4 Steps to Reduce Procrastination and Increase Motivation
If you’re reading this, you may be struggling to reach a goal or complete a task. You’re not
alone– lack of motivation is something we all are faced with at some point in our lives. Whether
you want to start exercising, to quit smoking, to do the laundry, or to finish a work project, you
can find yourself dragging your feet or even planting your feet firmly and not budging at all.
At some point, the distress of procrastinating becomes greater than the distress of starting the
task. It creates a lot of discomfort when one part of us desires to get the task done and another
part of us would rather do anything else— this can leave us feeling ambivalent, frustrated,
nervous, or useless. Some avoidance is expected at times, but is it recurrent or at a level that
creates distress and prevents you from functioning in certain areas of your life?
Whether it is mild or regularly present, luckily, it is changeable! Changing self-defeating
thoughts and unhelpful perceptions, along with other coping skills, can help reduce
procrastination. Below are a few steps to help you take steps toward action:
Accept the feeling
- Recognize that criticizing yourself for procrastinating is only going to make it
harder and probably generate a cycle of self-defeat. Try to keep your feelings
about your feelings in check by observing them non-judgmentally and accepting
that you are momentarily feeling stuck. (For extra tips on this see the previous
post on Quieting Your Self-Critical Voice). Refusing to accept how you are feeling
will probably create a lot more disappointment and frustration, creating another
barrier in the way of you accomplishing your goal.
- Acknowledge that you’d like to change the feeling. Yes, you can practice
acceptance and a desire to change at the same time! You can accept that the
reality is that you are having some negative feelings (as humans do!) and that
you would like to push through them.
- Change your outlook. Practice acknowledging and disputing unhelpful, negative
thoughts and replacing them with positive affirmations. The more hopeful you are
that you will complete the task, the more likely it is that you will! Create a mantra
or affirmation for yourself and repeat, repeat, repeat.
- Take some perspective and reflect on the positive aspects of the circumstances
creating the procrastination. For example, I’m fortunate to have a body that is
healthy enough to exercise, a home that needs cleaning, the opportunity to make
a living by completing this work project. This helps shift your perception of the
task to something you want to do rather than something you have to do.
Identify the value
- Why is this something you’d like to get done? Think of how the task supports an
aspect of yourself that you view positively. For example, completing this project
can show my boss the part of me that is competent, exercising highlights the part
of me that values self-care, or quitting smoking demonstrates how much I value
being healthy for my family. This helps to create a meaning for the action that is
bigger than just the task.
- Imagine your near-future or far-future self. What would they say to you about
procrastinating vs. completing the task? Hopefully they believe that the outcome
is worth the effort and that you have the capability and strength to complete the
task. Additionally, you can review history of previous difficulty with motivation – what
were the outcomes? It is probable that, at the minimum, you felt relief once
the build up of stress was no longer present. It is a bonus if you felt accomplished
or if there was another benefit to completing the task.
Take mindful action
- It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Get started by breaking the task into smaller,
achievable tasks. This will give you evidence that you are capable and will create
momentum. For example, if you’re procrastinating the mountain of laundry that
has built up, start by just sorting it. It is likely that once you take the first, small
step, you will continue with the task.
- Tackle the task mindfully. Try not to focus on feelings of dread, but direct your
attention to the present task. For example, focus your attention to how each
piece of clothing feels as you pick it up to sort it for the laundry, how the dish
soap smells as you do the dishes, etc. Notice any negative physical sensations
and feelings as they come up and gently redirect your focus back to the task if
you find yourself thinking ahead or fixating on feelings of dread.
Take it slow and be compassionate with yourself as you try to integrate one or a few of these
steps. Motivation, like many other skills, requires some practice and attention. Life often asks
that we do things we would rather not do, and we don’t have to like it, it may be uncomfortable,
but we can persevere!
-Lisa Berkoski, LMHC