I can’t seem to achieve anything.
We just freeze. Freeze at the thought of unpacking those bags after our travel. Freeze at the thought of studying for the exam. Freeze at the thought of completing that assignment. Motivation seems to disappear. Sometimes depression sets in. We delay our tasks. We procrastinate. And to add insult to injury, we brand ourselves – ‘I don’t have self-discipline’, ‘I am lazy’, ‘I am a loser’.
We might say that ‘I am a perfectionist and that causes me to procrastinate’. Well, there is some truth in that but not the whole truth. Reminds me of the famous line –‘You can’t handle the truth’.
Multiple studies that have given various reasons for why we procrastinate. Two reasons stand out:
- Mechanism to protect one’s self-image: We don’t want to appear foolish and incompetent. We rather not do it and accept failure.
- Coping mechanism to delay stress of the impending task: The task would appear too much to handle or too challenging for one’s ability.
We have learned to become ‘helpless’ – ‘learned helplessness’. ‘Learned helplessness’ leads to various negative emotions – regret, guilt, fear, anger, etc. It is impacting a large section of our society – from kids to elders.
How do we manage procrastination?
If we look at the reasons, we can manage the causes and thus tackle procrastination.
- Accept Stress: Not all stressors are bad. Good stress is necessary to grow. Good stress is of short duration. For example, if you exercise all day long, your body will break down. If you exercise for short duration, the body will adapt and grow. Stress will be uncomfortable. These days the advertisements tell you that you don’t have to lift a finger to lose weight or don’t have to study to achieve a Ph.D. or just pay the money to run a 10k in 30 min. Then there is the idea that if we are super-talented, then we should not be feeling stress or should not be working hard to achieve. If we are working hard to achieve something, then it means that we are not smart or talented enough. All these notions are ridiculous. Even smart people must work hard and experience extreme stress. So smile, accept the good-stress and jump in.
- Break the task/goal: A marathon is run by starting with a small step. Left foot, right foot, repeat.
- Write the goal/task.
- Break the goal/task into small, smaller and smallest step that you can handle in 2 min. Very important to keep this in mind – the Smallest step that you can handle in 2 min.
- Start with the first step.
- Build ability: Not all tasks will match your ability. In the list of tasks to achieve your goal, you will be able to handle some tasks that are out of your league (for now). Either you build the ability (by learning on your own or taking someone’s help to learn) or you delegate. Kids don’t get to delegate their exams. They must build their abilities. Sorry kids. Identify those challenging tasks, gulp in your ego and call for help. Be ready to appear foolish (for now) so that you appear a genius later.
Some typical questions we get in these approaches:
- But the small steps are too small and too easy:
- A step is too small when compared to a 42 kilometers marathon. The step must be good and consistent so that you can repeat it for 42 kilometers. A bad step will injure you and you will not even complete a kilometer. So get the small step good and consistent.
- Sitting at the table for studying might be too small. But the kid must sit consistently and steadily. Reading 1 page might be too small, but the kid must read 1 page properly and consistently.
- Sitting at the table for eating slowly might be too small a task but we have to sit properly and consistently to slow ourselves down to eat a meal slowly.
- I find it difficult to ask for help: Your choice – Appear smart now, fail soon and appear grand fool later. Or. Appear foolish now, succeed, and become a successful genius later.
- I am not self-disciplined:
- A kid may not be self-disciplined in the study. But he/she might be self-disciplined at training for a sport. We may not be self-disciplined at exercise, but we might be super self-disciplined at work. Self-discipline is context specific.
- Self-discipline is a skill that can be developed. To develop something, you must start from basics. The basic is ‘write down that goal’.
We will be posting more such articles on mental toughness. If you like this article, or have questions or want to develop your own mental toughness, do give us a shout out and connect with us.
Pic-Credit: istockphoto.com, voicesofyouth.org