long run.
While there may be very good reasons for putting something off, such as an emergency happening that is evidently more important, you should be real careful to take a step back and look at the possible reasons behind why you're procrastinating.
In a nutshell:
1.Consciously ask yourself if you are delaying something unnecessarily.
2.Discover the driving motivators for your delay. List them.
3.Make a effort to understand and dispute your mental maps to overcome them. Be vigorous.
4.Begin the task, don't waste time.
Overcoming procrastination is hard, especially if we don't know what may be unconsciously driving our behaviors, by minding our thoughts and understanding our thought patterns, we can stop procrastination in its tracks.
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