The real reason why any of us procrastinate is because of our thoughts. Positive thoughts drive productive action and negative thoughts drive inaction or unproductive action (such as reaching for a pint of ice cream). Trying to change your actions without examining your thoughts is like trying to get a broken car to go without looking under the hood. You can try pushing the car, you can try having a tow truck come along and pull it, but it’s going to be a slow, painful process and you’re not going to get to where you’re going nearly as fast.
But once you understand that your actions are driven by your feelings and your feelings are created by your thoughts, it becomes a lot easier to get to the source of the problem.
Find The Root Cause
When you’re procrastinating about something, whether it’s preparing a presentation for work, starting a job search, or going to the gym, take 10 minutes and write down all of your thoughts about why you’re not doing the thing you wanted to do. In other words, all of your reasons. This is called a thought download. It’s like doing an inventory of what’s going on in your brain and it’s the equivalent of a mechanic looking under the hood of a car.
Let’s say for example that you want to start looking for a new job but you’re not taking action. What are the thoughts that you’re thinking when you don’t feel like setting up informational interviews, applying for jobs, or updating your resume?
- If you have the thought that you don’t have time, that might create the feeling of anxiety or apathy, which drives inaction.
- If you have the thought that you are tired and deserve a break, it’s likely to create the feeling of lethargy, which also drives inaction.
- If you have the thought that you no one will want to hire you, that will create the fear of rejection or maybe even shame, which will drive the “action” of wanting to hide and distracting yourself with Netflix.
- If you have the thought that job searching is going to be painful and uncomfortable, that will create the feeling of dread, which will drive you to stay in your comfort zone and watch Netflix.
You get the idea. Just identifying the feelings that are creating your inaction, and understanding the thoughts that are creating those feelings can have a powerful impact because once you understand it, you’ll be in a position to change it.
Have Compassion For Yourself
It’s very important that you have compassion for yourself when you’re becoming conscious of the effect your thoughts are having in your life. We all have these kinds of negative automatic thoughts. It’s part of our wiring, so there is no need to judge or shame yourself for this. Realize that you are not your thoughts. You are a human soul with a human brain that generates 60,000 thoughts a day. Try to become the Watcher of your thoughts to get some distance from them.
When you are ready, look at each of the thoughts that is creating a negative feeling and leading to inaction and ask yourself “who would I be without that thought?” Imagine letting go of that thought and seeing what that would feel like. This exercise helps you realize that the negative thought is completely optional. Your brain may want to go back to it because it’s familiar, but you can gently remind yourself that you could be a person without that thought.
How Do You Need To Feel To Take Action?
The next step is to figure out what feeling would drive you to take the action you want to take. Usually we need to feel motivated, determined, or committed to take action, but you may need to find a different feeling that will propel your action. What is it? Write it down.
Then brainstorm a thought that is believable to you that would create that feeling. For example, if you want to create the feeling of motivation, you might need to think “I am willing to go outside my comfort zone in order to find a job that I love.”
Or perhaps it motivates you to think about how you could help others if you got the right job, so you could choose the thought “I have so much to offer to an organization with a worthwhile mission.” That spark of motivation can drive you to take small steps, such as writing down all that you do have to offer and using that list to update your resume or write cover letters. The more you act, the more evidence you will create to support the thought that you do have so much to offer.
There is no right or wrong thought here: it just needs to be one that (1) you can believe, and (2) will create positive feelings to drive you to take action.
This is a game changer, because our actions are what create our results. What results to you want to create in your life? Imagine the possibilities!
Go forth, grow, and bloom.